Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Around the World … Indonesia

We recently had a house guest from Australia. One evening he offered to make dinner. It was a dish called nasi goreng, something he had come to love from his many travels to Malaysia. So much of Asian cuisine is completely foreign to me because I wasn’t brought up on it, so I was interested and looked forward to him making it for us.

Frying rice in a wok
Nasi goreng is often described as Indonesia's twist on fried rice. And like many fried rice recipes in Asia, it can probably trace its origins to Southern China. It isn’t clear though when Indonesians began to adopt the Chinese fried rice and create their own version. 

What is known is that nasi goreng had the same beginnings as other versions: as a safe, delicious way to avoid wasting rice. Nasi goreng is traditionally served at home for breakfast and is made out of leftover rice from the night before. Besides ingredients like shallot, tomato, pepper and chili, the rice is fried with scraps of chicken or beef; usually leftover from a chicken or beef dish. Nasi goreng can also be found made by street vendors, and there are even dehydrated versions you can just add hot water to, like Top Ramen, in Asian supermarkets.

Indonesian fried rice distinguishes itself from its Indian, Chinese and other Asian counterparts mainly by the application of sweet soy sauce. Indonesians also have a preference for stronger and spicier tastes and often include fried shallots and fried onions for a crispier texture.
Ingredients for nasi goreng usually include the following: pre-cooked rice (fresh rice is too sticky), sweet soy sauce, salt, garlic, shallots, chili pepper, spring onions, nutmeg, turmeric, vegetable oil, onions, palm sugar, ginger, garlic paste. Some recipes may add black pepper, shrimp paste, fish sauce, or powdered broth for seasoning and as a taste enhancer. Eggs might be mixed into the fried rice or fried separately. Many recipes I looked up liked the addition of a fried egg on top.
But I like the idea of adding more vegetables. I think it’s too starchy without them.
So how was it, you ask? It was delicious!
I love the idea of taking just one pot (a wok is preferred) and adding all the ingredients to it in stages. Pretty soon you have a great-smelling dish to dive into and all you messed up is one pot. It’s a great way to use leftover meat, vegetables and rice. You can easily take it to work the next day for lunch or eat it as leftovers for dinner. And it’s a simple way to cook for a crowd.
Here’s what the Australian added to his:
Vegetable oil (I would use coconut oil because of the high heat cooking)
Onion, thinly sliced
Peas (we used frozen)
Corn kernels (we used frozen)
A few garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 – 3 eggs, beaten
Bok choy
1 packet Nasi Goreng Spice Mix, or a blend of all or as many of the following spices: salt, ground coriander, curry powder, cumin, white pepper, chili powder, freshly grated or ground ginger, soy sauce, fish sauce (optional)
Chicken, shredded from a previously roasted chicken
Long grain rice, previously cooked and allowed to cool completely

I’m not going to list quantities because it seems unnecessary. Add however much you want of one thing, leave out or add other things. The jist I got from all the versions of recipes I read was to simply be creative and use what you’ve got.

Heat oil in wok or other sauté pan. Add onion and sauté until translucent (about 5-10 minutes).  Add frozen vegetables and garlic. Saute for a few minutes until thawed, bring pan up again to high heat (the frozen veggies will have cooled the pan down), make a well in the center and add your egg, stirring around with a fork. Add zucchini and boy choy, then your seasonings and cook about 10 minutes more. Finally add your cooked chicken and rice until just warmed through. The entire process should take you about 30-35 minutes.

Next time we have it, which I think will be this weekend, I’ll make the following changes: leave out the corn and add some shredded Chinese cabbage for more greens, include some thinly sliced red bell pepper, and a few red pepper flakes for a little heat (or maybe I’ll finally be brave and try those little Thai red chilies I’ve seen at the Asian farmer’s market stall), and do a combination of chicken and shrimp. If you’ve wanted to try an Asian vegetable and haven’t known what to do with it, this would be a good way to try it: add it to your nasi goreng.

If you have any versions of fried rice that you make that you’d like to share, please do!

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