The word bubur tells you this is a rice porridge, but while most bubur dishes are savory, this one is sweet. The porridge, which has a pudding-like consistency, is topped with palm sugar syrup.
According to The Food of Indonesia, “Bubur Sumsum is the Indonesian equivalent of a Jewish mother’s chicken soup: if you have a problem, eat a bowl of Bubur Sumsum and all will be well.”
This version, which I got from at the Benhill traditional market, certainly meets the definition of a comfort food: blandly sweet, not too complicated, and easy to eat even if you have a toothache or a sore throat. The porridge was a bit salty and the syrup quite sweet, with a slightly caramelized flavor. If I were designing my own, I’d use more bubur and less syrup, because I found this version very sugary.
I’ve never made Bubur Sumsum, but the recipe looks pretty easy. The surprise ingredient is chalk. According to the recipe, Indonesian cooks say it adds a “gentle, soft flavor.”
Look for rice flour and palm sugar at Asian grocery stores, and chalk at an office supply store (or have a child pilfer some from school). You could substitute brown sugar for the palm sugar, but it won’t be as flavorful.
1.5 cups rice flour
6 cups water
1 teaspoon powdered white writing chalk
1/2 teaspoon salt
Palm sugar syrup (simmer equal parts palm sugar and water together for ten minutes; strain)
Mix first three ingredients and strain through a fine sieve. Bring to a boil in a heavy pan. Simmer for about 30 minutes until thick. Cool to room temperature, top with coconut mixed with salt, and pour palm sugar syrup over.
Sweet soy sauce or kecap manis (KEH-chahp MAH-neece) is a key Indonesian flavoring. It tastes a bit like a cross between soy sauce and molasses – both sweet and salty, with a thick consistency like maple syrup. If Indonesian TV commercials are to be believed, your reputation as a woman and the happiness of your family life depend on the brand of kecap manis you use. I’m obviously taking a big risk by buying generic.
Sweet soy sauce lends its darkness and sweetness to Indonesian fried rice (nasi goreng) and various noodle dishes. If you happen to find some in an Asian store – we used to buy it in Bloomington – you can mix up a quick dipping sauce called sambal kecap as follows:
- 5 red chilies, such as bird’s-eye, sliced
- 4 small shallots, peeled and sliced
- 4 Tbs. sweet soy sauce
- 1 tsp. lime juice
Deep fry some cubes of tofu and go wild! Or serve with satay, alongside the peanut sauce.
We had a bunch of eggplants in the fridge the other morning, but only one tomato. I was looking idly out the window, wishing some tomatoes would materialize, when right on cue the vegetable cart came down the street. Voila! Terong balado!
The finished product
This is easy, doesn’t require any special ingredients, and is found all over Jakarta. Sabrina’s, the locally renowned warung down the street from the Post, makes a version that leaves me speechless (of course, that’s easier in Indonesian …).
This recipe is stolen and slightly modified from asiarecipe.com.
- 1 lg Eggplant
- 3 Garlic cloves, sliced or chopped
- 4 tb Onion or Shallot, chopped
- 1 1/2 c fresh Tomatoes, diced or just smushed into the bowl with your hands (the more fun method)
- 1 t Sugar
- 1 t Salt
- 2 ts fresh minced hot chili peppers or hot chili sauce, to taste
- 1/2 c Water
- 2 tb Vegetable oil
If you have the kind of big eggplant one usually gets in the US, cut it into quarters or even eighths, and then cut those into segments 2 or 3 inches long. If you have skinny eggplants, just cut them in half, and then into segments. Bake them at 400 200 for 20-25 minutes, or until they are soft but not mushy. (Err on the side of overcooking, because undercooked eggplant is a crime.)
We don’t have an oven, so I steamed the eggplant and then fried it for better texture
Meanwhile, in a bowl, mix the onion, garlic, tomatoes, salt, sugar, peppers and water and mash with a wooden spoon until it forms a coarse paste.
Fry the tomato paste in the oil until the liquid is reduced (about 10 minutes). Pour the sauce over the eggplant and serve with rice. Eat voraciously.
Nicole suggested posting a Kelepon recipe for those who wish to experience the phenomenon themselves, so, go crazy, folks! These are easy to make and really only require one unusual ingredient, glutinous rice flour, which you should be able to get at any Asian store. While you’re there, look around for a lump of dark-brown Javanese palm sugar. It’s often about the size and shape of a hockey puck. You can substitute brown sugar, but palm sugar has more flavor.
If you really want to get authentic, you can look for pandan flavoring. That’s what makes them green. I never found it in Bloomington, despite some good Asian stores that catered to the fairly large Indonesian student population.
These will turn out to be quite similar to the ones you can get right here in the BenHil market … which is not always the case with Indonesian food you cook at home.
Picture: a kelepon smiley-face, stolen from somebody’s website somewhere
Sweet Coconut Rice Balls
1½ cups glutinous rice flour
¾ cup lukewarm water
2-3 drops green food coloring or pandan essence (or just skip it. I don’t see the point of food coloring.)
8 tsp. grated palm sugar or regular brown sugar
1 cup fresh-grated or dried coconut, mixed with ½ tsp. salt
Mix the rice powder with the lukewarm water and green food coloring into a firm but flexible dough.
Pull off one full teaspoon of the dough and shape it into a ball approximately 1-inch in diameter.
Push a finger into the center of the ball to make a hole, and put in approximately ½ tsp. of the grated sugar. Seal, and roll it back into the ball shape with the palms of your hands. Prepare all the balls and set them aside.
Prepare a pot half filled with water and bring it to a boil.
Drop the balls into the boiling water. Remove the balls with a spoon once they float to the water surface and then roll the balls in the grated coconut.
Serve at room temperature. Makes 30 rice balls.