I have to admit, as you can probably tell from the assam laksa and noodles with dumplings, i’m partial to meals that consist of only a single dish. Despite coming from an Asian family where our meals are typically made out of a serving of soup, vegetables and at least two different meat or seafood dishes with rice, there’s just something so damned alluring about piping hot bowls of soup, ladened over noodles, complete with servings of vegetables and meat, all in one bowl. Tucked in with a pair of wooden and chopsticks, you could almost fool yourself into believing that you’re sitting at one of the many wooden tables of an authentic, open air stall in a South East Asian country, indulging in the local fare. I don’t think you can get quite the same effect from an almost lavish meal with a bowl of rice and a choice of several dishes set in front of you.
Soto ayam, simply put, is just Javanese-style chicken soup. Although the dish originates from Java, there are many variations of it throughout Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore; people from West Java often include soybeans in their broth while Malaysians often thickens theirs with candlenuts. This particular version relies heavily on coriander and cumin seeds for its flavour and kuyit (young yellow ginger) to give it that distinctive shade of yellow.
This dish is too easy to put together- it requires such a little effort for an amazing, full-bodied spiced dish. This is the meal to tuck into if you want a light, flavourful meal after a day of indulgent eating. It certainly won’t be the last time i’ll be making this one.
At this point, can i just say how much i love the book, Cradle of Flavour by James Oseland, this recipe comes from. I picked it up at the library the other day, after the incredible looking plate of satay (an South East Asian satay similar to kebabs) on the cover caught my eye. Little did i know what a brilliant choice i had. The author, James Oseland, first discovered South Asian cuisine when he took up a friend’s invitation to spend the summer holiday in her country, Indonesia. It was there that he lived with her family, sampled the local cuisine and fell in love with it. In fact, so hard he fell that his initial plan to stay three months extended to almost a year.
The book is set up somewhat like a travel journal; James starts off by familiarizing the reader with the South East Asian countries (namely Singapore, Indonesia and Malaysia) and their cultures, before vividly detailing how about he came to visit Indonesia and his exploration of its cuisine as well as that of Singapore’s and Malaysia’s. In spite of his lengthy writing, which really is quite riveting, there are no lack of recipes. In fact, James takes great pain to explain everything, from the types of ingredients used in the recipes to what you should look what for when choosing them at the markets and when cooking the various dishes.
All in all, it’s just really refreshing to see South East Asian cuisine through the eyes of a foreigner, especially written in such a delightful manner. So taken am i by this book that i am planning to hop down to Borders to get a copy of it.
But till then, i’m just gonna sit back, continue reading the chronicles of James’ journey through South East Asia and fight the urge to run into the kitchen to whip every dish up :)
Soto Ayam [adapted from James Oseland's Cradle of Flavour]
1 whole chicken (1.4-1.6 kg), quartered
2 litres water
2 stalks lemongrass, each tied into a knot
6 whole kaffir lime leaves
1 tsp salt
1 tsp black peppercorns
1 1/2 tbsp corriander seeds
2 tsp cumin seeds
5 shallots, coarsely chopped
a bulb of garlic, peeled and coarsely chopped
a 5cm piece turmeric, peeled and coarsely chopped
a 5cm piece galangal, peeled and thinly sliced against the grain
a 5cm piece ginger, peeled and thinly sliced against the grain
2 tbsp peanut oil
1 small package of glass noodles
2 tbsp finely chopped Chinese celery greens
Crispy fried shallots
- Place chicken, the 2 litres of water, lemongrass, lime leaves and salt in a large pot. Bring to boil over medium-high heat. Using a large spoon, skim foam off the surface. Cover, reduce heat to medium-low and let liquid cook at a lively simmer till chicken is tender, about 45 minutes. Continue to skim any foam every 10 minutes. Discard lime leaves and lemongrass from stock, setting the stock aside. Remove chicken and shred into thin pieces.
- Meanwhile, place peppercorns, coriander and cumin in a mortar. Pound till spices are ground to a dusty powder. Add shallots, garlic, candlenuts, tumeric, galangal and ginger and pound till a smooth paste forms. Add a tablespoon or two of water if needed.
- Heat oil in a small saucepan. Fry paste, stirring constantly, till the aroma of the coriander and cumin take over. Add paste and shredded chicken to stock. Bring stock to a gentle boil, then reduce heat, allowing stock to simmer till the essence of the flavouring begins to bind with the stock, about 10 minutes. Add juices of 2 limes and salt, to taste.
- Cover glass noodles with boiling water till they begin to soften. Divide noodles amongst 4 bowls. Ladle soup over noodles and sprinkle with fried shallots and celery greens.