I was recently out shopping, and as usual found myself wandering around an Asian supermarket. I was killing time, waiting for the rain to stop, and started to pick random ingredients from shelves and throw them into my basket. $100 later, and I had a sizeable collection of mystery ‘stuff’. Once home I began investigating what I’d bought, and more importantly – what I was to cook with them. One of the finds was and intriguing vacuum packed ingredient entitled “buah keluak”, which, when Googled, revealed themselves as Indonesian black nuts. They are the fruit of a native mangrove tree and apparently very very poisonous in their raw state. “Good start!” I thought.
Once soaked and prepared (by someone else thankfully), they turn jet black and take on a kind of olive appearance. They are also safe to eat at this point – a bonus. I learned that they’re used in soups and stews with various meats across Indonesia and Malaysia. I also discovered they have a smokey/sweet taste. This dish ‘rawon’ (the name for any sauce cooked using this nut) is quite amazing. A deep, rich chocolate brown in colour suggests a heavy sauce, but it’s surprisingly light and fragrant. It’s a sweet, smoky and intoxicating hit which is quite unlike anything I’ve eaten before. It’s something very special indeed. End of lesson!
For the spice paste:
10 pre-soaked Indonesian black nuts (buah keluak)
2 lemongrass stalks (white parts only)
6 Thai chillies (seeds in)
1 small bunch coriander (root and stalks only) (leaves for garnish)
20 shallots (peeled and chopped)
1/2 tablespoon of fresh turmeric (chopped) (or 1 teaspoon ground turmeric)
1 tablespoon fresh galangal (chopped)
2 teaspoons shrimp paste
10 garlic cloves
1/2 cup of vegetable oil
1 kg stewing beef or brisket (cut into large chunks)
5 kaffir lime leaves, torn slightly
1 tbsp of tamarind pulp (mixed with 1/2 cup water)
Salt & white pepper
In a food processor, or with a hand blender, or in a pestle & mortar, blend together all the spice paste ingredients until tick and smooth.
Heat a large casserole pan with the oil over a moderate heat until hot. Add the spice paste and stir fry (being careful not to let it stick) for 10 minutes until cooked and aromatic. Add the beef and kaffir lime leaves and stir well for a further 10 minutes, again making sure it isn’t sticking, if it does, add a little water.
Add the tamarind water and then pour in hot water until the meat is just covered. Bring to a simmer then reduce the heat to very low and cover partially. Simmer for 1 hour the season with salt and pepper and stir well. Cook for a further 2 hours or until the meat is very tender. Add a little water if the sauce becomes too thick. Once cooked, remove from the heat and serve.
I served mine with a fresh, crunchy salad, a boiled egg and some plain boiled rice.