Saturday, November 19, 2011

Sambal Tomat(Spicy Javanese Tomato Sambal)

Sambal Tomat
I grew up eating sambal and still have the habit of using this condiment when I eat Asian dishes (especially Indonesian dishes).  It's basically, like the use ketchup in the US, Indonesians eat sambal with everything.

The description of sambal in wikipedia:

Sambal is a chili based sauce which is normally used as a condiment. Sambals are popular in Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, the southern Philippines and Sri Lanka, as well as in the Netherlands and in Suriname through Javanese influence. It is typically made from a variety of chili peppers and is sometimes a substitute for fresh chilis. It can be extremely spicy for the uninitiated. Some ready-made sambals are available at exotic food markets or gourmet departments in supermarkets in many countries.

The West has just incorporated sambal in their cooking.  The most popular one in the US that is used in Food Network TV and by well known chefs is Sambal Oelek.   Oelek means grinding or pounding. According to Wiki:  Oelek is a Dutch spelling which in modern Indonesian spelling has become simply ulek; both have the same pronunciation. Ulek is Indonesian special stoneware derived from common village basalt stone kitchenware still ubiquitous in kitchens, particularly in Java.

Traditionally, to make sambal, Javanese use a mortar and pestle like this one to grind or ulek the ingredients.

There are all kinds of sambals and this blog is only talking about one of the varieties, the vegetarian kind: sambal tomat (with tomatoes).  The basic ingredients of sambals are fresh hot red or green chillies, shallots, garlic, salt, and something sour like lime, lemon, tamarind, or vinegar and something sweet may be added, too.  Then, other ingredients are added to it which can be several vegetarian ingredients such as small eggplants, watercress, nuts, or fruit OR non-vegetarian ingredients such as shrimp, anchovies, or meat.  For example, I  blogged about Sambal 'Udang' ('Shrimp' Chili Paste) in the past (without the real shrimp, of course, but I added dulse flakes or nori flakes to create the 'seafoody' flavor).

Sambal Oelek is vegetarian but this is not the most popular kind in Indonesia.  The most popular sambal in Java is Sambal Terasi or Sambal Bajak.  Those contain terasi/belachan or shrimp paste.  If you are a vegetarian and would like to buy a bottle of sambal in an Asian market, please check the label for shrimp paste or anchovies first.

Sambal Tomat ingredients from left, clockwise: shallots, garlic cloves, tomatoes, New Mexico Chili (reconstituted), dark palm sugar, tamarind pulp, red Thai Chili (Bird's Eye chili), no shrimp paste.

I love making my own sambal instead of buying a bottle from the Asian market because it tastes better home made.  DH also prefers my home made sambal instead of the bottled Sambal Oelek.  I also don't have to worry about reading the label to find out if the sambal is vegetarian or not.  Also, to be honest, I admit that I cannot eat HOT or EXTREMELY SPICY sambal anymore.  The level of heat that I can take has reduced after years living in the US.  By making my own sambal, I can control how many chili I can put into the sambal.  Therefore, the recipe below is not that hot.  I added New Mexico or California Chili to retain the red hot color but they reduce the heat level.  It looks red and hot but it is not.    It is a little bit on the sweet side also because of the ripe tomatoes, New Mexico chili,  and dark palm sugar.

Sambal Tomat (Spicy Javanese Tomato Sambal)

2 cups chopped ripe tomatoes (about 2 to 3 tomatoes)
3 Dry New Mexico or California Chili
5 red Thai Peppers or Bird's Eye Chili  (add more to raise the heat level)
6 shallots, peeled
12 garlic cloves, peeled
1 tsp. salt
2 tsp. canola oil
2 Tbsp. palm sugar or dark brown sugar
1/2 inch cube tamarind pulp or juice of 1 small lime
1/8 tsp. white pepper
1 tsp. white miso (optional)

  1. Remove the stems and seeds from the New Mexico or California chillies and then soak them in hot water.  Put a bowl on top to push down the chilis  (tend to float up) into the hot water so that they stay immersed.  This will take about 10-15 minutes.  Drain the softened chillies, but reserve the water.
  2. Soak tamarind pulp into 1/4 hot water, set aside.
  3. Chop the shallots, garlic, and Thai peppers into 1/4-inch pieces.  Be very careful when chopping Thai Chili by using gloves or wash your hands right away
  4. Put chili, shallots, garlic, and salt in a mini chopper/food processor or a mortar and pestle.  If using a food processor, use the pulsing method.  The texture needs to be roughly chopped instead of smooth like a paste.  I like using a mortar and pestle  and pound the ingredients since it produces the roughly ground texture(ulek).  However, a food processor with pulsing method gives generally the same texture.
  5. If you have a mortar and pestle, you can use it.  Otherwise, a food processor will do.
  6. Using a wok or frying pan, on a medium heat, stir fry the ground chili, shallots, garlic, and salt  mixture with the canola oil.  Keep stirring the ingredients for about 10 minutes.  Be patience with this process since the long stir frying of spices is the key to delicious result.  If the mixture sticks to the pan, add a little of the reserved chili soaking water (not too much that the mixture is soupy).
  7. Add the chopped tomatoes, again, stir fry for about 10 minutes until tomatoes are disintegrated.  Add just a little chili soaking water if the mixture sticks to the pan.
  8. Add palm sugar/brown sugar, soften tamarind pulp (check seeds and remove) and the tamarind soaking water OR juice of 1small lime, and white pepper.  Combine and stir fry 5 more minutes until the mixture is thickened.  Taste for more salt if necessary.
  9. Turn off heat and add the optional white miso.  The miso adds the fermented taste to sambal.  It adds more umami to the sambal, too.  Combine thoroughly.  Keep refridgerated for a week in a jar.
Sambal tomat is good to eat accompanying dry meals meaning a combination of fresh raw vegetables such as fresh sliced cucumbers, sliced tomatoes, raw green beans,  raw cabbage wedges, lettuce pieces, etc. and steamed rice (nasi) plus some kind of  fried food such as fried tempeh, fried tofu, or traditionally fried meat or fish.    Eating raw vegetables with sambal and rice is called lalapan or nasi lalapan.  Then,  fried food is added to it.  The idea is to dip the fried food or fresh veggie into the sambal and then eat it with the steamed rice.  I served lalapan (with raw fresh veggies) with Nasi Gudeg as a dry meal in the previous blog.  DH loves lalapan with my fresh sambal tomat.  He is an American born who learned to enjoy Indonesian meals.

The tamarind block I bought from Asian market.  If it is wrapped in plastic tightly and store in a room temperature, it lasts many months.  Every time I need it, I just cut a small chunk and soak the pulp in a hot water.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Vegan Gudeg(Javanese Young Jack Fruit Curry with Tofu and Tempeh)

Gudeg with Tempeh and Tofu (the triangle shapes on the left)
This is  Indonesian Young Jack Fruit Curry called Gudeg.  It is a famous and traditional dish from Yogyakarta, Central Java.  The color and looks of it is not that appetizing and fools people to pass it by in a potluck.  Hence, Javanese will recognize it right away and will dig into it.  The savory aroma of the dish itself will attract people to try it.  It contains coconut milk, palm sugar, and spices such as coriander, cumin, galanga, tamarind, Indian bay leaves, and candlenuts or kemiri.  I served this dish with sambal tomat (spicy tomato chutney), tomato and cucumber slices, and rice on a bright yellow plate to make it more appetizing.

Yogyakarta is a city near Borobudur, a world known Buddhist temple built in 9th century.  Tourists stop by and stay at Yogyakarta so they can visit Borobudur.   Most of them will have the chance to try Gudeg.  Traditionally,  this dish contains chicken, boiled eggs, and young jack fruit.  I decided to veganize it by using tofu and tempeh.  It is served with steamed long grain rice or nasi (in Indonesian).  We always call it Nasi Gudeg  when ordering in a restaurant.

Cooking Gudeg may take hours and hours on a very low heat and it may take days.  The spices and coconut milk need to be absorbed into the ingredients and Javanese will cook the gudeg until the young jack fruit turn dark brown and that the dish is dry.  Although some people prefer it more saucey (it is optional  to add more coconut milk or broth).  I don't have time to cook Gudeg for hours and hours on a stove and afraid to leave the curry cooking on a stove unattended.   I modernized the cooking method by using a crock-pot.  It took about 14 HOURS and I had to suffer the long hours smelling the savory aroma that made me hungry.

I only can get the young jack fruit in a can in an Asian and Indian market.   We share similar ingredients with Indian cooking so most of the time I can go to a small neighborhood Indian market to find the ingredients.  I can buy young jack fruit, tamarind pulp, coriander seeds, cumin seeds, shallots, bay leaves, and coconut milk in an Indian market.  However, palm sugar, candlenuts or kemiri, and galanga may only be available in other Asian markets such as Chinese, Thai, or Vietnamese.  You may substitute palm sugar with dark brown sugar, candlenuts or kemiri with macadamia nuts, and order galanga powder from an on-line market if you cannot find it fresh (use sparingly about  1/2 to 1 tsp of powder).  BTW, galanga is not the same as ginger.

Below are pictures of young jack fruit and tamarind pulp:
Young Jack Fruit in a can soaked in brine
Tamarind sold as in block or pulp wrapped tightly  in plastic

Here are Gudeg Spices:
From left corner, clockwise: Shallots, Bay Leaves, Coriander Seeds, Cumin Seeds, Dark Palm Sugar, Galanga, Tamarind Pulp, Candlenuts or Kemiri, and Garlic cloves in the middle

Vegan Gudeg( Javanese Young Jack Fruit Curry with Tofu and Tempeh) 


2 cans (20 oz each) Young Jack Fruit, drained, rinsed, and squeezed water out
8 oz super firm tofu, cut into triangle or rectangle shape
8 oz tempeh, cut into triangle or rectangle shape
2 cups coconut milk or light coconut milk

5 shallots, peeled
10 candlenuts or kemiri
10 garlic cloves
1 Tbsp. coriander seeds
1/2 Tbsp. cumin seeds
3/4 tsp. salt
1/4 cup palm sugar or brown sugar
1 inch square tamarind pulp, soaked in 1/3 hot water until soft
2 slices galanga or laos (1 inch slice each)
2 Indian bay leaves

  1. Toast the coriander and cumin seeds on a low heat  in a dry frying pan for 1-2 minute or until fragrant.  Keep stirring to avoid burning.  Set aside.
  2. Slice jack fruit, lengthwise, following the grain. Set aside.
  3. Put shallots, garlic, candlenuts or kemiri,  toasted coriander and cumin seeds,  and salt in a mini food processor or blender.  Add a little water or vegetable oil and process until it becomes a paste.
    Note: Traditionally, this is done in a mortar and pestle.
  4.  Stir fry the spice paste in a wok or frying pan on a medium heat.  Keep stirring and add water or oil if it starts to stick to the pan.  This process takes about 10 minutes (it is similar process when frying the spice paste in Korean Mushroom and Tofu Stew).  Eventually, the spice paste turns a bit darker and it also becomes aromatic.
  5. Add coconut milk, palm sugar, bay leaves, galanga and tamarind water and softened tamarind pulps (check for seeds and remove).  Stir to combine and let it simmer.
  6. Add tofu and tempeh into the curry sauce and let it simmer for about 20 minutes.
  7. Take tofu and tempeh out of the curry sauce and place them on the bottom of the crock-pot.
  8. Then, add cut up young jack fruit  on top of them and, finally,  on top, spread all of the curry sauce including the herbs.  Set crock-pot on LOW and let it cook for 12-14 hours.  You can stir it once but I recommend keeping the lid closed during the cooking process.
  9. Serve with long grain steamed rice.
Cutting up young jack fruit
Stir frying spice paste
Simmering tofu and tempeh in curry sauce

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Vegan Korean Mushrooms and Tofu Stew

Vegan Korean Mushrooms and Tofu Stew (with Kabocha Squash)
I am blogging about a Korean dish again!  There is a story behind this dish.  A few years ago, Jay andJulie Hasson took me to a Korean restaurant in Beaverton, OR.  I forgot the name of that little restaurant.  There was only 1 vegan item they can serve us which is a spicy tofu stew/hot pot.  We ate it with rice and I remember that it was red but it was not that spicy.  It was so delicious that it stuck in my mind.

So when recently, I discovered Vegan 8 Korean blog, I perused the recipes that Sunnie blogged and this stew looks like that one I ate at the Korean restaurant years ago.  The Korean name of this dish is hard to pronounce:  Dubu-Busut Jeongol (Vegan 8 Korean recipe).  I did more research and found out that Jeongol means 'stew' or 'hot pot' that can be cooked on top of a butane stove on the dining table in a family gathering.  There are all kinds of Jeongol so the ingredients are interchangeable.  Dubu means tofu and busut is mushroom.
As Sunnie was saying in her blog, it looks red but it is not very spicy so don't be afraid!  That reminds me of what I ate in that Korean restaurant years ago.  It was not that spicy, it was red, but it was flavorful.  When I first tried this recipe, I used King Oyster Mushroom  which started to pop up in Asian markets around my house.  Apparently, DH didn't really like this kind of mushrooms since it is chewy.  I decided to change the ingredients by using the fresh softer oyster mushrooms, golden (brown) enoki mushrooms, and shitake mushrooms.  I also didn't have soy bean sprouts but had some fresh spinach leaves.  DH said that he liked it better the 2nd time I made it with these ingredients.  One thing for sure about this dish is that it is EASY and FAST to make.  It is also HEALTHY.

I also learned using Perilla Oil in cooking this stew.  It is apparently rich of omega-3 fatty acid and alpha-linolic acid (ALA).  So I am excited of using this oil in my Korean dish (Perila oil can be found in Korean market).  You can always use sesame oil if you can't find perilla oil.

Below is a version of my Korean Jeongol.  I used more kelp powder since I like the 'seafoody' flavor.  You are welcome to reduce the amount.

Vegan Korean Mushrooms and Tofu Stew/Hot Pot
Serve 6-8

1 pkg. or 14.5 oz firm tofu, sliced
1 1/2 cup fresh shiitake mushrooms, sliced
1 pkg. or 8 oz fresh enoki mushroom, torn up to pieces
2 large onion, sliced
1 cup packed fresh baby spinach
2 scallions, chopped
3 cups of vegetable broth (I use mushroom seasoning broth or vegan chiknish), 1 cup more if using the optional Kabocha Squash
salt, if needed and if the veg broth is not salty enough.
Optional: 1 to 1 1/2 slices of Kabocha Squash, seeded and peeled

1 Tbsp. soy sauce
1 Tsp. kelp powder
2 Tbsp. Korean Chili Pepper or Gochugaru (can be reduced to 1 Tbsp to reduce spicyness)
3/4 Tbsp. sugar
1 Tbsp. minced garlic

2 Tbsp. Perrilla oil (or sesame oil if you can't find perrilla)

  1. Put sliced tofu on the bottom of the hot pot or heavy cast iron pot (as pictured above)
    Add onions over tofu then add all of the mushrooms over the onions.
    Stir frying seasoning until fragrant.
    In a heavy wok on a medium heat, add perilla oil, then kelp powder, soy sauce, Korean pepper powder, sugar and garlic (all seasonings ingredients).  Stir fry for 10 minutes.  Yes, really that long while stirring it to avoid sticking.  According to Sunnie this will break down the powder and make the seasoning smooth in the broth.  After a few minutes, you'll notice that it creates a savory fragrant.
  4. Add the combined seasonings and vegetable broth into the pot of tofu, onions, and mushrooms.  I only used 3 cups broth(or 4 cups if using Kabocha Squash) and it looks like that it is too little and it is barely there but actually after simmering all the mushrooms will shrink.  Cover and simmer on low heat for 20 minutes. 
  5. If using Kabocha squash slices, put them in after 10 minutes of simmering. At the end of 20 minutes, add baby spinach and simmer for another 1-2 minutes. Taste and add salt as needed.  When serving, add chopped scallions on top. 

Serve this stew with my perfect brown rice and vegan furikake.  It's a great comfort stew in a cool Fall or Winter day!