Fried Bananas
So, like many things in life, there are at least two ways to go about this. The classic way to make this dish is to use firm-ripe yellow plantains, which, in actual appearance, should be turning nice and black on the outside, for the most part. Don't worry, the insides are still perfectly good — they're quite different from bananas. The other way to do this is to use regular old, ripe bananas. They should be really fragrant and have spots all over. I actually prefer this preparation because that's the way my mom made them when I was growing up — bananas are just much easier to find than plantains here in the States. Much to my surprise, I was able to find plantains, so I made the dish both ways. So, what's the difference? Well, if you like a chewier texture and a starchy taste, use plantains. They're more appropriate as a side dish and end up looking nicer when deep-fried. (Hence, the plantains are pictured at left.) On the other hand, if taste matters more to you than appearance, use bananas. Deep-frying them with the light batter transforms the interior into a gooey masterpiece and the crust turns nice and crispy around the edges. For some reason, deep-frying them also brings out a little tang that makes them even more addictive. This ends up tasting more like a breakfast dish, which is the way it's eaten in Indonesia, or with a little ice cream, it can be a great dessert. Click here to see Bananas, Bananas Everywhere.
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Gado Gado (Indonesian Cooked Vegetable Salad with Peanut Dressing)
"Gado" in Bahasa Indonesia usually means one of two things: 1) to eat something raw or 2) to eat something without rice. So important is rice in the typical Indonesian meal that one word has been set aside to designate the unusual practice of eating something without the staple crop. Since most of the vegetables in this salad are cooked, and as far as I can recall, I have never seen someone enjoy this dish with rice, it's probably safe to go with the second definition in this context. Saying something descriptive twice, though, is a way of denoting emphasis, as in, "really really." And so, in reading "gado gado," or "gado²" the translation could be roughly interpreted as "you really, really shouldn't eat this with rice." Why? Because it would be weird. This is a light and refreshing salad popular in many parts of Indonesia. I suspect it is of Javanese origin because of its notably sweet flavor profile and use of (ideally) Javanese palm sugar. No palm sugar? No problem — dark brown sugar makes a decent substitute. Same thing with the "kangkung" — it's a green leafy Chinese vegetable for which spinach is a good substitute; for those of you familiar with Malaysian cuisine, it's the vegetable that's in kangkung belacan. And if the shrimp paste has you worried, no sweat — it's not completely necessary. The most important thing to remember about this salad is that when you serve it, eat it right off the bat. Don’t let it sit, because the vegetables have a lot of water that thins out the dressing (a good thing, at first, since it's pretty thick), but after awhile... not so good. Anyway, the next time it's 100 degrees out at 100-percent humidity and hazy (normal weather in the capital, Jakarta), give this recipe a whirl. Many thanks to Zulinda Budiaman, my mother, for helping me with this recipe. Click here to see more peanut recipes. Click here to see Beyond Sriracha: Sambal Oelek.
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