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Raw long beans sambal

I crave for sambal kacang panjang (raw long beans sambal) sometimes. This often happens when I have a huge bowl of white rice on the table. Good quality rice smells fragrant. It makes me want to add a touch of strong salty taste to it. In this case, sambal kacang panjang with any type of fried fish on the side would work really well.

Sambal kacang panjang is not the typical Indonesian food to find in an Indonesian restaurant diaspora abroad. I do not think it’s because it is difficult to replicate. In fact I do not think that one should need a recipe to make it; the dish is so simple. Sambal kacang panjang is a very popular side dish on the dining table in East Java province. But it might not be the case somewhere else in the country. Perhaps this is the reason of why the sambal is not the representative of Indonesian cuisine in Indonesian restaurant abroad. Sambal kacang panjang is deemed too vernacular.

Besides, the taste combination perhaps considered too wild and peculiar to cater for the international taste buds—the salty taste of the shrimp-seasoning block (terasi), shocking-hot of chilly paddies, pungent-fresh of shallot, mixed with the rawness of finely chopped long beans.

However, it is not too difficult to find kacang panjang in Melbourne. It is available in Asian grocery stores on Victoria Street, or in a vegetable section in Victoria Market. I spotted kacang panjang sitting on a lettuce bed—among other greens in Saigon Village, Abbotsford (see the photo used as the featured image).

Sambal Kacang
Raw long beans sambal and fried fish

The above picture was taken when I visited mother in September last year–a perfect sambal kacang and fried salty fish on the side. When I took the picture, I was too focused on the sambal. Only now I realise other elements on the table–the rustic stone mortar and pestle, and the old radio (a must have thing to be available when mother cooked in the kitchen).

Mother wrote her sambal recipe for me five years a go. I still need guidance from her in cooking from time to time. She does not have an email account; I think she is still observing the communication nature in the internet environment in awe. The recipe was copied and sent via my brother in law’s email account. To be prepared, all the ingredients used here is measured by intuition. It means one needs to add a certain element, while eliminating another thing when shudder.

Half of tablespoon terasi (shrimp-seasoning block)

4 chilly paddies, 1 red chilli

5 Yardlong beans (Chinese long beans)

3 shallots

Half tablespoon of vegetable oil (or use the same oil from frying fish to make it better)

Salt

A dash of sugar

For the first method, put terasi, salt, sugar, and chilies, into the stone mortar and pestle them until smooth. Mix in the chopped beans into the mixture—but careful not to crush the beans. Add the shallots, nudged them gently, until flat, but not completely flattened. Lastly, poured in the warm oil to it.

 

Chillies wisdom

Grow chilies in the garden, my grandmother used to say. Green chilies are fine. Red ones are better. Chili eaten fresh, or combined with other elements, makes everything taste better. Chili is spicy, zingy, and fiery. It is hot and addictive; it makes you want for more food. Chili is the crucial ingredient for the best side dishes. If possible, grow tomatoes next to the chili plants. Grind chilies, tomatoes, garlic, and shallot. Add a pinch of salt and pepper to taste. I might add more tomatoes slices to make a nice sambal tomat—tomato relish.

The next step is to cook rice. Add a pinch of salt to a plate of white rice. Salted fish of course would make it perfect. Blanch a bunch of vegetables of any sort that have been lurking in the kitchen. Hot white rice, with salty things, boiled vegetables, and sambal on the side, is considered a full meal. I grew up with this kind of food wisdom. When things seem to get tough, chilies and tomatoes plants form simple self-sustainability system at home.

One day Cahaya, our daughter, tasted Andy’s sparkling mineral water. After a sip, she frowned and said, “It’s pedas!” Pedas is an Indonesian word for hot and spicy. In Cahaya’s case, pedas represents a specific situation that she chose to articulate in Indonesian, instead of English—her almost-mother tongue. Fizziness can feel surprising and unexpected. Likewise, one would never able to guess the hotness level that chili could bring; each chili is a surprise. It challenges the gut.

One silly thing, among other silly things that my oldest sister and I did when we were younger, was eating chili competition. We cut fresh fruits—unripe mangoes, pineapples, and papaya. I think we also added up cucumber to it. Fresh fruit put aside. We prepared a thick red sweet-sour-hot sauce made from ground palm sugar, fresh tamarind paste, chilies, and warm water. We made rujak manis. The challenge was how much chilies we could put into the sauce. My sister won the competition—15 chilies went into her rujak sauce. I only put 7 or 8 chilies into my sauce. We did not really set the prize for the winner as far as I can remember. Perhaps to take up the challenge is already a courageous thing.