Monday, January 23, 2012

Indonesian Beef Rendang

As you know from the majority of my blog posts, I'm a lover of southeast Asian cuisine. What can beat coconut milk, lemongrass and pungent spices? I particularly like coconut milk-based curries, which are found throughout the region.

When I was in Malaysia, my friends took me to an Indonesian restaurant. I had had Indonesian food just once -- in Curacao. It made a wonderful impression, so I was excited to eat Indonesian food again. There were a few dishes that I still recall from that Kuala Lumpur restaurant. The beef rendang was definitely at the stop of the list. It uses tougher cuts of beef -- such as chuck -- and cooks it slowly in coconut milk, wet spice paste, and ground spices that make a rich, dark, highly aromatic curry. The coconut milk absorbs into the beef, which is cooked over a period of a few hours and becomes dry. The texture is very different from what you'd find with more traditional beef stews, as there really isn't any gravy. I served it with boiled white rice.

I found that the dish was even better the second day after the aromatic spices seeped more deeply into the beef.

I've been cooking a lot from the essential Asian cookbook, published by bay books, which is where I found this recipe. The cookbook also has a recipe for Malaysian beef rendang, which calls for tamarind pulp. I'm still scouring Asian food shops to find it! When I do, you can be sure that I'll try that recipe, too.


Indonesian Rendang

3 lbs. chuck steak
2 medium onions, roughly chopped
4 teaspoons crushed garlic
1 2/3 cups coconut milk
2 teaspoons ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon ground fennel
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
4 red chilies, chopped
1 stem lemongrass (white part only) or 4 strips lemon rind
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 teaspoons grated palm sugar or soft brown sugar

1. Trim the meat of any fat and sinew, and cut it evenly into small (about 1 1/4 inch) cubes.

2. Place the onion and garlic in a blender or food processor and process until smooth, adding water if necessary.

3. Place the coconut milk in a large pan and bring it to the boil, then reduce the heat to moderate and cook, stirring occasionally, until the milk has reduced by half and the oil has separated out. Do not allow the milk to brown.

4. Add the coriander, fennel, cumin and cloves and stir for 1 minute.

Cumin is a key ingredient in the cuisines of both Malaysia and Indonesia.

5. Add the meat and cook onion mixture,

chili, lemon grass, lemon juice and sugar.

6. Cook, over moderate heat for about 2 hours, or until the liquid is reduced and the mixture is quite thick. Stir frequently to prevent catching on the bottom of the pan.

7. Continue cooking until the oil from the coconut milk begins to emerge again, letting the curry develop colour and flavor. The dish needs constant attention at the is stage to prevent it from burning. The curry is cooked when it is brown and dry.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Butternut Squash Risotto

Once I overcame my initial fear of making risotto, I became a convert! My go to recipe became a risotto that features spinach, bacon, gongonzola cheese and mushrooms -- definitely a winning combination. I mastered the recipe and was able to make it from memory.

There was just one problem. I got bored!

I wanted to try different risotto recipes and looked online. For some reason I became obsessed with using butternut squash. Online research narrowed my search and I honed in Ina Garten's recipe, found at: What appealed to me was the use of saffron threads, which infuse food with a lovely sunset-orange color and a distinctive flavor.

I was determined to make something on the spot with the ingredients that I had on hand. Alas, I did not have pancetta; but I did have bacon. Had I taken a few extra minutes to research substitutions, I would have found that I needed to blanch the bacon first to extract the smoky flavor.

I was in a hurry and didn't bother. So if you make this recipe using bacon, make sure to blanch it first. Also, don't saute the shallots with the bacon. Put a little butter in the pan and saute the shallots and add the arborio rice to that mixture. Then put the bacon in. I burned the shallots a little by sauteeing them with the bacon first. So I picked them out and put fresh shallots in butter and sauteed them. I added the crisped bacon and then the rice.

I was quite pleased with the results of my oversight in not blanching the bacon. The smokiness was not overpowering at all. That may be because I sauteed it in butter and then poured the butter off, and put fresh butter in the pan. I

I'll definitely make this again. The texture was really nice, the color beautiful and the taste a great mix of sweet and savory notes.


Butternut Squash Risotto


1 butternut squash (2 pounds)
2 tablespoons olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
6 cups chicken stock, preferably homemade
6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter
2 ounces pancetta, diced
1/2 cup minced shallots (2 large)
1 1/2 cups Arborio rice (10 ounces)
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 teaspoon saffron threads
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese


1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

2. Peel the butternut squash, remove the seeds, and cut it into 3/4-inch cubes. You should have about 6 cups.

3. Place the squash on a sheet pan and toss it with the olive oil, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper.

4. Roast for 25 to 30 minutes, tossing once, until very tender. Set aside.

5. Meanwhile, heat the chicken stock in a small covered saucepan. Leave it on low heat to simmer.

6. In a heavy-bottomed pot or Dutch oven, melt the butter and saute the pancetta and shallots on medium-low heat for 10 minutes, until the shallots are translucent but not browned.

7. Add the rice and stir to coat the grains with butter. Add the wine and cook for 2 minutes. Add 2 full ladles of stock to the rice plus the saffron, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper.

8. Stir, and simmer until the stock is absorbed, 5 to 10 minutes. Continue to add the stock, 2 ladles at a time, stirring every few minutes. Each time, cook until the mixture seems a little dry, then add more stock. Continue until the rice is cooked through, but still al dente, about 30 minutes total.

9. Off the heat, add the roasted squash cubes and Parmesan cheese.

10. Mix well and serve.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Making Naan

If at first you don't succeed try, try again, right?

Are there any naan lovers out there? When I go to Indian restaurants, I'm as interested in the light, airy flat bread as I am the entrees.

So I decided to make it myself. I chose a recipe from what I thought was a reputable cookbook that highlighted various Asian cuisines. I was both heartened by and suspicious of the lack of yeast in the recipe. Instead, it called for baking powder and baking soda. I should have stopped right there. Our initial reactions are often the most accurate ones. I could have saved four cups of flour. But I pressed on.

The result was a tasteless, hard, oval of flat bread that was a bit revolting. I let me friends try it. They took one bite, make faces and refused more.

It took me a little while to work up the courage to try again. This time I invested in more online research for a credible recipe that used yeast. After reviewing several, I settled on one, featured on Manjula's Kitchen ( The site features vegetarian Indian food, including several bread recipes.

I made it yesterday and am delighted to report that the results were better than I expected! Obviously it's hard to make authentic naan without a tandoor oven. I used a pizza stone, which worked well. The naan was light, fluffy and flavorful.

I didn't use all the dough and stored the rest in the refrigerator. Much to my surprise, it came out great the next morning. Instead of boring wheat toast, I had naan with my eggs and bacon this morning. Delicious.


Naan is traditionally cooked in a clay oven or “tandoor.” This recipe uses a regular home oven.

Makes 6 Naan.

Naan Bread


2 cups of All Purpose flour (Plain flour or maida)
1 teaspoon active dry yeast
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
Pinch of baking soda
2 tablespoons of oil
2 1/2 tablespoons yogurt (curd or dahi)
3/4 cup lukewarm water

Also needed:

1 teaspoon of clear butter or ghee to butter the Naan
1/4 cup All Purpose flour for rolling


1. Dissolve active dry yeast

in lukewarm water

and let it sit for 10 minutes or until the mixture becomes frothy.

2. Add sugar, salt and baking soda to the flour and mix well.

3. Add the oil and yogurt mix, this will become crumbly dough.

4. Add the water/yeast mixture

and make into soft dough.Note: after dough rise will become little softer.

5. Knead until the dough is smooth. Cover the dough and keep in a warm place for 3-4 hours. The dough should almost be double in volume.

6. Heat the oven to 500 degrees with pizza stone for at least thirty minutes so stone is hot. Using a pizza stone will help to give naan close to same kind of heat as clay tandoor.

7. Next turn the oven to high broil.

8. Knead the dough for about two to three minutes and divide the dough into six equal parts.

9. Take each piece of dough, one at a time, and roll into 8-inch oval shape. Dust lightly with dry flour to help with the rolling.

10. Before putting the Naan in oven, lightly wet your hands and take the rolled Naan, and flip them between your palms and place onto your baking/pizza stone into the oven.

11. You can place about 2 Naan on the baking/pizza stone at a time. The Naan will take about 2 to 3 minutes to cook, depending upon your oven. After the Naan is baked(Naan should be golden brown color on top).

12. Take naan out of the oven and brush lightly with clear butter or ghee.

13. Wait 2 to 3 minutes before baking the next batch of naan. It gives oven the chance to get heated again to max.