A perk of teaching at Parkland College is the privilege of participating in international exchange programs. Recently we met Danny and Leni, two Indonesian exchange students who are here as part of a U.S. state department-sponsored program. Danny and Leni told us that they missed their favorite foods from home, so we invited them over one evening so that they could teach us how to make a few authentic Indonesian dishes. Danny suggested three courses – a traditional Indonesian soup, followed by a popular fried rice dish and then finishing off our meal with a dessert soup.
We started by going shopping for dinner. I assured them that we could find the special ingredients they needed in town. So we made the rounds at local Asian grocery stores, but found Far East to be the best stocked for the dishes we were planning to make. At Far East, we found most of the essential ingredients – jackfruit (they had both the green and ripe versions frozen), chayote (fresh) and chili peppers (Danny and Leni preferred the red variety but we made do with green).
The sour soup we made for the first course turned out to be the most interesting dish. Danny and Leni told us how the climate in Indonesia is very hot year-round and sour soup is very popular because eating sour dishes will actually help keep one cool. “Sour” soup may not sound appetizing, but because the sour flavor comes from tamarind, the broth had a pleasant and distinctive complexity that we would not have been able to achieve with vinegar or lemon.
For the main course, we made a Javanese-style fried rice dish. Most Asian countries have a fried rice dish of some sort, but what made the Javanese version distinctive was the potent combination of fresh chili peppers and shallots. The version we made was very spicy hot, the way Asians like it – but you can adjust the spiciness to your taste. As a side dish, we served some spicy shrimp crackers that Leni brought from Indonesia which we deep-fried.
For the third course, we made a sweet “banana” soup, but used plantains instead of bananas. In addition to plantains, we also added ripe jackfruit and sweet potatoes. What made this dish amazing was the heady combination of all these distinctively different sweet flavors all melding together in one bowl. I’ve never tasted anything quite like it in my life. Thanks Danny and Leni for introducing us to some amazing flavors and new exotic ingredients we might not have otherwise tried.
Sayur Asem (Sour Soup)
(Preparation time: 1 hour; serves 12)
- ½ lb beef (for stewing), cut into ½ inch cubes
- 3 cups water
- 1 tbsp salt
- 10 to 20 hot chili peppers (depending on desired spiciness), coarsely chopped
- 2 tbsp canola oil
- 4 shallots, sliced
- 12 cups water
- 5 bay leaves
- 3 ears corn, cut into 1½-inch chunks
- 1½ oz dried tamarind
- ¼ head cabbage, sliced
- 2 packages green jackfruit (2 lbs), cut into 1-inch chunks
- 1 chayote, seeded and cut into 1-inch chunks
- 3 cups long green beans, cut to 1½-inch pieces
- 1½ cups snow pea pods
- ¾ cup raw peanuts
- salt to taste
- sliced tomato wedges for garnish
- In a sauce pan, boil beef in water with salt until well done (about 15 minutes); discard water and set beef aside.
- While beef is cooking, start the soup in a large soup pot: sauté chili peppers in oil for about 5 minutes to release the flavors.
- Discard the chili peppers, reserve the oil.
- Add shallots and sauté until wilted.
- Add water, bay leaves, corn and tamarind; boil for 15 minutes.
- Add cabbage, jackfruit, chayote and green beans; simmer for 10 minutes.
- Add cooked beef, peapods and peanuts; simmer for another 10 minutes.
- Add salt to taste.
- Top with with tomato wedges when serving.
Javanese Fried Rice
(Preparation time: 30 minutes; serves 4)
- 1½ cups basmati rice
- 2½ cups water
- 1 tsp salt
- ½ lb chicken breast tenders
- 2 shallots, peeled
- 4 cloves garlic, peeled
- 2 to 8 chili peppers (depending on desired spiciness), stems removed
- 5 tbsp canola oil
- 1 cup shrimp, peeled and deveined
- 1 tbsp soy sauce
- salt and pepper to taste
- cilantro for garnish
- Add rice, water and salt to a sauce pan, bring to a boil.
- Simmer rice for 20 minutes, then turn off fire and allow to rest covered for another 10 minutes; set aside.
- While rice is cooking, cook chicken breast in non-stick pan until golden brown.
- After chicken has cooled, shred by hand into small bite-size chunks; set aside.
- In a food processor, grind shallots, garlic, chili peppers.
- In a wok (or large frying pan), heat oil, then add ground up shallot/garlic/chili mix and sauté for about 2 minutes.
- Add soy sauce, chicken, shrimp; stir fry until thoroughly heated.
- Add cooked rice, thoroughly mix all ingredients.
- Add salt and pepper to taste.
- Garnish with cilantro.
Kolak Pisang (Banana Soup)
(Preparation time: 30 minutes; serves 6)
- 3 cups water
- 3 sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed into ½ inch chunks
- 3 plantains, peeled and sliced into ½ inch chunks
- 8 oz palm sugar candy
- 4 tbsp brown sugar
- ½ tsp salt
- 1 package frozen ripe jack fruit (8 oz)
- 1 can coconut milk (14 oz)
- In a large pot, add water, sweet potatoes and plantains; bring to a boil.
- Add palm sugar, brown sugar, salt; bring soup to a boil again.
- Stir until palm sugar is dissolved.
- Simmer for 15 minutes.
- Stir in coconut milk.
- Let stand to cool until room temperature (or chill) before serving.