- Course: Side Dish, Vegetable
- Skill Level: Moderate
- Cost: Moderate
- Favorited: 10 Times
This dish is among the foods mentioned in the Serat Centhini, a celebrated ancient Javanese poetic text. It’s classic court food (though it’s also prepared for everyday sustenance) and is an essential part of ritual meals at birthdays or harvest celebrations. The ingredients vary according to what is available at the market but usually include cucumbers, cabbage, long beans, and bean sprouts, while fragrant fresh lemon basil leaves known in Java as kemangi, always appear. The vegetables are really just costars. Instead, the spotlight is trained on the intensely aromatic sweet-sour dressing, which is made of grated coconut, chiles, garlic, lime juice, turmeric, palm sugar, and kaffir lime leaves. Although this dish is traditionally quite sweet – a testament to the Central Javanese affection for palm sugar – you can adjust the seasonings to your liking. Freshly grated coconut is essential. Grated dried coconut not only throws off the flavor profile of the dish, but also the texture.
For the dressing:
- 5 whole fresh or thawed, frozen kaffir lime leaves
- 2 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
- 2 to 4 fresh red Holland chiles or other fresh long, red chiles such as Fresno or cayenne, stemmed and coarsely chopped
- 1 piece fresh or thawed, frozen turmeric, 1 ½ inches (4 centimeters) long, peeled and coarsely chopped (about 1 ½ teaspoons), or 1 teaspoon ground turmeric
- 1 piece fresh ginger, 1 ½ inches (4 centimeters) long, peeled and thinly sliced against the grain (about 1 ½ tablespoons)
- 3 to 4 tablespoons palm sugar, thinly sliced, or dark brown sugar
- 3 tablespoons fresh lime juice
- 1 cup (scant 3 ounces/85 grams) finely grated fresh coconut
- 1 ½ teaspoon kosher salt
For the salad:
- 1 ½ cups (about 4 ounces/115 grams) mung bean sprouts
- 20 green beans or 10 long beans, stemmed and cut into 1/2 –inch (12 millimeter) pieces (about 1 cup/6 ounces/170 grams)
- 1 ½ cups (about 5 ounces/140 grams) finely shredded green cabbage
- 2 small Kirby (pickling) cucumbers (about 7 ounces/200 grams), stemmed and thinly sliced (about 2 cups/7 ounces, 200 grams)
- 1 cup (scant 1 ounce/30 grams) loosely packed fresh lemon basil, Thai basil, or Italian basil leaves
1. Fist, make the dressing. Use a sharp paring knife to remove the thick center stem of each kaffir lime leaf. Stack the leave on top of one another and cut them lengthwise into thin strips.
2. Place the lime leaves, garlic, chiles, turmeric, ginger, palm sugar, and lime juice in a small food processor. Pulse until you have a chunky-smooth paste the consistency of cooked oatmeal (the lime juice should keep the mixture turning easily in the processor). Make sure that the garlic and ginger are completely pulverized. Transfer the paste to a bowl. Add the coconut and salt and stir well to combine, making sure that the coconut is evenly combined with the ground ingredients.
3. Fill a 3-quart (3-liter) saucepan with water and bring to a boil over high heat. Add the bean sprouts and blanch until they just begin to wilt, about 10 seconds. Usin a slotted spoon, transfer the bean sprouts to a colander (leave the boiling water in the pan) and run cold water over them until they’re cool. Drain the sprouts well, transfer them to a good-sized bowl, and set aside.
4. Add the green beans to the same boiling water and boil until they’re just crunch tender, about 1 ½ minutes. Using the slotted spoon, transfer the beans to the colander (again, leave the boiling water in the pan) and run cold water over them until they’re cool. Drain the beans well, transfer them to the bowl holding the bean sprouts and set aside.
5. Add the cabbage to the same boiling water and boil the cabbage until tit has just wilted but is still crisp, about 30 seconds. Drain the cabbage into the colander and run cold water over it until it’s cool. Transfer it to the bowl holding the bean sprouts and green beans. Pat all the boiled vegetables dry with a few paper towels. (Don’t squeeze them dry, or you will break them open.) They should have as little water clinging to their surface as possible.
6. Add the cucumbers and basil leaves and, using your hands or a large spoon, gently mix them together thoroughly. Add the coconut dressing to the vegetables and stir gently to combine thoroughly. Taste for salt and sourness, and add a punch more salt and/or a squeeze more lime if needed. Serve promptly, while the basil is still perky and the cucumbers are crisp.
© 2006 James Oseland