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Indonesian Folk Songs and Spicy Eggplant (Terong Belado)

August 16, 2012

Like French ratatouille, the summery trio of eggplant, tomatoes, and red pepper make up the main ingredients in terong belado

Two weeks ago, I attended an event to celebrate Singapore’s 47th birthday that fell on August 9th.

By some strange turn of events, I was roped in to lead a few songs in the requisite sing-a-long sessions. We sang popular folk songs like “Burung Kakak Tua,” “Di Tanjung Katong,” and “Bengawan Solo,” all of which are popular across Singapore, Indonesia and Malaysia.

While obvious to Indonesians (the Solo River runs through Central and Eastern Java), ownership of “Bengawan Solo” has always been disputed. To dispel all doubts, I did a quick Wikipidea search to reveal that the song was written in 1940 by Indonesian Gesang Martohartono. So there!

I grew up listening to this song in the traditional kroncong style, a popular folk style with Portuguese influences, that my parents played over and over and over again. To me, it sounds like a wailing cat in heat. However, when I looked it up on YouTube recently I found some more contemporary renditions.

Sung by Dutch-Indonesian Anneke Gronloh, this one has the distinctive uptempo beat of 1960’s tunes.

And I am in love with this jazzy version by Japanese songstress Lisa Ono.


Regrettably, I don’t focus on my Indonesian heritage often enough but it so happens Indonesia’s National Day (Hari Merdeka) is coming up on August 17. This year, Indonesia celebrates 67 years of independence from the Dutch who colonized them for 350 years.

So for this week’s post, I decided to spotlight a simple Indonesian dish that slips into the summer lineup effortlessly, its main ingredients comprising eggplant, tomatoes, and red bell pepper. Terong belado, or spicy eggplant, is usually eaten hot with rice. But for those who abhor eating hot foods in hot weather, I don’t see why you can’t eat it cold or at room temperature as a side (like antipasti!) for grilled meat or as a sandwich filling.

Terong, Indonesian for eggplant, cut into strips

In fact, the basic tomato-red pepper sauce is oh-so versatile. To make this dish with egg, called telor belado, fry whole hard-cooked eggs and toss them in the same sauce. Other ideas: drape the sauce over grilled meats, or stir it into potato salad.

If you’re still unsure about this beautiful dish redolent with the floral notes of kaffir lime leaves and the sassy sweetness of sun-ripened tomatoes, think of it as a ratatouille with a touch of the tropics.

~~~

Indonesian Spicy Eggplant (Terong Belado)

What luck! A glossy purple eggplant and a rainbow pint of cherry tomatoes miraculously appeared in my vegetable box this week. My mum prefers the long, slender Chinese eggplants as she thinks the western eggplant has skin that’s tough as leather. But I know better, she’s just used to them. Ah … we’re all creatures of habit.

Time: 30 minutes
Makes: 4 to 6 servings

1 large Western eggplant, or 3 Chinese eggplants
2 cloves garlic
2 Asian shallots, roughly chopped (1/3 cup)
1 large red bell pepper, roughly chopped
1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved, or 1 large tomato, chopped
3 tablespoons canola oil, divided
1 teaspoon sambal oelek, or to taste
2 kaffir lime leaves
1 small white or yellow onion, chopped (3/4 cup)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon sugar

Cut the eggplant into 3- by-3/4-inch strips. Cut the eggplant lengthwise in half. Cut each half into 3 horizontal layers. Keep them stacked and slice down the vertical into 4 strips. Cut the strips into half crosswise.

Swirl 2 tablespoons of oil into a large skillet or wok. When the oil shimmers, add the eggplant and sauté until the skin wrinkles and the flesh turns translucent and browns, about 5 to 6 minutes. Or do as my mum does and steam it. (You can cover the eggplant with damp paper towels and microwave on high for 2 to 3 minutes.) Remove to a plate and set aside.

In a small food processor, pulse the garlic, shallots, bell pepper, and tomatoes briefly until they form a paste that looks like oatmeal. It will be a little watery but you want confetti sized bits to remain. We’re not making gazpacho here!

In the same skillet or wok, swirl in the last tablespoon of oil, and heat over high heat. When it shimmers, add the paste, sambal, and lime leaves. Fry until you can smell the red pepper and lime leaves, 4 to 5 minutes, and most of the juices have evaporated. Reduce the heat to medium, mix in the chopped onion, and simmer briefly. Add the salt and sugar and taste. The balance of flavors depends on how sweet your pepper and tomatoes are. Adjust if necessary.

Simmer for another 2 minutes until the onion is cooked but still crunchy. Add the eggplant strips and let them roll around in the sauce until well coated.

Serve hot with rice as part of a multi-course meal, or let cool to room temperature.

~~~

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12 Comments leave one →
  1. Rachel permalink
    March 8, 2013 1:00 am

    I finally got around to hunting down those two ingredients! I’m hoping to get some red spinach and try it at some point this week, I saw it at 99 Ranch a couple of weeks ago and was excited, but I had forgotten how much the recipe called for so I didn’t buy any then. I can’t wait to try it! I’ll be sure to let you know how it goes :)
    Also, I don’t get a chance to go to Viet Wah often, but is that usually where you find lá lốt leaves? It seems like they have the largest variety of fresh herbs available, but I don’t remember if I’ve ever run across them there.

  2. August 30, 2012 2:06 pm

    Hi Rachel,

    You can find both items at just about any Asian market. I’ve seen them at 99Ranch, HT Market and Viet Wah. But not Uwajimaya. The Chinese keys are usually found packed in water in jars (but I’ve seen them frozen too) and the salam leaves are dried and in clear plastic packages labeled Indian bay leaves. That’s one of my favorite soups, great choice! Lemme know how it turns out.

  3. August 29, 2012 11:27 am

    This eggplant dish looks so hot & yummy! I shall try it soon.

  4. Rachel permalink
    August 24, 2012 7:02 pm

    Hi Pat! This eggplant recipe sounds great!
    Since it’s an Indonesian recipe it reminded me of a question I have (as a fellow resident of the Seattle metro area): could you tell me where you usually find Chinese keys and salam leaves? I’ve been interested in trying the recipe for Clear Soup with Red Spinach and Sweet Corn from your book, but I’ve been having a little trouble finding those two particular ingredients.

  5. August 22, 2012 11:24 pm

    Lisa Ono hasn’t quite perfected the “ngh” sound in the word “BeNGAwan”. Or she didn’t consult a native speaker on pronunciation.

    • August 23, 2012 2:00 pm

      I love the bossanova style though. Maybe you should record a version of this song. Daddy would love it!

  6. August 21, 2012 12:32 pm

    This eggplant dish looks so delicious ! I happen to have these ingredients around. I must try this for dinner today. Thanks for sharing this Indonesian Spicy Eggplant recipe, Pat!

    • August 23, 2012 2:02 pm

      Betty Anne, It sounds like the ingredients are quite common in most Asian households. Who knew? Let me know how it compares to pinakbet!

  7. August 20, 2012 6:45 am

    Yum! This sounds delicious and so seasonal! I so happy I already have kaffir lime leaves in my freezer and a bottle of sambal oelek in my fridge. I can’t wait to try this!

    • August 23, 2012 2:02 pm

      Ann, it was meant to be! Hope you like it.

  8. August 16, 2012 11:03 pm

    Pat, that rendition of Bengawan Solo is so jazzy and bossa nova-ish! But I was really hoping for a recording of your version :) Eggplant is my favorite vegetable, and with samba oelek and kaffir lime leaves– yum!

    • August 23, 2012 2:03 pm

      Linda, isn’t it just dreamy? Have you heard it before? I really do love this version. Let me know what you think about the terong belado.

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