Tuesday, May 14, 2013
Beef Rendang, a decidedly untraditional dinner for erev Shavuot.
Sundown this evening heralds the arrival of Shavuot, another arcane (to non-Jews, anyway) Jewish holiday.
It’s the Rodney Dangerfield of Jewish holidays, Shavuot is. Even though it’s a pilgrimage festival on a par with Passover and Sukkot, it’s short - only two days here in Diaspora-ville - and has no fancy dwellings or meals associated with it.
The major culinary tradition, such as it is, is to eat dairy... which is why, in a streak of typical Elissonian perversity, I cooked up a meaty Indonesian curry for supper: Beef Rendang.
Beef Rendang, interestingly enough, is that rara avis among Asian dishes, one that can be made kosher without any substitutions or changes in the recipe (provided you use kosher beef to begin with, that is): there’s no dairy or shellfish or weird fermented Asian sauces involved. Lots of spices, instead - and coconut milk, which is, of course, not dairy.
The recipe I used is the one published last month in Saveur magazine. Although it takes some time (about four hours or so), it’s not overly hands-on or technically difficult, provided you can get your hands on all of the ingredients - and, thanks to the (kinda sorta) conveniently located Buford Highway Farmers Market, sourcing bizarre Asian ingredients ain’t a problem around here.
The beef simmers in its bath of spices and coconut milk. After a few hours the liquid will dry out and the meat will develop a deep brown color with correspondingly rich flavor.
What sort of ingredients? Well, aside from the beef - a chuck roast, hacked up into one-inch cubes, does nicely - you need lime leaves, lemongrass, cloves, nutmeg (a whole one, mashed up in a mortar and pestle), shallots, garlic, Thai chiles, ginger, turmeric, galangal, candlenuts, cinnamon sticks, and unsweetened coconut milk. Most of the ingredients are converted into a paste in the food processor, and then the whole mess is simmered slowly for about four hours or so. It’s a little like a braise in reverse: instead of browning the meat and then cooking it partly submerged in simmering liquid, you start by simmering the meat. The brown color develops over time as the sugars in the coconut milk and the beef caramelize and develop deep, rich flavors.
Served over brown rice perfumed with black cardamom and lime leaves, what our Beef Rendang lacked in Holiday Tradition, it made up for in sheer tastiness. We can have cheese blintzes tomorrow.