Steamed Yam Cake

Yam cake is savory steamed snacks made from taro cubes mixed together with rice flour and then served with fried shallots, scallions and other condiments such as dried shrimps or chopped chili. Yam cake (also known as taro cake) is slightly denser than radish cake which is made from shredded radish and rice flour.

In our city, yam cake is enjoyed in the morning as part of assorted savory cakes served with coffee as well as afternoon snacks served with tea. This is sold in old-style bakery or street side cake vendors. The street side vendors in particular, have wide variety of savory and sweet cakes, and I really wonder how they manage to make them fresh everyday, that must be a lot of work! It has always been a pleasant trip to shop for cakes in those stalls.

My mother makes the best yam cake (don’t we all think the same way about our mothers). She steamed them in high heat for one hour until they solidify into gelatinous mass. The secret for fresh and beautiful yam cake is to “ensemble” them right before serving. The yam cake base is steamed for a while together with the toppings. This way the greens will still be fresh and yet cooked. If it is prepared hours before serving the toppings would be unsightly, soggy and wilting.

They are a lot of work, I have to admit. But they do make the most beautiful hors d’oeuvre, don’t they? Exotic and colorful indeed. They have all the textures you would seek in a bite of cake – smooth (gelatinous rice flour), chewy (yam cubes), crunchy (from fried shallots), nutty (from sesame seeds), spicy (from chopped chili) and wonderfully pungent (from dried shrimps).

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A new addition to our family’s favorite is pan-fried pork rib with orange and honey flavored marinade.

The orange-based ingredient used is the preserved mandarin orange rind found in supermarket or Asian grocery shops at snack section. When we were little girls, we loved to sneak into classes one of these and just put a small piece into our mouth. The tanginess helped keeping us alert during most boring classes like Algebra. Mind you, we were not allowed to eat or snack in classrooms. Naturally the orange rind was the easiest item to eat with the lowest risk of getting caught. Haha. So there we are, little girls who were sleepy with a piece of orange rind in our mouth trying to soak in those lessons which was like some alien language scribbled on blackboard with white chalk. It was the 80s.

The recipe is from one of our aunties and my mother was so pleased to try it out on us. The ribs turned out to be sweet and sticky. Definitely finger-licking good.

All ingredients are mixed well together and left refrigerated for minimum of 6 hours, so the flavors are all soaked up by the ribs. Other types of meat can be used, such as chicken wings, baby back ribs. This is my new favorite marinade sauce. Great for quick fix – prepare it in the afternoon, by dinner you would have a savory dish ready to be popped into oven or easy pan-fried.

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Chicken Soup

Chicken soup, not only good for the body, but also for the soul? That good? For me, it is.

I love chicken soup, with noodles or pasta, rice or thick crusty bread. It is the ultimate comfort food. One of our uncles shared his recipe of chicken soup using freshly ground spices, and it turned out to be so great that I swore I could finish the whole pot of soup. Of course I will be bloated by the end of the day, but it would be so satisfying, mentally and physically.

It has all the usual ingredients, chicken pieces with bones still intact, bits and pieces of vegetables. Instead of chicken broth, the soup is flavored by candlenut, cinnamon, nutmeg, star anise, cardamon and ginger. The soup would not be as clear as the usual consomme, but it is clouded by the spices.

The zest of the soup is so warming that it is truly the best version I have had so far. It would be great with some improvement, by adding some pasta or dumplings. But for now, I am keeping this as original as possible. The soup is served as one of the main courses for lunch or dinner, and fried shallots sprinkled on top – which is totally unnecessary. But Indonesians put shallots on everything, so who am I to deny the soup of this garnish?

The chicken meat used is whole chicken, cut into medium pieces. Unlike other version, this is only cooked for less than 1 hour. The gelatinous effect from the chicken bone is minimum and I personally think that all parts of chicken can be used, including chicken feet and neck. After the cut vegetables are added, the heat is lowered down to a simmer. As any other type of chicken soup, this one is still good the next day. Ours never saw another daylight.

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It has been such a long time since the last time this dish is prepared at home. One of the reasons is that my mother does not do grocery shopping herself anymore – our cook lady does. My mother is convinced that she does not know her fish, hence we don’t get to enjoy steamed fish as much as we would like.

Steaming fish gets real fancy in local Chinese cuisine when a particular type of fish is used, silver pomfret (ikan bawal putih). Silver pomfret is shaped like butterfly and V-shaped tail and flat body, a type of seawater fish, mainly found in Indian ocean. They can grow up to 4 kg, but due to overfishing, they can only be found in the market in less than 1 kg per piece. In this region, it is considered one of the most expensive fish. It is also very popular in Japan and Malaysia. Because of its high profile, naturally, the best way to serve it is by steaming – using the least amount of ingredients and seasoning possible.

Before steaming, the fish is poached in boiling water to shorten steaming time and get rid of the fishy smell. After that, it is smeared with salt and soy sauce inside out and laid on top of and covered with other ingredients. Hot water is added before steaming to make sure the fish does not dried out.

The fish is at its best when steamed with low heat and just nicely cooked. The flaky meat would then be nicely infused with chilies, garlic and ginger. Served with steamed rice and some soy sauce for dipping.

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Cassava (or ubi) is one of the most important source of carbohydrates in Indonesian diet. In some remote part of the region, it is used as staple food, substituting rice. The leaves are high in protein, and in some part of Sumatra there is a famous dish made from the puree of the leaves cooked in coconut milk.

 

I always have this in Batak restaurant, or Padang restaurant. The way it is prepared in both cultures is almost the same with slightly different spices used. This dish is called daun ubi tumbuk, or cassava leaf puree cooked in coconut milk. Extremely delicious to be eaten with steamed rice. The velvety texture of the leaves marries well with the thick coconut milk. The dish is really rich in flavor.

At home, we prepared the leaves by grinding them using wooden mortar and pestle. They can also be chopped finely – the end result would be the same, although purists would definitely disapprove of it. Some added dried shrimp or anchovies for extra pungency. The vegetarian version would use pea eggplants, grinded together with the leaves. The leaves and spices are then cooked for a long time to soften them to a puree consistency

Daun ubi tumbuk - cassava leaf puree with coconut milk

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Cassava Leaf Puree with Coconut Milk

Ingredients:

100 gr cassava leaves
5 salam leaves
50 gr pea eggplants
3 (5 gr) red chili
5 (50 gr) shallots
1 (5 gr) clove garlic
3 (15 gr) candlenuts, toasted
1" fresh galangal, slightly flattened
1 stalk lemongrass, quartered, length-wise
1/2 teaspoon grated ginger
1/2 tablespoon coriander seeds
1/2 tablespoon salt
1/2 teaspoon sugar (optional)
1 tablespoon oil
1 cup coconut milk, diluted with 1 cup water

Directions:

Grind chili, shallot, garlic, candlenut, ginger, coriander till the ingredients form a paste.
In a blender, mash up the leaves and eggplant slightly. Or chop them finely.
Heat oil in a wok and quickly stir fry the spice paste over low heat for 5 minutes.
Add lemongrass, salam leaves and galangal. Stir fry till the color of the paste turn brownish, 2 more minutes
Toss in the leaves and turn up the heat. Add the diluted coconut milk, cook for another 10 minutes. Do not boil it, just simmer
Season with salt and pinch of sugar
Remove the lemongrass, salam leaves, galangal from the pot. Serve warm with rice.

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