This is the third year I haven't been back visit my home country, Indonesia. I miss my mother and... food! The authentic food with lots of fresh spices and which are cooked with love.
Feeling mellow really does not help when you have heaps of things going on and need to be taken care of. Cooking the dish I love is the only medicine to cure homesickness, according to me.
The people at Natural Cooking Club is hosting Lontong Week, a one-off event to promote, mostly, Indonesian food. This time is the right time for cooking and devouring Lontong. This is the right moment for me to kill this nuisance feeling. I give it a go.
Lontong is an Indonesian traditional rice cake which is wrapped in banana leaves and boiled until thoroughly cooked. The finish result is awesome, scented with earthly banana leaves which the greenness resided on the outer layer of cakes.
However, some substitution are made in the recent years, due to the lack of banana leaves found in the traditional markets. If Indonesians can't find banana leaves in their tropical country, how can I? Well, yeah. I haven't found any banana leaves, either fresh or frozen. So I am using grape leaves, freshly picked from our orchard.
Lontong is often served on many occasions, whether it is special gatherings or just a small talk between peers--while you order chicken satay at night with a couple of good friends, perhaps. Yes, Indonesian loves lontong.
Since Indonesia has thousands of islands, lontong is made and served differently. With special musings and morsels in each island, there is always new thing to discover and try. This is what makes me homesick usually.
There are daily food stalls or street food vendors offering good lontong with different morsels. Ketoprak, for once, is known as Batavian specialty. It is lontong (although sometimes some vendors serve ketupat instead of lontong--ketupat is boiled rice cake which is wrapped in woven coconut leaves) served with a handful of cooked rice vermicelli, hard-boiled eggs, fried yellow tofu (yes, there are different types of tofu in Indonesia, just like mango varieties!), steamed mung bean sprouts (some like them raw), and spooned with peanut sauce) and drizzled with a little more kecap manis (sweet soy sauce).
When you buy Sate Padang, the famous Padangese or Minangkabau people (West Sumatrans) curried beef satay, you'll get lontong slices as well. And there is also gulai paku (furled frond--or fiddlehead you might say, curry--fiddlehead fern cooked in spices such as lemongrass, galangal, ginger, kaffir lime leaves, shallots, garlic, a little dab of shrimp paste, salt and a little sugar, for a start, with not to leaving green chillies out as to spice up the dish).
In South Sumatra, lontong can be served with vegetable curry and pineapple sambal (hot chilli). In Riau, where I lived for 6 years, my favourite dish was lontong Lek Menjeng which is sold behind the school. I went there everyday with my bosom friends when we had thirty minutes break. Very filling, although often made me sleepy because of full tummy. I'll write about this lontong on a separate post later. Very memorable.
Going to West Java, lontong is served with raw vegetables and spoonfuls of peanut sauce, which is called karedok.
In Borneo island, there is lontong which is shaped into triangle, served with vegetable curry, and other morsels, such as snake head fish sambal.
I can go on.
Other than whining and complaining that I can't go visiting Indonesia this year, I decided to make my own lontong. With a limited skill of what's an Indonesian cook must have, I dare myself to face failures if there is any.
I haven't got any banana leaves at hand (I don't know where Pukekohe keeps their frozen banana leaves they used to sell, can't even find any at the Asian grocery stores!), so I use grape leaves instead. Here's what I do.
Lontong (Rice Cakes)
- 1 cup medium rice
- 1/2 cup long-grain rice
- banana leaves (thawed when using frozen; wash and dry when using fresh to get rid of the wax-my grandmother used to heat the leaves up on top of the stove heat as to soften or relaxing the leaves and release the oil, so they won't break when folded)
- aluminium foil
- pandan leaves, cut into strips
Wash the rices under cold water tap in a sift and drained. Put them in a saucepan and cover with water. Dip your forefinger in to measure how much water you should use. If the water is coming up to your first knuckle, drip a little more of water until it's coming a bit more up about 3mm from it. Cook on the stove on medium heat and stir occasionally as not to catch the rice on the bottom of the pan. When it's boiled, turn the heat down to very low, stirring occasionally. When you see water has been absorbed, removed from the heat and cover until cooled a bit.
Prepare the banana leaves. When using grape leaves like I do, you need to wash off the fluffy stuff that covers. Now, this is what I did with grape leaves.
Put the aluminium foil as the outer layer, then cleaned grape leaves, strips of pandan leaves. Spoon the cooked rice on top of the edge of the wrap. Roll to cover and sealed both sides, so you will get nice and firm cylinders. Prick them with a pointy knife several times in different location, make sure you don't make big holes all around, just enough little tiny holes to give water introduced into the cakes and help it boiled and hardened.
Cook for about an hour and a half, using pressure cooker. Give more time if the cakes are not firm to touch and check the water. I add up more water with boiling water from the kettle every time I top up. These cylinders have to be cooked in the water, not floating.
They are ready when they are firm to touch. Remove from the pan, and cool them on a wire rack. I like using a colander-like pan that came with kitchen tap set, so the excess water from the rice cakes can drip through.
When they are cooled, peel off the foil and the grape leaves. Actually, they leaves are safe to eat, like your Greek's dolmades. But, I just peel them and cut into slices. Eat with your favourite curry, sauce, or whatever comes to your creative imagination!
I got opor ayam to go with it.
Opor Ayam (Chicken Braised in Lemon Grass)
- 1 whole chicken, joint, wash and dry (about the chicken. If you use free-range chicken like I do, you have to boil the joints until half-cooked prior to further cooking. Use the stock in the cooking. If you use commercial chicken from the supermarket, it is optional)
- 6 hard-boiled eggs
Bumbu (Indonesian Seasonings)
1 Tbs coriander seeds, toasted
1 tsp cumin seeds, toasted
8 shallots, peeled, chopped
5 cloves garlic, peeled, chopped
4 lemon grass, white stalk only, chopped
2cm ginger, peeled, chopped
2cm galangal, peeled, chopped
2cm turmeric, peeled, chopped
2 kaffir lime leaves
1 star anise
1 cinnamon quill
oil to cook
1 can Kara coconut milk (Indonesian product)
Except kaffir lime leaves, star anise, cinnamon quill, salt, sugar and oil, process all ingredients until becomes a paste in a food processor.
Cooking Opor Ayam
Heat the oil in a wok, add in the paste. Cook until fragrant. Pour in the coconut milk and 1 cup of water (or use the remaining stock). Add in the chicken pieces and hard-boiled eggs. Add in kaffir lime leaves, star anise, and cinnamon quill. I also bruised the green part of lemongrass and add them in. Cook in a slow heat will release spices oils completely and absorbed much further in the chicken meat. Season with salt and sugar. Cook through until chicken is tender. Serve hot with lontong slices.
Sambal Udang Goreng (Prawns in Hot Chili Sauce)
1 kg prawns, washed, peeled and deveined, tails on
1 tsp tamarind paste
1 clove garlic, minced
a pinch of salt
Marinate the prawns with the mixture of tamarind paste, minced garlic and salt. Set aside for 30 minutes. Shallow fried. Place on absorbent paper, set aside. Cook in sambal goreng paste.
Sambal Goreng paste
- 1 cup sambal oelek (it's available in Asian groceries)
- 5 shallots, peeled, chopped
- 3 cloves garlic, peeled, chopped
- 1 cm ginger, peeled, bruised
- 1 cm galangal, peeled, bruised
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 tsp tamarind paste + 1/2 cup of water (add more water if you see the sambal is dry)
- 1 kaffir lime leaf, shredded
- palm sugar
- oil to cook
Process sambal oelek, shallots, shredded kaffir lime leaf and garlic in a food processor or mortal and pestle. Heat the oil, cook the paste until fragrant. Add in bruised ginger and galangal. Add in bay leaves. Cook until the sauce is thicken. Add in fried prawns. Mix thoroughly and cook further on low heat until the spices are absorbed in prawns and prawns are covered by sambal. Remove and serve.
Slice some rice cakes. Put in a bowl. Pour in the opor ayam generously with its curry sauce, sambal udang goreng, egg halves, and kerupuk (tapioca/prawn/shrimp crackers).