It always surprises me when some friends confessed that they have never eaten Indonesian food. Indonesia is a country with 240 million population. We seem to always gather ourselves around food. We are also spread out literally everywhere, from Japan to Suriname, Australia to Canada. So I foolishly assume that somewhere, somehow, a person would have known or met an Indonesian person, and therefore must have tried some of our foods.
“Nope, never had it before,” said one friend
“Nada,” said another
“Not even Nasi Goreng or Mie Goreng?” asked me, stubbornly
“What’s that?” asked one friend
“Never. Not ever.” said another
“Huh.” me, flummoxed. And then quickly, “Well, then we gotta do something about it.”
As a nation we have such a wide variety of food. Take Sumatra (one of the big 5 islands) on the western part of Indonesia for example, there you’ll find a wide array of curries and very hot burn-your-tongue flavors. In Java (mid central part of the country, also one of the big 5 islands), you’ll be treated with something a little more sweeter and milder. Tea and coffee are both served sweet, very sweet. The dishes will have the sambal (chilli sauce) on the side, rather than in the cooking as you would find in Sumatra. Further east, it will vary again, some are mild and some are very spicy. Indonesia is a world of flavor and spices.
What Indonesian food should I introduce to those who’s never had any? The one definite hit will always be… Gado-Gado. It is the ubiquitous Indonesian parboiled salad with peanut sauce. Here’s my take on Gado-Gado. It is a no fuss food, easy to make and guaranteed to please the belly. As an Indonesian typically you would have some ready peanut sauce block ready for use (my favorite one is produced by “Karangsari” or the one that my Auntie Nuk lovingly makes). However, realizing that most of my readers are out of Indonesia, I’ll also include a recipe that you can attempt.
1 L water
1/4 cabbage, cut into 5cm squares
1 bag bean sprouts (about 200gram)
2 medium sized carrots, peeled and cut into 5×1 cm sticks
1 bunch spinach, cut into 5cm in length
4 hard-boiled eggs, quartered
2 cucumber, trim ends, cut into 5×1 cm sticks
1 atsuage tofu, cut into 5x1x0.5 cm slim blocks
*Optional: fried onion to garnish
**Optional: fried krupuk (prawn crackers or emping), I don’t particularly like this, so I won’t include in the recipe, but the general Indonesian population likes it! 🙂
- In a saucepan (enough to put 2L water in), bring the water to a boil
- Add the cabbage squares in, parboil until just soften (about 1.5 minutes). Using a slotted spoon, transfer the parboiled cabbage squares into a colander to dry. Run cold tap water to prevent the vegetables to cook further. Transfer to a plate that is big enough to hold all the vegetables
- Using the same boiling water, repeat the same step to bean sprouts (1 minute), carrot sticks (2 minutes), and spinach (1 minute). Careful to boil in that order. Always boil the spinach last so the green tint wouldn’t discolor the other vegetables.
- Arrange the cucumber, tofu and eggs together with the parboiled vegetables
- Pour the Saus Kacang (recipe below) on the salad and garnish with fried onion and krupuk.
- Serves 4 hearty portions
Saus Kacang (Peanut Sauce)
150 grams peanuts (fried/roasted, doesn’t matter which one, but the point is to pre-cook it)
1/4 medium onion (about 50 grams)
2 cloves garlic
75 gram palm sugar
2 Tbsp kecap manis
2 small red chiles (can be omitted if you don’t like spicy food, or can be added to make it as spicy as you like!)
1 Tbsp canola oil
2 kaffir lime leaves
1 lemon grass
200ml coconut milk
salt (to taste, in this recipe I used about 1/2 tsp sea salt)
brown sugar (to taste)
1. In a food processor, blend everything on the ingredients list from peanut down to red chiles
2. In a skillet, heat up the canola oil, saute the blended stuff in step 1 until fragrant. Add the Kaffir lime leaves and lemon grass, continue to saute for another minute
3. Add water until everything binds nicely
4. Add coconut milk and mix well, bring to a boil.
5. Check seasoning, adding a little bit of salt (for this recipe I used 1/2 tsp). Reduce further until the consistency is runny enough like a gritty gravy.
6. Transfer into a small bowl or small gravy jug. Pour on the Gado Gado salad bed in the manner of salad dressing
**If there is extra, reserve in a zip loc container in the fridge for future use. You can thin the mixture using hot water, add 1 Tbsp in increments.