South Asian Paradise Dinner at Home

Inspired by freshly made nasi goreng, I decided to create a homemade South Asian style dinner. Actually, a few leftovers were included into this meal--- the larb tofu I had yesterday was added into the coconut vegetable curry. The freshly made (today) nasi goreng left over from my lunch was stuffed inside a pineapple.

I discovered an Indonesian grocery store in the Palms neighborhood of West Los Angeles called Simpang Asia. They have a cafe next door to the grocery store which looked inviting as well. But I had already ordered (and eaten) my nasi goreng earlier today at Singapore Express in Marina del Rey. Nasi goreng is simply an Indonesian fried rice. It was a delicious lunch by itself. I saved half of it because there was so much in the one serving!

The Indonesian supermarket was an adventure. I was specifically looking for banana leaves, and they had them. Also the condiments such as a mild sambal cobek; a chili sauce with chili, tomato, onion, salam leaf, salt, sugar, tamarind, galangal. There were no additives or MSG in anything I bought off the condiment shelves. I also found some kaffir lime leaves, tamarind, fresh mangoes, little Thai chilis, sweet rice, coconut milk, dark sesame oil, basil, cilantro, limes, and a spicy sambal chili paste.

After my Indonesian marketing, I gathered some fresh produce at Whole Foods to put my menu together. A halved pineapple! Perfect. After I bought the pineapple, I had full intention of stuffing it with nasi goreng, the juice of the pineapple making it moist and sweet. To pair with the nasi goreng stuffed pineapple, a fresh filet of salmon. Also, I went over to the bulk section and made freshly ground peanut butter to use for my homemade peanut dipping sauce.

The basil was fragrant and abundant in the produce section. I picked up an extra bunch.

After cleaning and prepping everything, I turned the oven on to heat it up while I prepared the pineapple. I carved out the inside and put the pineapple into my Vitamix, adding in a touch of orange juice. This makes a sweet marinade for the salmon. With the pineapple orange mixture whipped up into a frothy juice, I glazed the salmon with the pineapple/orange juice. Since I have a Vitamix, I just blended the fruit up from the freshly cored pineapple in a few seconds.

Meanwhile, I stuffed the hollowed out pineapple with the nasi goreng, wrapped it in a banane leaf, and set it on the sheet pan in the oven. The banana leaf holds the moisture in like parchment paper. The banana leaves come in wide rolled amounts in a plastic bag package. You can put the remaining banana leaves on plates for decoration and serving.

With the nasi goreng stuffed pineapple in the oven, I began the vegetable curry in my clay pot. This was complete improvisation based on all the Indian and Thai curries I've enjoyed. I soaked a cup of cashews in fresh water for about 15 minutes. This softens the cashew, and gets it nice and ready for the curry. I bought a can of Thai coconut milk from the Indonesian market to add to my curry. By the way, the coconut milk was pure, no preservatives, only with the addition of water by the can's ingredient list. I am very particular about freshness and quality. Also, as you may have noticed, I love everything fresh!

In the clay pot, I poured a generous amount of sesame oil, added a few whole cardamom pods, ground coriander, sprinkled in some dried garlic slices I found at Mitsuwa Market (our local Japanese supermarket), and dashes of garam masala, coriander, turmeric, and curry powder into the oil. I allowed the oil to warm with the scent of the spices. Once warmed, I added in some vegetable broth I had on hand. Then the kitchen started to smell really good. This must be an aphrodisiac on its own, the scent of spices warming in a clay pot.

I added in the tofu larb and red onion first, mixing it into the oil, broth and spices. Then the fresh green beans, carrots, celery, bok choy, kaffir lime leaves, freshly grated ginger, and a dollop more of curry powder. I like the Penzey's Spices brand called Maharajah: turmeric, coriander, cumin, cardamom, fenugreek, ginger, nutmeg, fennel, cinnamon, black and white pepper, cloves, saffron, and cayenne pepper. 

After adding in the vegetables, I waited a few minutes and then added a little more vegetable broth and the can of coconut milk. I did not measure anything, mind you, so I will have to give you estimations. Say you add a few cups of broth and a can of coconut milk. Then add the cashews. Drain the cashews from its soaking water first before adding them to the pot. Then mix them into the curry. You may need to taste and season, but let the coconut milk and broth simmer. Please give the curry a chance before adding more spices. I tend to add little amounts of spice, a tablespoon of the sambal cobek to give it some sweet and spicy flavor. Never add a lot of anything, you will regret that method. Just add tiny bit by tiny bit, and build your flavors.

Once the curry simmered at a low to medium flame, I covered it with the clay lid, and began the salmon. I like to rinse my filet in sherry or sake. This washes the fish of any fishy smell. It also lends a nice flavor. I only had sherry this time, which is fine for the sweetness it imparts. I carefully wiped off a banana leaf, and then placed a sheet of parchment foil on top of the leaf, all on a flat surface. Set the filet of sherry (or sake) rinsed salmon on the center of the parchment foil. Next, with the pineapple and orange mixture ready, I carefully poured some of the juice on the salmon. I really make things up as I go, so when I put together the actual recipes for this menu, I will try to be closer to measurements. About 4-5 tablespoons of pineapple orange juice. You might also drizzle some honey if you'd like it to be extra sweet. I will do this next time because the juice was not quite sweet enough for the fish, believe it or not.

I spooned some chopped pieces of pineapple on top of the fish, added some basil, scallions, and celery. I wrapped the parchment foil around the fish first, sealing it up tightly. Then the banana leaf wrapped around the parchment. I stripped off some long strips of banana leaf and tied it up. Then I set it inside the oven next to the pineapple, and let it bake for about a half an hour at 350 degrees.

While the salmon was baking with the stuffed pineapple, I prepared the peanut dipping sauce and the fresh vegetable rolls.

The rice paper for the spring rolls can be found in any Asian supermarket, and they are so easy to make. I've gotten into making these lately. All you have to do is assemble your ingredients, create an area for wrapping your rolls, and have your plate ready for the presentation. So simple, you shouldn't be afraid to try this. Once you've caught on to how easy these are to make, and how healthy they are to eat, you'll want to make them all the time. Raw vegan variations are also possible using coconut jerky or sheets of raw (green) nori.

Fresh Spring Rolls using Spring Roll Skin (or Rice Paper)

I have tried several brands of rice paper for spring rolls, and the ones I use are by Oriental Trading Orchids Brand that says Bánh Tráng Spring Rolls Skin. It's made of rice flour, water and salt. I also have used Miss Saipan Brand that says Extra Thin Rice Paper bánh tráng sieu mong.

The trick is having the wide bowl or any souffle dish available with water to quickly dip and soak your rice paper in. You don't need but a few seconds in the water. That's all. Make sure you use a clean cutting board as your working surface. Do not use any kind of paper towel underneath (like I did once) as it will stick to it, and you will have to toss that sheet of rice paper wrapper away. Don't worry about it being wet---- you need the water so that your roll sticks together.

Select your ingredients, put a spoonful of sauce inside (I recommend the peanut dipping sauce) smear it around with your spoon as an applicator, then fill it with a small amount of things like basil leaves, sliced carrots, sliced cucumbers, and usually I like to add slivers of tofu and avocado, or juicy red bell pepper, but I did not have any of those ingredients this time, which I was lamenting, mainly because the peanut sauce was superb.

I assembled my fresh spring veggie rolls, decorated plates, and checked on the salmon and the stuffed pineapple.

The curry was finished, waiting in creamy coconut deliciousness on the stovetop set to warm, while I pulled out the pineapple and the salmon from the oven. I decorated plates with condiments like cilantro, basil, slices of lime, scallions. I was very pleased with the salmon filet--- it was a gorgeous coral color, moist, juicy and perfectly cooked. The skin underneath was soft and melted with the flesh of the fish.

The nasi goreng was made even more delicious by the juices of the pineapple. I poured a ladleful of coconut curry on top of the nasi goreng to make the stuffed pineapple sing in spice and creamy coconut goodness.

Our table was spread with a feast of South Asian flavors...

The peanut dipping sauce came out beautifully...

For the fresh spring hand rolls...

I loved the creamy curry mixed with the spicy nasi goreng, moist with pineapple juice...

We drank cold barley tea with our meal, and enjoyed the pound cake-like Indonesian dessert, lapis surabaya cake, after our feast.