Indonesia is made up of over 6,000 populated islands, and was once known as The Spice Islands. It’s central location made it convenient for trading spices between India, the Middle East, China and Europe. It’s no wonder this country's blending of diverse cultures has created a cuisine that’s rich, fresh, aromatic and flavorful — and considered to be one of the most delicious in the world.
A very popular Indonesian dish is Sayur Asem, a vegetable sweet and sour tamarind soup that can be made a variety of different ways. We always start off with a bowl of this soup at Borobudur, a tasty San Francisco Indonesian restaurant. After eating there last week and craving for more, we thought we’d satisfy our tastebuds by making it for dinner.
Prepping for this dish turned out to be quite adventurous, as we explored markets in different neighborhoods in search of unfamiliar ingredients, some of which we couldn't find. This forced us to modify our dish, and using this recipe as our guide, here's how we tweaked it:
- We used zucchini instead of chayote squash
- Bay leaves instead of salam leaves
- Skipped the peanuts
- Approx. 3 tablespoons of galangal, muddled up in small pieces (this was work!)
- Added about a half a cup of tamarind juice (and learned how to make it by watching this video)
- Left out the tamarind pulp (by simply forgetting to add it!)
- Added a can of baby corn, a half cup of thinly sliced baby carrots, and aprox. 4 cups chopped cabbage
- Added 1 tablespoon of white sugar
- Skipped the candlenuts (candle-who?)
- Approx. 1 1/2 teaspoon of fish sauce in place of terasi
- 4 cups chicken broth and 6 cups water (instead of 10 cups water)
- We served our soup over rice
This recipe wasn't the easiest to make, but when it was ready, the lovely blend of exotic flavors glided over our tongues like a bright red silk scarf through the air. Loaded with sweet, sour, and spice, and a mountain of diverse texture in every bite, we really loved this dish.
We look forward to making it again with some of the actual ingredients on hand, such as terasi and chayote, remembering to add the pulp and skip muddling the galangal.
If you’d like to spice up your culinary life with something that’s refreshing, savory, distinctive and lush, you’ve gotta try this dish.