On Saturday we threw a late lunch party at my apartment that stretched throughout the lazy afternoon, like an early Thanksgiving, full of Scrabble games and lickable foods. We opened bottles of tart strawberry and raspberry lambics and set out plates on the wooden table in our living room. Our feast spread out, we started nibbling on a mustard and cabbage salad, dressed in a yellow mustard vinaigrette; a chocolate-coconut-pecan tart that didn’t quite work out, and the Indonesian fritters, which were crispy and golden, their plump interior layered with shallots, potatoes and bean sprouts. They were the most perfect party snack.
I found the recipe for the fritters a couple weeks ago, when I bought James Oseland’s The Cradle of Flavor: Home Cooking from the Spice Islands of Indonesia, Singapore, and Malaysia. Oseland is the editor-in-chief of Saveur magazine and seems like the tastiest man. He visited Indonesia for the first time when he was 19 and spent long afternoons learning the art of Indonesian cooking from old men and young women. I’ve been carrying Cradle of Flavor everywhere, reading it on the subway and in my bed at night. Oseland writes clearly, breaking down the history and properties of all the frequently used ingredients and spices in a beginning portion of his book. He also devotes a section to thoroughly explain the different techniques used in southeast Asian cooking, and finally provides a great assortment of recipes, each with a little story or mini-history attached. Vegetarians- the book is about 1/2 full of vegetarian recipes; however, many of them call for shrimp paste. I don’t regret buying it, however, because I think it’s a solid introduction to the spices and cuisines of southeast Asia, and there is always room for innovation when cooking.
These fritters were such a hit that I made them again on Sunday evening, for another impromptu dinner party. They are highly easy and just so tasty.
from The Cradle of Flavor, by James Oseland
(makes about 25)
2 cups all purpose flour
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 1/2 cups + 2 tbsp. water
1 cup mung bean sprouts
3 Chinese chives or scallions, very thinly sliced on the diagonal
1 tbsp. finely chopped Chinese celery greens or regular celery greens
3 green cabbage leaves, very finely shredded into strips 1 inch long
1 small waxy potato such as Yukon Gold, peeled and cut into very fine matchsticks; about 1 cup total
1 clove garlic, minced
2 shallots, grated
peanut oil for frying
sweet-and-sour Chile Dipping Sauce
12 fresh green Thai chiles
1. Sift together the flour and salt in a bowl. Add the water and stir well, making sure to get out all the lumps. You should have a smooth batter resembling slightly thick pancake batter that easily coats the back of a spoon. If too thick add more water, 1 teaspoon at a time; if too thin, add more flour, 1 tsp. at a time.
2. Add the bean sprouts, scallions, celery greens, cabbage, potato, garlic, and shallots in the batter and stir gently to combine.
3. Pour oil to a depth of 1 inch into a 12 inch skillet and place over medium to medium-high heat until hot but not smoking. Test the oil to see if it is hot enough by adding a drop of batter. If the batter sizzles immediately, the oil is ready; if it sinks to the bottom, heat the oil for a couple more minutes and test again.
4. For each fritter, ladle about 1 1/2 tbsp. batter into the hot oil with a large metal spoon, using a smaller spoon to scrape off any batter clinging to the larger spoon. Each fritter should be about 2 inches long and 1 inch thick. Cook no more than 3 or 4 fritters at a time to avoid crowding them in the skillet. (Crowding will reduce the temperature of the oil and make the fritters greasy. Fry the fritters turning them occasionally with the spoon, until they’re uniformly golden and crisp, about 2 minutes total on each side. Using a slotted spoon, transfer them to a paper towel to drain.
Serve at once with dipping sauce and whole chiles.
Sweet-and-Sour (and spicy) Dipping Sauce
adapted from The Cradle of Flavor, by James Oseland
4 fresh red holland chiles or other fresh long red chiles such as fresno or cayenne, stemmed and thinly sliced
1 tbsp. sugar
1/4 tsp. kosher salt
1 tsp. palm, cider, or rice vinegar
4 tbsp warm water
1 clove garlic, thinly sliced
Pulse the first five ingredients in a food processor into a smooth liquid. Since I don’t have a food processor, I just chopped the chiles very, very fine, and added everything on top of that. Finally, add the garlic and let the sauce rest for ten min to give the garlic time to meld with other ingredients.
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