I've rejoined the #foodiepenpals gang after a break last autumn. I was very happy with my matches this month and overjoyed when I learned my parcel would be arriving from the Netherlands courtesy of Dutch food blogger Eefke. I lived in Amsterdam for 9 years and while my spoken Dutch never rose much beyond basic I acquired a vast love for Indonesian food, which is as widespread in the Netherlands as Indian food is here (going out for a rijstafel [literally rice table] is the Dutch equivalent of us going for a curry).
I asked Eefke if I might have some Indonesian ingredients as a
treat as it's extremely difficult to find them in the UK. I also asked
her not to send me any stroopwafels or speculaas,
as I'm not keen on Dutch biscuits. Her reply made me laugh - she was
relieved not to have to send these as that was what she usually sent to
The parcel I was sending was to another Mancunian, Kelly, who cooks at Earth Café in the city's Northern Quarter, so I offered to deliver it in person. It's always lovely to meet other foodie penpals, the more so as it's a rare opportunity. She gave me a free slice of the café's signature beetroot cake in return and it was really tasty - beets are quite sweet so lend themselves well to cakes and desserts.
Delftware design, hinting at the treasures inside.
emping melindjo - similar to prawn crackers, but made with the ground-up seed of a native plant (the rest of it is eaten as vegetable in Indonesia) and sprinkled on the side of a plate. One of the spice pastes was for rendang, so that was the first one I cooked.
Rendang is a hot, spicy dish of beef or sometimes chicken, cooked very slowly in coconut milk. You can't hurry a rendang - it needs a lot of time even though the prepping is very quick. The reward is a deeply flavoursome and aromatic curry with a sauce so thick you could probably plaster your walls with it.
What you need:
300g lean stewing steak, in bite-size cubes
200ml coconut milk
2 shallots, roughly chopped
1.5cm fresh ginger
3 garlic cloves
1 stalk fresh lemongrass
2 small fresh chillies, deseeded
1/2 tsp turmeric
(OR 50ml readymade rendang spice paste)
What to do:
Make the rendang paste: Peel the shallots, ginger, galangal and garlic. Take off the tough outer layer of the lemongrass. Roughly chop all these plus the chillies then put into a food processor with the turmeric and blitz until you have a paste. You may need to add a little vegetable oil to help it on its way. Use a tablespoon of paste to marinate the meat in a bowl - use your hands to coat the beef thoroughly. Leave it at least an hour, overnight in the fridge if possible.
Chop the onion very finely and fry it gently in a little vegetable oil until it starts to soften. Turn up the heat and add the meat, scraping all the marinade out of the bowl and letting it brown. Pour in the coconut milk then turn the heat down again and let it simmer very gently for 2-3 hours until all the liquid has evaporated and you are left with a very thick sauce coating the meat, which should be just about falling apart.
Serve with some plain basmati rice and a topping of Indonesian-style crispy onions.*
If you can't get hold of galangal, just double the amount of ginger. Add an extra chilli if you want a lot of heat although my view is that rendang should be hot enough that you need a hanky for when your nose starts to run but it shouldn't be so hot that your mouth starts to really tingle. Leftover paste will keep in the fridge for a few days in an airtight jar but it also freezes well.
Crispy onions garnish just about every Indonesian dish that hasn't been topped off with satay or gado-gado sauce. You can buy them here in the supermarkets but they are really easy to make and won't have the additives that bought ones contain. Peel, quarter and slice an onion. Toss the onion first in a little beaten egg then some plain flour. Heat a couple of inches of vegetable oil in a deep pan and fry the onion in batches until deep golden brown. Drain well on kitchen paper and leave to cool.
You can make the onions while the rendang cooks. I don't advise using a deep-fryer if you have one as the oil gets really dirty. You can strain off the leftovers into a jar very carefully, leaving all the sediment and bits behind - it's fine for frying veg or meat in the first stage of cooking a dish.
Leftover crispy onions can be stored in an airtight container - they make a great topping for salads. If they go a bit limp, spread them on a baking sheet and reheat for 10 minutes maximum at 200C.