Welcome to the “E”s! Since we filed “Ivory Coast” under “Côte d’Ivoire,” we will now be cooking Timor-Leste as our first “E” country. Because why not?
East Timor is one of the newer sovereign countries in the world, having only been independent since 2002. They were a Portuguese colony until 1975, and when the Portuguese bowed out, Indonesia took over for a bit. So the cuisine is kind of a mix. It has a lot of similarities to Indonesian food, but also feijoada like we made for Brazil is a thing.
Doing the research to pick a recipe for this week, we discovered a number of sources claiming that the national dish is Ikan Pepes, or fish grilled in banana leaves. However, while there were a number of recipes floating around for this, none of them gave much in the way of sources. Another possibility would have been Batar Daan, which is a vegetable dish of corn, mung beans, and pumpkin.
However, we ran across a recipe in the Wall Street Journal, of all places, that described the author walking around Dili (the Timorese capital) picking up ingredients to make Tukir Na’an Karau, a beef stew that sounded delicious and inarguably authentic.
First step, as always, was to procure ingredients. We figured an Indonesian grocer would be the best place to start, so we were off to find “Auntie Grace’s”. And “find” is right – it turned out to be a second floor walkup in the middle of an industrial park! But it was a cheerly little one room store with a very friendly couple and shelves packed with esoteric ingredients and Indonesian snacks. However, while they DID know what I was talking about, they didn’t have the ingredient we had come for: Long Pepper.
That took two more stops, but we did finally find it. (At a touristy spice shop back on Granville Island, oddly enough.) Definitely a unique component – long pepper is a bit like black pepper, but with notes of menthol, Sichuan peppercorn, coriander, and … tobacco? But in the good way, if that’s possible.
At any rate, it turns out that driving all over Vancouver was the hard part of this recipe, and cooking it was the FUN part! Why?
First, let’s start with what the French refer to as Le Petit Smash (Note: not actually true) and grind up some spices in our brand new mortar and pestle, which we bought at the SECOND stop while driving all over Vancouver looking for long pepper.
We’d been meaning to get a bigger one forever, and it makes a huge difference over the little dinky one we had been using. But that’s just the WARMUP smash.
This recipe calls for lemongrass. But not chopped lemongrass, oh no. This recipe calls for the lemongrass to be beaten into submission with a blunt object (we used a Pyrex measuring cup) and tied into knots.
That accomplished, the lemongrass is tossed in with cubed chuck steak, kaffir lime leaves, the toasted crushed spices, and some salt.
Oddly, this marinade contains no liquid, so you just mix everything up, and let the flavors sort of… waft? … into the beef. Once it’s had a chance to absorb the flavor, it’s almost time to star cooking, but first:
It really is a very therapeutic recipe. It is also worth mentioning that those orange strips are NOT carrots – they’re turmeric. As such, after I finished peeling them and smashing them into submission, my hands looked like I’d murdered a canary with my bare hands. That cutting board is never going to be NOT yellow again.
But from this point forward, the work is basically done. You sweat your aromatics a bit…
…then toss in the beef and let it cook forever. Half an hour in, you put in some tamarind. An hour or so later, once it’s falling apart, you take the lid off to cook off most of the liquid, then add some coconut cream to get a rich, indulgent stew that has an INSANELY tempting aroma.
Fish out the giant pieces of ginger and lemongrass, and it’s time to eat!
Oh. My. Goodness.
Discovering recipes like this is WHY we do this. It is impossible to describe just how much flavor was packed into this curry. And the beef was basically DISSOLVING, it was cooked so well. It is absolutely a shame that the recipe is stuck behind the WSJ paywall, but it’s worth finding someone with access to get yourself a copy, particularly if you can source the ingredients.
We did also make a dessert which, while not UNIQUE to East Timor, is certainly eaten there – sticky rice in caramelized sugar and coconut sauce. We used the dry caramelization method, which is literally just dumping a pile sugar in a wok, and cooking it until it turns to caramel sauce.
For the longest time, the sugar just sat there, and then we poked it and realized it had turned from a big pile of sugar to a thin layer of sugar sitting on a layer of delicious caramel. We tossed in tome coconut milk, which caused it to solidify instantly.
But that’s OK – we didn’t actually want either a liquid caramel OR a solid one – we just wanted caramelized sugar dissolved in coconut milk. And that’s what we got. Once everything had dissolved, we dumped in what didn’t SEEM like quite enough cooked sticky rice. But it turns out sticky rice will eagerly drink as much sugar milk as you give it, and the resulting dessert was heavenly.
The resulting breakfast was ALSO heavenly.
So – East Timor. For being a young country, you have a fantastic curry. There is absolutely zero chance we will not be bringing this one back out at some point. Next up, a country that inarguably starts with “E”, (instead of arguably, like this one) Ecuador!