International Meals – Indonesia, Part 3: Bali

One more Indonesian meal to go, this one from the smaller island of Bali.  Although it’s taken a little bit longer to do this write up, we actually managed to make all three Indonesian meals in the space of a week.

For Bali, a dish that was suggested to us was a whole roasted and stuffed duck.  But there’s only two of us, so we decided to used the modified version that just used duck breasts instead.  And here they are, after a little bit of stabby-stabby:

Duck breasts

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves… this is Indonesian food, so obviously the FIRST thing we need to do is make a spice paste.

Spice paste

This was similar to the other Indonesian pastes we’ve made, but definitely the most complex so far.  It included shallots, shrimp paste, cinnamon, cloves, coconut milk, coriander seed, garlic, lemongrass, nutmeg, cumin seed, cardamom, galangal, tamarind paste, and white pepper. Once it was ground up, it ALSO needed to be fried for a bit.

Frying spice paste

The smell was, once again, fantastic.  We smeared this all over the duck and left it to marinate overnight.    Once the duck was marinated, the cooking process was simplicity itself – wrap in aluminum foil, and slow roast at low temperature for three hours.  You hold back a little bit of the paste to mix with coconut milk and spinach to make a sauce.

Where the cassava leaves from Sumatra were probably ground a bit too fine, I suspect this Spinach was actually supposed to be chopped a bit finer.  Oh well.

But spinach sauce does not by itself a vegetable dish make, so let’s turn to our second dish for this meal – water spinach with hot and sour dressing.  Water spinach is something we’ve seen before on this blog – cooked with fermented red bean curd, we used it in our Chinese meal from the costal southeast.

In this case, however, we’re going to be cooking it with… wait for it…

A spice paste!  But not a super complicated one this time.  Just chills, garlic, shrimp paste, salt, and peanut oil.

Still, the little chopper is earning it’s keep this week.

The spice paste gets fried for a bit.

And then you cook the water spinach until it wilts and toss in some lime juice at the last minute.

Water spinach cooking

At this point, it’s time to pull the duck breasts out of their little foil saunas.

Cooked duck breasts

Look at all that tasty flavor.  Let’s get this on the table.

Balinese meal

And there we are.  Not a lot of drama for the writeup this time, just duck with spices and veg with spices.

But let’s not bury the lede here – the duck was so damn tasty. Slow cooking made the duck just melt, and the spice blend was utterly magical.  The water spinach held up nicely to the assertive duck as well.  This was a GREAT meal, and Indonesia is definitely high on our list of favorite countries so far.

But we’re moving on now, to either Iran, or.. we may finally loop back around to hit the country we’ve missed.  Do you remember which one that was?  It will be on the quiz…

Balinese Duck Breasts (The recipe we made was from Sri Owen’s “Indonesian Kitchen“, but this one seems reasonably similar.)
Water Spinach with Hot and Sour Dressing

International Meals – Indonesia, Part 2: Java

Two meals in three days?  Madness!

But we had purchased a bunch of fresh ingredients for our Sumatran meal that we wanted to make use of before they went off, and I’m going to be off playing board games all weekend. So here we go.

The meal will feature two dishes – gado-gado, which is mixed vegetables in peanut sauce, and soto ayam, an aromatic chicken stew.  Also shrimp crisps, which have a complicated process that we’ll get into later.

So first up, we’re making a peanut sauce, or sambal kacang.  The main ingredient for this is… well, peanuts.  Surprisingly, unsalted peanuts are a perennially challenging ingredient to source.  Our local grocery store has peanuts in chili-lime, barbeque, and possibly yak, but not, you know… plain.  As such, the only ingredient that we didn’t already have on hand for this recipe was something that in theory we should be able to get at the corner store, but couldn’t.  Back to the Asian grocer.

Peanuts acquired, so into the oil with them!

Frying peanuts

Those get ground up in a blender.  You can see how much the color changed in just a few minutes of frying.

Ground peanuts

To this, you add ground up shallots, garlic, and spices, and cook it down with some liquid until you get a nice thick sauce.

Peanut sauce cooking

Finished peanut sauce

Our other main dish is the chicken stew.  We’re going to start this dish by… wait for it… making a spice paste. This is definitely a recurring theme in southeast Asian cuisines.  Any evening where we have to bust out both food processors AND the mortar and pestle is a party, let me tell you.

Soto spice paste ingredients

Lots of the usual suspects in there – shallots, garlic, ginger, turmeric, and a bunch of spices.  I STILL haven’t gone to get candlenuts, but given how many recipes called for them, I probably should have. That paste gets fried for a bit with lemongrass, lime leaves, and galangal pieces.

Spice paste frying

We also dry roast some whole spices.

Dry spices cooking

Finally everything gets combined into one pot (and seriously, WHY didn’t I fry the spice paste in the same pot, to save one step in cleanup?) along with “good quality chicken broth.”  At least, that’s what the recipe said.  This is labelled in French, so that’s classy, right?

Chicken broth

It is unclear to me why “Western Family” a brand which as far as I know, only exists thousands of miles from Quebec, labels its products in French. Whatever. You can really taste the poulet.

Moving on, the chicken breasts get poached in this liquid until cooked, about 10-15 minutes for normal chicken breasts, and a little bit longer for the mutant monstrosities sold in north American grocery stores.

Meanwhile, we boil some veg to go under the peanut sauce.
Boiled veg

Everything I’ve read about gado-gado says that the exact veg aren’t really important, just that you have a good mix.  At the risk of being insensitive (like that’s ever stopped us), I would compare this, one of Indonesia’s national dishes… to nachos.  The point is that whatever’s on the bottom is mostly there as a vehicle to convey the topping into your mouth. Nachos exist to shove cheese and salsa into your face, and these veg are here to be something you put the peanut sauce on.

The other thing happening at this point is cooking some rice vermicelli.  Here’s the method for cooking rice vermicelli:

1. Pour boiling water on it.

That’s basically it. Ten minutes later, you drain the water.

With the chicken done, and now a lovely shade of yellow, it gets pulled out of the stock and shredded.

Shredded chicken

The stock is drained to get rid of the aromatics and whole spices, and boiled down to concentrate a bit.  Finally, the chicken and noodles are returned to the pot and warmed back up, and dinner is ready to be served.

Oh, except for the shrimp chips.  Every recipe I looked at for both gado-gado and soto ayam mentioned two things. 1. Here is a recipe to make shrimp chips. 2. Seriously, just get them out of a bag, though.

Shrimp chips in a bag

At least it’s an Indonesian bag, right?

It was finally time to plate everything up and have dinner.

Javanese meal

Doesn’t this look good?  Gado-gado on the left and soto ayam on the right.  Shrimp chips in a bowl and peach bellini beer in the glass.  That latter is probably not traditionally Indonesian, so let’s just talk about the first three.

The first three were great.  That soup is DEFINITELY what I want served to me the next time I have a cold. Unlike a lot of other dishes from Indonesia, this one is generally not spicy in and of itself, but is often served with spicy toppings.  But it really doesn’t need them to be appreciated – the flavor profile is complex and delicious. For the gado-gado, what’s not to love about a spicy peanut sauce?  (The vegetables were fine.  They did their job of moving the peanut sauce to our faces.) And no one opens a bag of shrimp chips the way we do.

Indonesia is continuing to make us very happy.  One more meal to go, from Bali, and this one will likely also follow in quick succession.

We cooked out of a book again this week, but here’s some recipes that are roughly similar to the ones we used:


International Meals – Indonesia, Part 1: Sumatra

We really do want to finish this project some day.  Honestly.  And there’s countries later in the alphabet that I’m eager to get to.  There’s also North Korea, but we’ll burn that bridge when we come to it. BUT…

When we consulted our friends with expertise in Indonesia, they gave us a LOT of ideas.  And it turns out that Indonesia is the fourth most populous country in the world, after India, China, and the USA.  We did four meals for India, and five for China, so why not at least three for Indonesia?  At least it’s broken up into discrete units, known as (checks notes) “islands.”

So for our first meal, we are starting with the island of Sumatra, and what is arguably the national dish, beef rendang. To accompany, we’ll be making a cassava leaf curry.  But first, to the library!

Indonesian Cookbooks

Not pictured – the eBook we also checked out.  The Vancouver Public Library has an excellent cookbook selection at the central branch, and it’s walking distance from our apartment.  This represents quite a few pounds (sorry, kilograms) of culinary expertise.

After the trip to the library, the next obligatory trip was to our go-to grocery store for southeast Asian stuffs.


Frozen ingredients

In the top picture, produce, including whole turmeric (upper left), because our cutting board, depressingly, is still the color it was when we bought it.  In the lower picture, frozen ingredients in their natural habitat – the sink.  Observant viewers may notice the first unforced error in that picture – ground cassava leaves.

This dish is supposed to use chopped or pureed leaves, and we do know where to get those, but I spaced and didn’t see that what you have in that bag is almost the consistency (as well as the color) of matcha.  Oh well, too late now, let’s power on and see what it tastes like.

First, we need to pre-cook some stuff.  In the top pan, the cassava powder is blanching. (Blanching?  Can you blanch a powder?) In the bottom pan, dried anchovies.

Cassava and anchovies cooking separately.

Next, we need to make a spice paste, so out comes the immersion blender. A mortar and pestle would be traditional, but the recipe literally does call for a blender.

Spice paste ingredients.

This paste contains red chilies, shallots, garlic, whole turmeric, ginger, whole coriander seed, and powdered cumin.  It does NOT contain candlenuts, because I didn’t want to make a separate trip just to get those.  Sorry.

Once our paste was ground, it gets fried with some whole aromatics – lemongrass, galangal, and lime leaves.

Frying spice paste

I think it goes without saying that this smelled amazing.  Next, you toss in some coconut milk and your cassava leaves, and let it simmer.  The final dish is SUPPOSED to be stewed leaves in a broth, but in our case it ended up with a texture closer to baby food.

Simmering cassava leaf curry

Still, if baby food tastes like this, sign me up for some sort of uncomfortable role play, because it was REALLY tasty. More on the final dish below.

Next up, beef rendang. “Rendang”, as far as I can tell, doesn’t have a literal translation aside from this dish.  It has an incredible amount of cultural significance in the region, which I encourage you to go look up, because I’m not going to be able to do it justice here. So what is it?

It is beef cooked in coconut milk and spices for a LONG time.  No, longer than that.  You cook it until ALL the liquid has either evaporated or been absorbed into the beef.  Over the course of the cooking process, there are a number of discrete stages, all of which look totally different from each other.  I was referring to it as going through phase transitions, but that was too nerdy, and I wanted Leigh to stop hitting me.

But to start, let’s make another spice blend!

Beef rendang spice blend

This one is shallots, garlic, ginger, turmeric root, chilies, and galangal, with a little coconut milk for lubrication.

And now, let’s just watch the magic happen.  For the first two hours, it looked like this:
Beef rendang, first stage.

A big pot of seasoned coconut milk with beef under the surface.  Once it had cooked for several hours and reduced a bit, it gets transferred to a wok to increase the surface area. And from here on in, I’m going to include the time stamps so you can follow the evolution.  It’s really magic:


Beef rendang in a wok

Beef rendang at 6:32

Beef rendang at 7:02

Beef rendang at 7:18

My photography skills are not increasing commensurately with the quality of the rendang, obviously.  But still – compare this color to the first picture.  And now compare it to the finished product, from 7:40.

Sumatran meal.

My goodness, LOOK at that color.  At this point just about all of the liquid was gone, and you are left with a thick, delicious seasoning coating the meat.  We abuse the term “depth of flavor” on this blog a lot, but… just LOOK at it! The cassava puree also turned out very nicely, and the tartness and creaminess was a good contrast to the beef, especially with the added textural contrast of the friend anchovies on top.  Also pictured, sticky rice.

And so that was our Sumatran meal.  Beef rendang is EVERYTHING that was promised, and although it takes a while to make, it is something I would absolutely serve to guests. The leftovers the next day were even better, as is often the case with stews

Next up – Java!


International Meals – India, Part 4: Eastern India

For our fourth Indian meal, we’re concentrating on dishes from the eastern part of India, in the areas near Bangladesh. I still haven’t transferred our pictures for our Bangladeshi meal from Facebook over to this blog, but for that meal we made a spicy fish dish, a red lentil curry, and a rice pulao.

Since I hadn’t looked this up before I planned this meal, we ended up making a spicy fish dish and a red lentil curry.  Welp.  The two recipes aren’t QUITE identical, and they were both tasty, so we’re cool.  Plus, we continued our bread-lentil-main-other pattern here, so there were two other dishes to make.

Let’s get started!  First off, our flatbread.  This is the one I’m least certain about the authenticity.  The best known bread from this region is luchi, but it’s deep fried, and we’re on record as being somewhat deep-fry averse.  So instead we found a recipe for a flatbread made with rice flour.  The actual method is pretty simple – first you cook rice flour and water in a pot, then once it’s cooled, you knead it into a dough.

To my astonishment, this powdery mess:

Cooked rice dough

did, in fact, come right together into smooth dough balls.

These then needed to be flattened out as thin as possible, without allowing them to fall apart.  While I never got pretty round shapes, I did at least get somewhat better as we went along. (That would obviously be left to right.)

Rice roti ready for cooking

Back to the cast iron on the grill.  They never got a LOT of color, but some of them DID puff up, so we were clearly doing something right.

Next up, lentils.  We’re using split red lentils for this one, or masoor dal. These things are great – we use them all the time for weeknight cooking, because they don’t need to be soaked, and they come together in a nice thick texture that’s delicious with rice.

Indian cooking can involve making really complicated spice blends.  Toast this, grind that, mix in the other thing, for upwards of as many as twenty ingredients.  But for THIS region, the dominant blend is called panch phoran, and couldn’t be simper.  Take five whole spices, and mix them together without cooking them.  The five spices are fenugreek, nigella, cumin seed, mustard seed, and fennel seed.

We have this adorable little container that I just keep refilling as we run out.

Panch phoran

This lentil dish uses the standard process of “cook lentils in one pot until done, make seasoning in second pot, put seasoning in lentils.”  Seasoning in this case consists of the aforementioned spice blend, along with onions, tomatoes, ginger garlic paste, and chilis.

Lentil seasoning

Finally, let’s talk fish.  There’s two ingredients that required a little planning here.  First is the fish itself.  Rohu is a type of carp, which swims around in solid rectangular blocks of ice, and frankly, seems to be trying just a LITTLE hard to ingratiate itself.

Packaged rohu fish.

WE’LL be the judge of what we like, fish.

The other key ingredient for this dish is mustard oil.  Now, while people in Bengal have been cooking with mustard oil for millennia, it contains high levels of erucic acid, which is potentially linked to heart disease when consumed in large quantities.  As such, it is illegal to sell it for cooking purposes in the US and Canada.  On the other hand, it’s perfectly legal to sell exactly the same oil as hand lotion.

Mustard Oil
“External use only.”  Nudge nudge, wink wink.

Figuring that making the occasional dish with this stuff will likely not kill us, we decided to go ahead and make macher jhol, a tasty fish curry.

The fish steaks, once freed from their icy tomb, were rubbed with salt and tumeric, then quickly seared in the oil. Once they’re ready, you make a sauce with tomatoes, onions, garlic, and spices.

Fish curry in progress.

After the sauce has reduced for a while, you put the fish back in to finish cooking, and it’s time to bring the whole meal to the table!

Eastern Indian meal
You may notice four place settings here – that’s because we once again had friends!  Leigh’s colleague Laurel and her husband were kind enough to join us and bring a lovely bottle of wine.

And the meal was excellent, if we do say so ourselves.  The dal was creamy and super flavorful, the fish had a lovely bite to it without being overwhelmed by heat.  The bread had a bit of an unusual texture from the rice flour, but it was a perfectly good scoop for shoving food into our faces.

And finally, it was time for desert.  We made chhena poda, a type of cheesecake that can be made with either chhena, a fresh curd which we didn’t want to make, or paneer, which we could just buy. The cheese is blended together with jaggery (palm sugar) and a little cardamom and rice flour.

Chhenna poda in process

To bake, you line a tin with banana leaves and brush them with ghee.

The final product has some of the “squeak” of fresh cheese curds, and is sweet and delicious.

This thing is also so ludicrously easy to make, we’re going to have to bear it in mind for future potluck situations.

So – that’s our whirlwind tour through India.  For blog purposes, anyway – it’s going to continue to be one of our staple cuisines for regular cooking.  (We literally made another dal recipe in the three days between the time of this meal and when I got around to writing it up.)

Next up, Indonesia, and we have friends with THOUGHTS and FEELINGS on that topic. Can’t wait!

Bengali Masoor Dal
Apas (Rice Roti)
Macher Jhol (fish curry)
Chhena Poda (cheesecake)