Thursday, December 29, 2011

Indonesian kitchen: Nutmeg in your pot

Whohas never heard of nutmeg?

Merchants and adventurers sailing from the western hemisphere and seekingfortunes in the East once considered this spice one of the top commodities nextto cloves.

But where does nutmeg actually come from? According to history books, theregion of Maluku and the small island of Banda are places where the nutmegtrade began in times gone by.

People in the region regard the nutmeg tree and its fruit as one of the mostbeautiful and useful plants around. On opening the fruit, we can see thenet-shaped fuli (mace), which has a blazing deep red-orange color. This notonly serves as a flavor enhancer but can also be used as a very attractivedecoration for dark-colored dishes such as semur (stew), which is usuallyprepared with the addition of sweet soy sauce.

Many different stews in Indonesian cuisine have a pinch of nutmeg or some macein them to enhance the flavor. In fact, most Indonesian stews are of westernculinary influence, such as semur, the name of which is derived from the wordschmoren from the German word meaning "braising".

The Germans must have introduced their schmoren technique to the region viamissionaries spreading Christianity in the area, or who went to the Netherlandsand taught locals there how to make the German dish schmorbraten. From theNetherlands, the Dutch then took this dish to the Dutch East Indies(Indonesia).

Anyway, semur is now a well known dish in Indonesia, and some regions havespecific regional varieties of it. In many cases, semur is flavored with apinch of nutmeg. In most cases, semur varieties are made with a spice pastecomprising shallots, garlic, pepper, sweet soy sauce and a pinch of nutmeg.

These ingredients are stir fried until they become aromatic.

After preparing these basic ground spices and soy sauce, the dish is easy tomake. With its main ingredients ready it can be made in less than half an hour.The classic semur dish uses beef or chicken. And for those who like toexperiment, semur can be prepared with tofu or vegetables such as eggplant(aubergine).

Semur Betawi from Jakarta (made with beef or buffalo meat) is one of the morefamous examples, using shallots, garlic, ground nutmeg, ground cinnamon, groundpepper (black or white), ground cloves and semi-sweet soy sauce.

Whereas Semur Jawa from Central Java omits the cinnamon and only uses shallots,garlic, nutmeg, ground pepper, and whole cloves. The Semur Medan meanwhile,uses shallots, garlic, finely sliced red chili, ground pepper and nutmegwithout cinnamon and cloves - and for the soy sauce, a semi-sweet, rather saltyvariety is used.

Want to taste an excellent semur dish made with mace? According to many peoplethe Manado-style Smor Ikang (braised fish) has a very interesting spice mix.

Cut 500g clean freshwater fish into 2. Coat with 1 tsp salt. Cut 500g peeledpotatoes into serving pieces. Fry the potato and fish alternately in 300mlcooking oil until done and brownish. Drain. Grind 4 shallots, 3 cloves garlicand 15g ginger. Stir fry in 2 tablespoons of cooking oil until aromatic. Add 3whole mace, 5 whole cloves, and pour in 300 ml water. Let it come to the boil.Add 3 tablespoons of sweet soy sauce and 2 sliced tomatoes. Season with 1 tspsalt (or to taste), 1/2 tsp ground pepper, and a pinch of granulated sugar. Letcome to the boil again. Just before removing the mixture from flame, add friedfish, fried potato and 50 g soaked glass noodles. Serves 4.

In many places, the fruit flesh is sweetened and called Manisan Pala. For thosehaving a taste of the preserved fruit flesh for the first time a rather tangytaste will be obvious. Some people suggest not to eat Manisan Pala too muchbecause it is addictive. It can also apparently induce drowsiness and if eatenin excess can have the same fatal result as an overdose of sleeping pills. Butnevertheless it is a very popular snack.

Bogor with its cool, rainy climate is one of Indonesia's most famous places forManisan Pala, where it is sold wet and dry. If you want to see what nutmeglooks like fresh, go to Bogor where you'll find nutmeg galore at thetraditional wet markets. If you feel inspired you could even check out Bogorplant sellers who sell nutmeg trees from 30cm high - perfect in an earthenwarepot to complement the sunny side of your terrace.

Nutmeg trees are also wonderful male and female trees. A male tree is able tofertilize ten to twenty female trees and they are called therefore "theharem" tree (a term coined by French botanist Nicolas Cere). And accordingto A Taste of India, (by Mary S. Atwood) the Shah of Persia, Sultan Husain1711, declared himself "The Sun of Glory and the nutmeg of Delight".

No comments:

Post a Comment