As we saw on Nigel Slater’s Eating Together season 1 episode 5 (Sharing plates), how I learned to cook without using standard measurements, pinch with fingers are, Javanese spiritualism in cooking comes from Pawon that means place for ash, as in traditional Javanese kitchen always separated from the main house or in the back of the house, I even still remember my grandmother from paternal side her kitchen was a small stable as my grand father owned a few horses and carriage when Indonesia was still Nederland East Indies. Pawon always uses dry wood or charcoal to cook and women are the main act to do the job.
When I was young, my grand mother always woke up at around 4 am in the morning starting the ritual of “Dadhek Geni” or making a fire and she always said to me go back to sleep, I always sneakily followed her and it was such fun to play with wood and fire. Nothing can stop me and I think I was her favourite grandchild, as long as I remember she never snapped at me.
She usually offered me peanut brittle so I was out of her way so she can do her “ritual of cooking”, from washing the rice I found it so complicated for me only to cook the rice in her method, she used a saucepan to start cooking the rice and after the rice absorbed the waterand she transferred it into a steamer to finish the cooking.
The ritual of cooking passed down from my grand mother through the generation, devoted to feeding the family became my mothers job, the ritual early morning wake up and preparing breakfast for the family. Trust me breakfast was not always easy with five kids, but Nasi Goreng was our favourite breakfast and as school started at 7 am so she had to have cooked the Nasi Goreng before 6 am.
This Nasi Goreng recipe is from my mother
500g cooked and cooled long grain rice
150g prawns, heads and shells removed,
2tbs vegetable oil
1tbs salted butter
4 spring onions
1tbs sweet soy sauce
1tbs tomato ketchup
Salt to taste
For the paste
3 cloves of garlic, peeled and finely sliced
5 shallots, peeled and finely sliced
5 red chillies, deseeded and sliced
2 bird’s eye chillies, sliced
½ tbs dried shrimp
½ tsp shrimp paste
½ tsp white pepper
To serve :
1 cucumber, thinly sliced
3 tomatoes, thinly sliced
1 baby gem lettuce, washed
4 eggs, deep fried
To make the spice paste, use pestle and mortar to pound garlic, shallots, chillies, shrimp paste, dried shrimp and white pepper to the paste
Heat the oil in the wok add butter, fry spring onions for 30 seconds add the paste fry for about 2 minutes add the prawns and fry another 2 minutes. Add the rice and stir well, add tomato ketchup, sweet soy sauce and cook for about 4 minutes.
To serve, garnish the fried rice with tomatoes, cucumber, baby gem lettuce and individual deep fried egg. Topping the rice with crunchy fried shallots and chopped parsley.
Rice is the most important dish to the Javanese community, if the meal didn’t have rice in it, you can’t count that you have a meal. When political conflict rose in 1965 my grandmother said to me, she didn’t know what to do with the bulgur wheat that the government gave to them as a substitute because at that time rice was to difficult to find as the economy was falling apart.
Living in the UK for the past ten years, something that I have learned is to embrace multiculturalism of food, black pudding, bacon, vindaloo, taleggio, courgette, wild garlic.
Trying never hurt anybody, especially if food is involved and trying to put a Javanese influence into a British dish sometimes works well.
My coconut rice pudding is my favourite for a cool autumn day, replace milk with coconut milk, adding Pandan leaves instead of vanilla extract and put kafir lime leaves instead of nutmeg, but British berries to serve is a must.
Picture : Alex Hannam for Leicester Mercury