Sunday, January 6, 2008

Mertabak (Indonesia)

Guy has to work this weekend, so you're in for another Zola recipe/story. I wanted to talk about Indonesia because the country had such an impact on me. Part of the reason I am a librarian is because of my experiences in Indonesia. It was my first time out of the country. I was 18 and I wanted to get as far away as I possibly could - Indonesia seemed to fit that bill. I went for a year as an exchange student (and it turned out, not a very good one). I spent the majority of my time with a family in Yogyakarta until I was kicked out and moved to Jakarta. I learned a lot in that year and the food made a fantastic impression on me. It was in Indonesia that I became obsessed with street food. Which will probably kill me someday. I did manage to come down with typhoid fever that year. But as the kids say, whatevs. Let's talk about street food. Up until this point, my experience with street food had been the food stalls at the Saturday Market. So when I saw the food stalls on Jalan Malioboro I wasn't completely unfamiliar - although the range and volume were definitely unlike anything I knew.
But Indonesians don't stop there with street food. As far as I could tell, there were two other camps: the warung and the mobile cart. The warung is a slightly more permanent and larger structure. It comes complete with a tent and sometimes some tables and benches. My host family liked to stop at the satay warung and occasionally one that sold fire roasted corn with chili flakes. I remember thinking that the warung seemed a little ghetto - and that was what I liked about it. We'd be squatting in the dirt with our little paper plate of charred chicken and peanut satay just like everyone else. It didn't matter where you were from - it was cheap, great food that everyone enjoyed. The third camp of street food was the mobile vendor. These guys would have a tiny cart fashioned onto a bike and they'd pedal around selling soup or mi goreng (fried noodles). In my mind, the mobile vendor is the true mark of a civilized society - delivery is just a sham. This stuff is hot and steaming and made fresh for you - you can even ask them to hold the MSG.

This recipe is for mertabak - my all time favorite of all the street foods - a little fried, savory pillow of meaty goodness.

For the dough:
1 1/2c. flour
3 tablespoons oil
1/4 c. water
pinch salt
work the dough for a while until smooth and let it rest in a warm spot for about a half hour - it's a good time to start your filling.

For the filling:
8oz ground beef
4oz ground lamb
1/2 leek finely chopped
1/2 small white onion finely chopped
2 red chilis finely chopped
1 tablespoon fresh ground ginger
2 cloves garlic finely chopped
2 Tablespoons oil
2 teaspoons coriander
1 tsp cumin
2 Tablespoons lemongrass finely chopped
1 Tablespoon curry powder
salt to taste
Cook all of the above until your meat is done. Let it cool a bit and add:
4 eggs
1/4c. chopped flat leaf parsely
2 Tablespoons chopped cilantro

Chop your dough into 3 or 4 smaller portions. Roll one portion of dough as thin as you possibly can. Think pasta thin. Also think about this: you're going to want to make little pillows or envelopes so I recommend trying to roll it out into a rectangular shape - then you can dump some filling in and fold that bad boy up. It helps if you have a little egg wash handy - wash the edges of your dough so your envelope will stick together.

While your rolling dough and filling these puppies, you can get some oil heating in a pan. I recommend a nice vegetable/canola oil that can withstand high temps. Remember these things are traditionally deep fried so you need to AT LEAST fill the pan so that half of your mertabak is immersed when it goes in. I always use scraps of dough as testers to see how hot my oil is. Oddly, fingers don't work that great. You're looking for little bubbles cooking on the dough on the sides - a nice slow but steady cooking process (remember, you've got to cook those eggs!) Once your oil is hot enough, pop 'em in there. You can make them big or small - it's up to you and your filling-to-deep-fried-dough-ratio preferences. I like to make them bigger and chop them into smaller pieces. Garnish and eat with fresh chilis and a beer!

Mad props to Jakarta Daily Photo for the photo of the warung.


Kirsten Miller said...

wow,I cannot believe it. here it is. i have been thinking about this tasty delight for 25 years. i grew up in singapore--and this is the one and only thing i ever wanted from the hawker stalls. I will have to try this at home. bless you.

Zola said...

Hi Kristen! Bless YOU for your sweet comment. I would love to hear how it worked out for you. It definitely takes me back.

cewek said...

Hi Zola! Great post!

Would you know how to make the vinegar-y, sweet brown sauce to go with the mertabak?

Terima kasih!

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