The Emerald of the Equator, part IV: pisang goreng

Alright, alright, enough is enough. Last week’s gado gado, or what I tried to pass off as gado gado, was evidently a little bit too Dutch, because it earned me a schooling. That’s right, I got told off by an actual Indonesian, who gently said that my take on the dish looked nice enough, but it definitely wasn’t gado gado.

Ouch. I guess I knew, even before I posted it, that my attempts were pretty feeble, and I guess it was even part of the whole set-up… but that didn’t make it any less embarrassing. So that’s it. Enough is enough. I’m in full-on panic mode preparing for my holiday, anyway (I’m leaving tomorrow), so the rendang that I had planned is going to have to wait until I’m back and I actually know what I’m doing. Instead, let’s do something that really can’t go wrong: pisang goreng!

Pisang goreng are fried bananas, and seeing that those are pretty much what we’d call banana fritters around these parts, it’s something I feel confident I can more or less pull off. Tomorrow I’ll be off to Indonesia, where, hopefully, I’ll learn to cook some stuff that’s actually Indonesian. I’ll be back, if all goes according to plan, on the 7th of September. Until that time, I wish you all a lovely summer, and please do have a go at pisang goreng.

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For 2, you’ll need:

  • 2 or 3 bananas
  • 2 tbsp flour
  • enough water
  • a pinch of salt
  • a whole bunch of frying oil and a small, fairly sturdy pot (or, if you have one, just a deep-fryer will be much easier)

Pop your flour on a deep plate, mix in a little bit of water and stir until you get a homogenous paste without lumps. Now start mixing in more water plus that pinch of salt until you get a mixture that’s liquid enough to dip pieces of banana in, but thick enough to actually stick to the bananas.

Peel your bananas and cut them in halves or thirds, then half those bits lengthways. Dip the banana bits in the batter and deep-fry them.

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I have no idea what temperature we’re aiming for here, because I don’t have a deep-fryer – only that sturdy pot I mentioned earlier. To check whether your oil is hot enough, chuck in a single drop of batter – if it immediately comes floating back up, accompanied by plenty of sizeable bubbles, you should be OK.

Fry the bananas for a couple of minutes, then serve them on a bunch of funky-looking banana leaves, or just on a plate.

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Posted in cooking, Food, indonesian, recipes, sweet, Vegan, Vegetarian | Tagged , , , , , | 3 Comments

The Emerald of the Equator, part III: gado gado

This week we’re going to have to cheat. I said I would always publish some Indonesian recipes as my mum used to make them, but this week, for gado gado, that’s just not practical. Let me tell you why.

My mum’s gado gado, as I remember it, is a bunch of stir-fried vegetables, served with white rice and the ubiquitous peanut sauce. I have to admit I didn’t actually like the gado gado itself very much when I was little, but it was still on of my favourite dinners, because 1) it came with boiled eggs, my favourite thing in the wide world, 2) I always slathered it with peanut sauce, which instantly became the flavour of the whole thing, and 3) I really enjoyed saying the name. Gado gado. Try it. It feels good.

Anyway, I asked my mum for the recipe, and it turned out that of all the vegetables she recommended, I had none in the house. What we did have in the house, was about 5 kilos of courgettes and carrots that we had been given by some friends in the country side and that needed finishing. You can see where this is going.

Just out of curiosity, I decided to google gado gado, just to see if my choice of vegetables was incredibly unorthodox or still in the realm of the acceptable. This led me to accidentally discover that gado gado  is actually considered a salad, more or less, and that it isn’t usually wokked or fried or anything. Seeing that I was already ignoring all the ingredients that my mum had mentioned, I figured I’d go all out and just settle for something completely different. We’d been fed barbecue all weekend long, anyway – something a little lighter wouldn’t hurt.

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I honestly have no idea if an Indonesian person would even vaguely recognise gado gado in this, but it was kinda nice so I’m gonna settle for it, anyway. For 3 or 4 people:

  • 2 courgettes
  • 5 medium carrots
  • at least one egg per person – but better go for 1.5 egg per person
  • 4 or 5 medium potatoes
  • 300 gr greens beans
  • one cucumber
  • enough white rice
  • some kecap manis
  • some lemon juice

Then, for the peanut sauce:

  • one small onion, chopped finely
  • 3 big tsp of sambal (technically terasi, but I used ulek)
  • 3 big tbsp of peanut butter
  • a large dash of kecap manis
  • 2 tsp (brown) sugar
  • juice of .5 – 1 lemon
  • some water for diluting purposes

Prepare your rice as you normally would.

Wash your vegetables, peel your carrots and potatoes, prepare everything to be boiled, in short. (Exclude the cucumber from the boiling, of course.) Chop your carrots into thin slices, halve your courgettes and slice them up, slice up your potatoes, and halve the green beans too, if you feel so inclined. Then boil everything – you can use the same water for everything and save yourself a bunch of hassle, water, and washing up. Start with the  carrots (1 minute) and remove them, then do the courgettes (1 minute) and again remove them, now do the beans the beans (7 – 8 minutes), possibly together with the potatoes ( seeing as they’ll also take 7-8 minutes), and finally the eggs (8 minutes). Peel your cucumber and slice it into slices or wedges (I like mine in wedges because the shape maintains the crisp better).

In the picture the gado gado looks all clean and separated, but in reality I tossed everything in a bowl together. So do that, then top it with some more kecap and some lemon juice, and mix. Leave to soak up each others’ flavours whilst you make your peanut sauce.

To make the peanut sauce, fry the chopped onion and sambal gently in a wee saucepan. Add the peanut butter, kecap, lemon juice, and sugar, and stir. Then add as much water (I used the boiling water from the veggies because it has flavour, unlike tap water which only dilutes) as you need to in order to get a nice, liquid (but not thin) sauce.

Finally, peel your eggs, quarter them and top the salad with them. Serve with white rice and slather the whole thing with peanut sauce.

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The Emerald of the Equator, part II: nasi goreng

This week in the series Dutch Indonesian food: nasi goreng, the most famous Indonesian dish of them all. First of all, what exactly is nasi goreng? Nasi means rice in Bahasa Indonesia, goreng means fried, so there you go, fried rice. But really, what is it?

As always it depends on who’s making it. There seem to be a lot of variations. Traditionally it’s a leftover meal: you avoid wasting your precious boiled rice, and you can chuck in whatever other ingredients you have left or lying around. Your aim is to use up rice from the previous day’s dinner as soon as possible, which means that nasi goreng is actually usually eaten as a breakfast dish. Best breakfast ever, if you ask me.

Story time! So at some point in the past, the Dutch embassy in Indonesia has a party, or a reception, or something or other that’s pretty official and to which a lot of pretty high-ranking individuals are invited. In order to make a good impression on their autoctonous counterparts, the Dutch officials decide to serve some typical Indonesian dishes – including nasi goreng, a breakfast dish. Imagine going to an embassy as a diplomat and being served rice krispies in milk. Unfortunately I can’t find any sources for this, other than my mother, who remembers reading this story in some newspaper or other in the 70s or something, but never mind that. Se non è vero, è ben trovato.

As for the nasi goreng my mum made, at home we always just called it ‘nasi’, because unlike for native speakers of bahasa indonesia, for us there was no need to differentiate it from any other rice, which we just called ‘rice’. My mum has a very specific preparation method, from which she rarely (if ever) diverts. Let’s have a shot at that one, and then we’ll compare it to what we’ll find in Indonesia.

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For 4 people, use:

  • 4 cups of rice, washed and boiled or steamed
  • 250 gr of pork meat, cubed (I can’t tell you which cut – this has always been a source of great confusion for me – anything you choose will be fine! I hope)
  • one large onion
  • 300 gr of white cabbage
  • one large carrot
  • one leek
  • some Chinese celery (that’s the leafy type, not the stalky type)
  • 8 eggs (4 for frying, 4 for omelette making)
  • some kecap manis (that soy sauve from last week)
  • some sambal ulek (like the chili paste from last week, but a slightly different kind)
  • 1 tsp of the following spices: spicy paprika, ground coriander, ground cumin
  • ½ stp of the following spices: chili powder, laos (dried and ground galanga), turmeric

to serve:

  • some goreng bawang (crispy fried onions)
  • some acar (a kind of pickled vegetables)
  • some serundeng (sautéd, grated coconut)

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Before anything else, make an omelette using 4 out of your 8 eggs. When it’s done, cut it into small strips.

Next, finely chop your onion and fry it in a wok in some oil along with the sambal ulek and the spices. After a minute or so, add the meat and make sure it cooks properly all the way through.

In the meantime, thinly slice your white cabbage, cut rings out of your leek, and make tiny cubes out of your carrot. Add them to the wok, leave to fry for a while, then add a bunch of kecap manis, the rice, and the omelette strips. Quickly chop the celery and add that, too. Mix properly, then serve with the other 4 eggs which you’ve fried in the meantime, the acar, the serundeng and the goreng bawang.

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The Emerald of the Equator

One of the most fun and important things that you can do in life, if you ask me, is try new stuff. Keep the mind open and flexible, you know? Mostly just little things suffice – you can go see a new city in your area, or meet new people, or see a band that you’ve never heard before. But sometimes, it’s nice to do something big. When I can afford it, I try to go and see a new country. The trick is to choose countries that are cheap to stay in, even if the flight might be pricey, so that you can stay longer after the initial investment. This year I can afford it, more or less, so next month I’m heading to Indonesia.

I’m really curious about Indonesia. I’ve been to the South-Eastern corner of Asia before, but I have a feeling that Indonesia is going to be completely different. Being Dutch and all, and seeing that the Dutch have a colonial past in Indonesia, it almost seems like I already know the country a little bit, although I actually have no idea of what it’s going to be like. Indonesia is present in the Netherlands, and their culture has influenced ours quite a bit, not just the other way around. For example, I grew up with a lot of Indonesian dishes being regulars on our dinner table. This is one of the things I’m most curious to find out: will the food there be anything like what I ate growing up with Dutch parents who cooked Dutch Indonesian food?

It’s kind of like Indian food in Britain – it’s all completely normal and unexotic, part of the local culture at this point, but is it actually anything like the food people eat in India? Not really, most of the time. I suppose most foreign dishes in just about any country are adapted to fit the available products on one hand, and the taste of the local population on the other.

So what’s all this Indonesian food going to be like? I’m dying to find out. Once I know, I’ll put it all up here. But until that time, let’s try some of the dishes I know from when I was younger. Until I head to the Emerald of the Equator in the first week of August, this is what we’ll do: four weeks of Dutch Indonesian food as my mum makes it. Then the blog and I are going on holiday for the entirety of August, after which I’ll be back, hopefully with a whole bunch of amazing, new, actual Indonesian recipes.

We’ll start with a super simple one: chicken sate. A staple of the nineties, these are skewers of marinated chicken (or any meat, really), in the Netherlands invariably served with peanut sauce.

kipsaté fok yeah!

For a good number of sates (like, I don’t know, 12), use:

  • a pound of chicken breast
  • 12 skewers (or however many you want to make, really)
  • juice of one (small) lemon
  • half a cup of ketjap manis – this is a sweet, Indonesian soy sauce. try your local Chinese shop, they have everything.
  • 1 tsp of ginger powder
  • 0.5 tsp of ground cumin
  • a good pinch of black pepper

For the sauce:

  • the marinade that you used for the chicken
  • a small onion, chopped
  • 1 full tsp of sambal terasi – an Indonesian chili paste
  • 4 good scoops of peanut butter
  • some more delicious, delicious ketjap manis

First of all, soak your skewers in some water. Then, chop your chicken into fairly fine, thin bits. Squeeze the juice of your small lemon into a bowl, then mix in the ketjap, the cumin, the ginger, and the pepper. Chuck in the chicken and marinade for at least half an hour.

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Half an hour’s up? Start impaling your chicken bits on the skewers. Then stick them under the grill for about 15 minutes, and don’t forget to turn them about halfway through.

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Whilst your chicken cooks, make your peanut sauce. Gently fry your chopped onion in some oil, add the sambal and stir for a couple of minutes. Then add the marinade that you used for the chicken and then the meanut butter. If it’s very thick, add a little bit of water. If it’s not quite salty enough, add some ketjap. If it’s just too bloody overwhelming, add some lemon juice. (Add some lemon juice in any case, it’s delicious.)

Serve your sates with the peanut sauce, some white rice and some fresh cucumber salad.

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Posted in chicken, cooking, Food, Meat, recipes | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Teacher jam

One of my colleagues at the school where I work is a homey type from Yorkshire. He does things that you’d expect a real Yorkshireman to do, like woodturning and making jam. I’m especially interested in the latter. Every week, more or less, he brings in a new type of jam for us to try. I’m not especially fond of jam as it’s usually too sweet, but this man understands the art of jam making – he avoids putting in too much sugar, and he adds all kinds of funky flavours to jazz his confitures up a little bit. Sometimes he brings in really weird stuff (like kiwi jam), sometimes he brings in a classic (like raspberry), and sometimes, he brings in something that’s just outta this world.

One particularly outta this world jam was his apple and pear preserve. He brought some in a few weeks ago and as soon as I shoved a spoonful into my greedy mouth, I was sold. It blew my mind. It was so sweet and yet spicy, delicate and yet flavoursome. It had everything. “If you put a jar like this on a shelf at Eataly, you can easily get 8 euros for it.” I told him. “This shit has to go on cheese. In fact, I never want to eat cheese without this again.”And it’s true. It had such a sophisticated flavour, I swear you could put this on a fancy cheese platter and people would be dead impressed. He seemed happy with the praise, and suggested “Well, why don’t you put it on your blog? It’s really easy to make!”

You legend. Don’t mind if I do!

So the secret ingredients to this preserve right here are ginger powder and nutmeg. Do not be tempted to add cinnamon, you’ll have Christmas in a jar. Really, just nutmeg and ginger and it’ll be perfect. And if you’re desperate to be original, like me, put in just a wee bit of lemon juice, to balance out the sweetness.

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So for about 3 or 4 jars (or 1 kg of jam), go out and procure the following items:

  • half a kilo of apples
  • half a kilo of pears
  • 3 tsp of ginger powder
  • 3 tsp of ground nutmeg
  • 500 gr sugar
  • 1 sachet of pectin, I used 2:1 but it’s up to you

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As preparation, put a few spoons in the freezer. I’m not pulling your leg, really, do it. You’ll find out why soon.

So wash and grate your apples and pears. I grated the apples around the core, but the pears I just grated right through the middle because their cores are pathetic.

Chuck all of it in a pot together – fruit, pectin, sugar, spices and possibly lime juice. Put it on a lively fire and stir for about 3 minutes. Now here’s where the frozen spoons come in: you need to check if your jam is the right consistency yet. With whatever spoon you’re using to stir the jam, drop a little bit of jam onto a frozen spoon and leave to cool for a few seconds. Then prod it a little bit: if it’s jellyish, it’s A-OK! If it’s still runny, it needs more heat and stirring.

Slather all over all your cheese and eat whilst making satisfied noises.

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Posted in british, cooking, Food, recipes, Sweets and desserts | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Squid, the best animal in the world

Let’s talk about squid for a moment. Squid are marvellous animals. To eat, I mean. They fall into the category of ‘food I never dared to prepare because I didn’t know how to but which actually turned out pretty OK when I finally did’, along with almost every other type of seafood. Blenderman showed me how to do it and although it’s a lot of work, it’s actually doable.

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So squids come in various varieties. Unfortunately, English doesn’t distinguish between these, but Italian does. There’s the totano, wich is kinda big, and then there’s the well-known and universally-loved calamaro, which is smaller. There’s a bunch of other edible squids (the seppia, the polpo, the moscardino) but let’s leave them out of this. The only thing that you really need to remember, is that the totano is big, and the calamaro is small. This is important for when you’re preparing them later.

As for the appearance of squids, they look kinda funky. One day I tried to tell a student of mine about my new totano-cleaning skills. He didn’t know the word in English, and I’m strictly forbidden to speak Italian with students. In cases like this one, I always resort to drawing. That was a mistake, because this is what came out:

totano sketch

My student eloquently remarked “Sembra un cazzo con le gambe”, which means exactly what you thought to yourself when you first saw this drawing.

Terrible drawings aside, squid always kinda remind me of Cthulhu, which I like because it feels like I’m eating bits of mythology. When I was little, it was one of the types of food I couldn’t understand my parents ate voluntarily, what with all those tentacles, but now that I’m an actual, adult person, I get them.

From what I’ve heard, squid are actually relatively intelligent, and I feel a little bit bad about eating them. The cleaning process is pretty brutal as well, which makes the sensation of doing something terrible even worse. You have to rip out their backbone and turn them inside out and everything. It’s  quite gruesome, really.  The guilt lasts me all the way to the frying pan, where the smell of fried totano makes me forget all about their possible feelings.

Which brings me to the important part of this whole story about squid: what are we actually going to do with them? I’ll tell you. The tentacles are going straight to the pasta, whilst the bodies are getting floured and fried. So roll up those sleeves and be prepared to have black nails for a couple of days. Totally worth it.

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For the pasta, for two people, use:

  • 400 gr of squid, I prefer totani (about 6) but calamari (about 10-12) will do just fine
  • one big tomato or a handful of cherry tomatoes
  • a big clove of garlic
  • a small dried chili
  • a small handful of chopped parsley
  • enough olive oil
  • enough pasta

For the rest, use:

  • a small cup of flour
  • even more olive oil

So first of all, you need to remove the skin from your squid. This is quite easily down by putting a knife to their body and scraping it down, pulling off the fine layer of outer skin. After you get the first piece to come off, you can continue with the knife, or just use your fingers if that seems easier. You can leave the tentacles alone but the body should be completely skinned.

Now, rip out the bit with the tentacles. Don’t be scared. Done? OK, first remove the tooth.

The tooth:

IMG_3377It should come out easily enough. Use your fingers or the tip of a knife.

Now you also need to remove the eyes. Because this is a whole bunch of hassle, I just prefer to cut off the whole top bit, leaving you with 1) delicious tentacle on one end, and 2) creepy black eyeballs on the other. Chuck out the eyeball bit.

Do this to all of your squid. This way, you’ve got your pasta ingredients ready. (The deep-frying bit comes later, don’t worry.)

Boil your pasta in water with enough salt.

Heat some oil in a frying pan. Add the clove of garlic, crushed, and the dried chili, chopped. Gently fry for a minute on medium heat, then turn the fire to high and add the tomato, then a little after the tentacles. Leave for a couple of minutes, stirring occasionally.

When your pasta is done, drain it and add it to the squid and tomato. Add the fresh parsley and stir well.

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As for the deep-frying bit, this is where it gets cold-blooded. You’ve still got the skinned bodies of your totani left. First, remove the backbone:

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See that plastic looking bit poking out? That’s it. Grab it and pull it all the way out.

Now you’ve got a skinless, boneless totano. Hold it with its arrowhead up, gaping body hole down, and start squeezing it gently so that the organs will come out. Once it’s more or less completely empty, you can either rinse it with water and leave it at that, or you can turn the whole thing inside out and rinse it thoroughly. Up to you (although I did the last one).

Now that’s the hard work done. Grab yourself a sharp knife, cut rings out of the squid, roll them around in some flour, then just chuck them in frying hot olive oil. Shouldn’t take more than about a  minute and a half!

Posted in cooking, Fish, Food, pasta, recipes, seafood | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Giant, big-ass dinner salad

Italian is an interesting language, with lots of sneaky ways to give a slightly different meaning to your words. A while ago I mentioned the masculine and feminine version of each word, which can be a problem for us foreigners. Another way in which Italians change their words, is with a suffix. The most widely used of these must be the diminutive suffix. Technically, all the diminutive suffix does is make things smaller: gatto, a cat; gattino, a small cat. A kitty, if you will.

Then there’s also a suffix used to make things bigger. I love it. In English you can make things smaller (horsey, doggy, sweetie et cetera) but a suffix that makes things bigger was new to me. Of course, in English you can add something like ‘mega’ or ‘super’, but it’s just not the same – mega is a word onto itself, whereas the Italian suffix –one can only live if it’s attached to another word, like some sort of wordy parasite. Plus, the Italians put their mega suffix to creative use, and sometimes they use it change a word’s meaning. For instance, guanto, glove; guantone, boxing glove. Barba, beard; barbone, homeless person. See what they did there?

Anyway, both the diminutive and the mega suffix are also used slyly to make things sound better. Just as we might go for ‘a cheeky wee drink’ (and end up completely sloshed  after 6 pints and a round of shots), here people might eat ‘un gelatino‘ (a tiny ice cream), drink ‘un bicchierino di vino‘ (a small glass of wine) or leave the car parked on the zebra crossing for just ‘un attimino‘ (a brief moment).

Of course, the opposite is valid, too, as proven by the insalatona. This is essentially a salad, but they present it as a sort of full meal around here. This insalatona is not just any salad – that would be an insalata. An insalatona is a giant salad, and therefore worthy of being classified as dinner. Well, they’re not fooling me with their sneaky suffixes – a salad is a salad. But I suppose now that it’s getting hot and stuffy here in Turin, having something cold for dinner is not actually such a bad idea, especially if it’s something filling and deeply savoury. This type of weather calls for a salade Niçoise. It’s one of those classics, so I’m pretty sure that there’s one correct way to prepare it, and this it not it. This is mine, and I like it.

...and calls it a nikoois salad

For a whole bunch of people:

  • 1 kg of potatoes
  • half a kg of green beans
  • 4 eggs
  • a good handful of black olives
  • 200 gr cherry tomatoes
  • 1 tin of tuna

For the vinaigrette:

  • half a tbsp grainy mustard
  • 6 tbsp olive oil
  • juice of half a lemon
  • some sugar, some black pepper

So peel, cut (in eighths), and boil your potatoes. Clean your green beans and cook them. Boil your eggs, drain, and peel.

In the meantime, as all of your stuff is boiling, make your vinaigrette. Mix all your vinaigrette ingredients together and stir like a mental. OK, done.

So chuck your potatoes and your green beans in a big ass bowl together. Add in 2/3 of the vinaigrette, then mix well. Now add the other ingredients in a way that is pleasing to the eye. By this I mean: pile cherry halved tomatoes, quartered eggs, olives and tuna on top of the tatties and green beans.

Top with the final 1/3 of the vinaigrette. Then just eat it.

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