Rabu, 03 Agustus 2011

`Asam Jawa`: Bitter and Refreshing

In Bahasa Indonesia tamarind is called asam jawa. Actually, besides the tamarind trees producing sour fruits, trees producing sweet fruits of the asam jawa, or Tamarindus Indica Linn, exist. But the main connotation of the asam jawa tree is having sour fruits.

These trees are now seldom seen along the main roads in big cities in Indonesia. Because being able to grow as high as 25 meters with a dense foliage, they are regarded to be dangerous for the heavy traffic flowing underneath as the branches grow over the road.

Though souring agents from fruits are many in Indonesia and differ from region to region, the asam jawa is one of the most used in may regions.

In Sumatra there is asam sunti originating from the sun-dried belimbing sayur or sour fruit.

As the asam jawa fruits deteriorate quickly, they will be already be properly packed when sold in supermarkets and traditional markets, though in traditional markets in small villages the tamarind pulp is still sold in a large container so that the buyer can take as many as he needs and pack them himself.

The common preparation of the asam jawa is called asam kawak. Kawak means old, so that literally asam kawak means tamarind fruits which have been harvested some time ago.

One of the methods of preserving is first discarding the pit and fibers and then sun-drying the fruit flesh. Then some salt and gula jawa are added, mixed thoroughly and steamed and cooled before packaging to avoid dirt.

And even prepared like that the tamarind has to be stored in a cool place. One of the islands renowned for its excellent tamarind is Madura, a small island off the eastern coast of Java.

A spice mixture in Indonesia where tamarind is one of the main ingredients, to give a dish that tangy sourness, is called bumbu asam garam and consists of salt, granulated sugar and tamarind paste.

Chicken, beef, water buffalo or pork can be the main ingredients. And in many kitchens in Southeast Asia -- with Portuguese or Chinese overtones -- the tamarind also plays an important role, because of their liking for sourish flavors. An example in some of the tamarind-spiced dishes in Singapore using a lot of tamarind powder.

The very distinctive flavor of tamarind can be added to many vegetables too. One of Indonesia`s best known sour-flavored soupy dishes hails from the kitchen of the Sundanese of West Java.

The dish is called sayur asam and is mostly served with a combination of a barbecued or fried chicken or fish, and also a small portion of fried salted fish, lalap, cruditees.

Spicing of the refreshing soup includes shallots, garlic, some red chilies, salam leaves, galangal and, of course, the tamarind water or paste which is added when the dish is nearly finished.

The East Javanese will add a handful of sinom (young light green colored, tender leaves of the asam jawa tree).

In Indonesia a tamarind tree is a multipurpose one.

The stem, leaves and fruits are very often used, not only for food but also for beverages and as an important souring agent in jamu, or traditional medicine.

The fruit flesh is also daily needed for syrups and to make preserved sweets or chutney-like pastes. There are also very specific regional foodstuffs made of the asam jawa.

In Weru, near Cirebon, they make a special dodol asem out of the fruit flesh. Made from the asam jawa pulp, fermented rice, or tapai nasi, and brown sugar, it is then cooked until thickened and cut into small pieces.

As asam jawa grows all over the archipelago, it has many regional names. For example in East, Central and West Java it is called asem. In Madura, acem (achem), celagi (chelagee) in Bali and camba (chambaa) in Makasar.

1. Sop Asam Jawa
A tamarind soup for hot and humid days
200 g chicken breast, cut in cubes
100 g carrots, peeled, cut in cubes
50 g French beans, cut into 2 cm pieces
100 g potatoes, peeled, cubed
4 shallots
A slice of fresh ginger, pounded
1 « tsp salt or to taste
1 tsp ground pepper
800 ml water
100 asam jawa fruit flesh
200 ml boiled water
100 g soun (glass noodles), soaked in 200 ml boiling water until tender, sieved
2 tbs selederi (local celery leaves), chopped
2 tbs bawang goreng (crisply fried shallot slices)

Make a paste of shallots, ginger, salt and pepper. Add water and bring to the boil.
Add chicken, carrots, French beans and potatoes. Continue until all ingredients are tender.
Take the vegetables out of the broth, finely blend and return to broth.
Mix asam jawa with boiled water, sieve and add to the broth and bring to the boil again.
Before serving add glass noodles and top with chopped local celery leaves and fried shallot slices.
Makes: 6 servings.

2. Asam-asam Serut
A good combination of tamarind and agar-agar
50 g asam jawa
400 ml water
2 sachets brown-colored agar-agar (traditional market, supermarket)
75 g granulated sugar
200 ml coco pandan syrup or a green colored syrup to your liking
200 ml boiled water
Ice cubes

Mix asam jawa and water, sieve.
Bring asam jawa, agar-agar and sugar to the boil.
Take a suitable pudding form and moisten with boiled water.
Pour in agar-agar mixture and let cool and harden. Then coarsely grate.
Take a suitable glass and put 3 tbs shredded agar-agar and pour in syrup to your liking.
Top with some ice cubes.
Makes: 4 servings

3. Goreng Asam Garam
500 g crab, cleaned, halved, set aside
500 g squid, thin outer peel and ink bag discarded
500 g medium sized shrimp, peeled, but do not remove tail
2 tsp salt or to taste
3 tbs tamarind, liquidized with 150 ml water, sieved
2 tsp ground pepper or to taste
400 ml cooking oil, for frying
6 shallots
1 clove garlic
4 red chilies, 40 g 1 tsp salt, 4 g or to taste
8 kemangi leaves (sweet basil)
3 tbs tamarind, liquidized with 150 ml water, sieved
1 tbs lime juice

Coat crab meat, squid, shrimp with salt, tamarind liquid and ground pepper. Let stand for 10 minutes and fry them alternately until done.
Make a paste of shallots, garlic, red chilies, salt and kemangi leaves.
Add tamarind liquid and lime juice.
Serve the sambal in a separate small bowl to serve to your liking.
Makes: 4 servings.
4. Air Asam
Looking for a special welcome drink?
Try this easy to make air asam, or tamarind water
500 ml water
40 g asam jawa
75 g gula jawa (brown sugar)
200 nata de coco
Ice cubes
Bring water, tamarind and brown sugar to the boil and sieve. Let thoroughly cool.
Take a suitable glass and put 2 tbs nata de coco in and pour in air asam.
Serve with ice cubes to your liking.
Makes: 2-3 servings
5. Tongkol Kuah Pedas
For chili aficionados a tuna with a hot, spicy sauce
500 g ikan tongkol (medium sized tuna), cleaned, cut in 3 pieces
2 tbs tamarind, liquidized with 100 ml water, sieved
1 tsp salt or to taste
5 shallots
2 cloves garlic
5 red chilies, 50 g
5 cabai rawit (small-sized strong chili)
3 roasted kemiri (candlenuts)
A slice of fresh turmeric
A slice of fresh ginger
2 tbs cooking oil, for stir-frying
A slice of fresh galangal, pound
2 stalks lemon grass, 25 cm each, pound
2 salam leaves
4 limau lime leaves
A turmeric leaf (optional)
300 ml thick coconut milk
1 red tomato, cut into 5 parts
1 tsp salt or to taste
1 tsp brown sugar

Coat the fish with tamarind water and salt and let stand for 15 minutes.
Make a paste of shallots, garlic and red chilies, cabe rawit and candlenuts.
Stir-fry until aromatic, add galangal, lemon grass, salam leaves, limau lime leaves, and turmeric leaf. Pour in coconut milk. Bring to the boil while stirring to avoid curdling.
Add the tuna, tomato and season with salt and brown sugar. Lower flame and continue until sauce is somewhat thickened.
Makes: 4 servings

Source: www.thejakartapost.com (16 Juli 2007)