Monday, May 14, 2012

Indonesian Vegan Street Food Tahu Ketupat - Tofu and Rice Cake with Noodles

I am introducing another Indonesian street food.  Lately, I've been missing Indonesian street food type of meals, the dishes I grew up eating.  Now, if I go back to Indonesia and consume any street food that is sold there, I'll probably end up in a hospital with diarrhea and all kind of bacteria that my body cannot take anymore.  Back then my body had all the natural anti bacteria and it was ok eating in a street food environment.  Now, living in a more sterile environment in the US, I don't have those protections anymore.  It was amazing that my family ate street food almost every day when I was growing up and we didn't get sick.  I am recreating this dish at home, in a more sterile environment, but I still have all the fond memories of eating all kinds of street food back then.

Lately, I watched this YouTube video:  Jakarta Street Food 239 Tahu Kupat Solo  (unfortunately there is no English subtitle).  This is a true street food, prepared on a street and was eaten on the side of a street.   The guy/seller used a push cart loaded with a propane gas stove, a wok, utensils, dishes, ingredients, and a  money box.  He would push this cart and rang his bell (hitting a plate with a utensil) to attract customers (see him in action at the end of the video).  Then, customers would call upon him, place an order, and sit or stand by the street eating.  This video brought a lot of fond memories of me eating and growing up in Indonesia.

The dish, Tahu Ketupat/Kupat (Tahu = tofu and Kupat/Ketupat = rice cake), is a garlicky dish consisted of fried tofu, rice cake, noodles, cabbage, beansprouts, peanuts, green chili, kecap manis, beansprout fritters, rice crackers, and fried onions.  I decided to recreate this delicious Indonesian vegan dish at home and to recreate my fond memory.

First, I would like to talk about the rice cake or  Kupat or Ketupat which is eaten in Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, and Singapore.   It is made of rice that is poured into a woven palm leaves casing, boiled, and then becomes a compressed rice cake.  I am going to talk about it in 2 parts:   the Traditional Way and the Modern Way of making the rice cake.

The Traditional Way of making Ketupat:

Kupat/Ketupat/Puso casing or pouch
The making of a traditional ketupat casing is a dying art and an interesting origami using palm leaves.   I used to be able to weave ketupat casing but I have long forgotten this skill.  I found 2 You Tube videos of ketupat casing weaving:  Ketupat Weaving Tutorial (5 min. 19 sec.) or  How to Make a Rice Pouch Filipino Style (2 min. 45 sec.)  Raw rice is inserted into the casing and boiled for hours.  As the rice cooks, they will expand and fill up the pouch into a compressed rice cake.   Using a knife, the casing is usually cut open in halves and the rice cake are cut into cubes.  This comical You Tube video from Calamity Chef (with Singaporean English accent):  Ketupat: the making of shows the traditional way of making the casing and the rice cake (3min. 45 sec).

The Modern Way of making Ketupat:

Now, you don't expect me to make ketupat the traditional way, do you?  I don't think so.When will I have the time to weave each casing and where will I find and buy suitable palm leaves to use?  I prefer the modern way which is faster.   That is boil-in-the-bag rice cakes.  It is available now in Asian markets.  This is the brand that I usually buy: Ketupat Nona   It is available on-line also.  It is very easy to make it by boiling the rice cake in the bag like any boil-in-the-bag rice method.  It usually takes about 60 minutes to boil the rice cake and more hot water has to be added while it is simmering and as the rice cake is expanding.  The rice cake needs to be cooled before the bag is cut open (watch the video How to make boil-in-the-bag ketupat below) and then it is ready to be cut into cubes.

Boil-in-the-bag ketupat

Or, the most economical way is to make your own boil-in-the-bag rice cake.  Seriously?  Yes! This lady bought boil-in-the-bag rice that is available in any market, cut the bag open, mixed the rice with Thai Jasmine rice, refilled the bag half way, and then sealed the bag with a candle.  Smart!  Watch this video:  How to make boil-in-the-bag ketupat

Tahu Ketupat (Indonesian Vegan Street Food: Tofu and Rice Cake with Noodles)
Serve 4

4 cups (about 1 lb) fresh yellow noodle(no eggs) or  1 pkg dry Chuka Soba, boiled
4-5 cups fresh beansprouts, steamed for 3-5 minutes
4-5 cups cabbage, sliced thin, steamed for 3-5 minutes
1 bag boil-in-the-bag ketupat (such as Ketupat Nona), prepared and cooled

Boiled-in-the bag ketupat, prepared, cooled, and cubed.
3-4 cups fried tofu cubes
Fried tofu cubes I bought at an Asian market.  
A lot of times, I also use super firm tofu cubes and oven fried them.
1 cup chopped celery
1 cup coarsely ground roasted peanuts
1/4 cup kecap manis
1/4 cup chopped or sliced green chili (such as Serrano chili or Thai chili), optional
1/2 cup chopped green onions

Toppings: celery, peanuts, kecap manis, green chili, green onions.
Fried Shallots, optional
Indonesian Rice Crackers with no shrimps (poppadoms), optional
Indonesian rice crackers or Indian poppadoms are a great crunchy topping

4 cups vegetable broth ( I prefer using Better than Bouillon No Chicken Base)
2 Tbsp. fresh minced garlic
2 Tbsp. kecap manis
Salt to taste (if the vegetable broth is salty, omit salt)

Making the sauce/broth:
  1. Combine the sauce/broth ingredients above and simmer for 5-10 minutes.  Keep it warm.

Beansprouts and Carrots Fritters:
It is optional to include the deep fried beansprouts fritters. However, it is delicious with it.  My husband loves these deep fried fritters and just can have them as snacks by themselves.  It is similar to pakoras or bird nest Japanese tempura.

3/4 cups all purpose flour or unbleached white flour (can be substituted to chickpea flour)
2 Tbsp. chickpea flour or besan flour
2 Tbsp. rice flour
1/2 tsp. white pepper
1 tsp. salt
1 1/2 cup fresh beansprouts
2 cups carrots, julienned or coarsely shredded
1/4 to 1/2 cup water
Vegetable oil or grape seed oil for deep frying

Making the fritters:
  1. Combine all the fritters ingredients above in a bowl.  When adding the water, add 1/4 cup first, then add a little at a time while mixing until it becomes a thick batter that can be scooped with a spoon.  This is like making pakora or a bird nest tempura.
  2. Heat oil in a frying pan to350F.  Using a spoon, scoop fritter batter into the oil and deep fry until brown.  Do not overcrowd them
  3. Drain them onto a paper towel to remove excess oil.  Cut into pieces before serving.
Frying beansprouts fritters

Assembling the Tahu Ketupat, for each bowl or serving:
It is easy to assemble or serving this dish after all the ingredients above are ready.  They all can be made ahead of time and then be reheated or they can be kept warm until serving time.  I think this is the reason that this dish is sold on the street because the seller can easily have everything ready and reheat the dish at the last minute when the customers put in the orders.  I usually prepare everything and store the ingredients in plastic containers.  Then, I assemble for each serving by warm them up with a microwave or steamer just before serving time.  The sauce/broth can be reheated in a pot just before serving.

On a serving bowl or soup plate, layer rice cake cubes (1/4 of a bag of rice cake) on the bottom.  Then, add warm 1 cup noodle,  1 cup each of steamed cabbage and bean sprouts. 
Cut 2-3 beansprouts fritters into 2 pieces and add them on top.  Slice 1 cup of fried tofu and add them on top), too. Then, add the toppings: chopped celery, ground peanuts, green onions, and green chili.  

Finally, pour about 1 cup of hot broth/sauce over the dish.  It should not be soupy but it should have enough broth to wet all the ingredients in the bowl.   Add fried shallots, Indonesian rice crackers, and  kecap manis.

It is best to mix everything up when eating this dish(as was seen in the you tube video) and add more of each topping or condiment as needed.  Perhaps add more chili, kecap manis, or ground peanuts?