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Kecap Manis – Indonesian stir fry sauce

As I was just whining the other day, when you have a wide culinary interest in the region of Asia (NO!  It is NOT the same as being indecisive!) sometimes it can be hard to keep all those different sauces and ingredients in stock.

Fortunately, it is often possible to make your own.  Well, at least sometimes.

Even then sometimes I don’t have some sauce or ingredient that’s part of the recipe.  In this case – I was out of both lemongrass and Tamari (actually I don’t keep tamari sauce around, so I pretty much NEVER have it).

Oh well.  I’m a barbarian – I’ll get close enough.


  • 3/4 c palm sugar, jaggery, or brown sugar
  • 3 T water
  • 1 c tamari (I used soy sauce)
  • 1 T minced galangal (from a jar – if using fresh, just slice it thinly)
  • 2 or 3 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 T minced lemon grass, bulb only.  I use this stuff —> More Info
  • 2 star anise


  1. dissolve the sugar in the water over a medium heat.
  2. add the rest of the ingredients and bring to a simmer
  3. simmer over a med low heat for about 10 mins – until it begins to thicken
  4. remove from heat and store in the fridge in a glass jar.

Kecap manis will keep virtually forever.  But you won’t have to worry about that – this is a great base for a stir fry noodle dish.  Obviously you need to add something spicy as well, but this is a good start.  It won’t be around for long!

Last time I made this I had to use brown sugar – I had just bought some jaggery but when I opened it up, it was MOLDY!  EWWW!  Tossed it!  So sad!


The Gourmet Garden lemongrass is OK, but the only other thing I’ve tried from them is, well, pretty inferior if not downright nasty.  I’m talking to you, Gourmet Gardens cilantro-in-a-tube!  Get thee back to the netherworlds!

Actually the ginger and garlic are probably OK as well, but kind of pricey when it’s so easy to get good garlic and ginger paste at any Asian, and many “regular ‘merican”, grocery.  Given my experience with the cilantro, I don’t think I’d be willing to give the basil a chance.  YMMV.

Learning Moment of the Day

A psychologist, an engineer, and a mathematician are in a bar having a convivial drink.  While the three are well into demonstrating an exponential curve as a function of alcohol intake, the psychologist proposes a psychological demonstration, in which the engineer and the mathematician agree to participate.  Pointing a particularly pulchritudinous member of the opposite sex on the other side of the room out to each of his subjects, the psychologist proposes, “I will ring a bell at 1 minute intervals.  At the sound of the bell, you may each advance 1/2 of the distance towards the object of your desire.  Are you ready to begin?”

The mathematician immediately throws hands in the air and cries, “No way!  It’s a mug’s game!  I’m not wasting my time with this – if I can only advance 1/2 of the distance at each interval, I will NEVER get there!”

The psychologist busily makes some notes and turns to the engineer, who, as it turns out, has already hopped off the bar stool and is clearly ready to go, saying, “That’s alright, I’ll get CLOSE ENOUGH!”


Tofu Pepper Stir Fry – Thai-ish. Or maybe Indonesian-ish

I’m frequently missing ingredients when I go to make a dish – there are so many different Asian sauces and pastes it’s hard to keep track of them all. I would normally make this with Nam Prik Pao, but having none on hand, and not having the energy to make my own (probably I would be lacking some ingredients for that as well) I went with a substitute of sambal oelek and kecap manis, both of which are Indonesian rather than Thai in origin as opposed to the Nam Prik Pao (which is a Thai thing).

Also this has bell peppers in it, which makes Thai purists shudder (NOT A THAI FLAVOR!) Oh well, what can I say, we’re culinary barbarians here.  We have the particularly peculiar and vulgar idea that if it tastes good, we eat it.  So sue me!  LOL!

This one’s easy.


  • extra-firm tofu, one block, pressed
  • 1 tsp minced garlic
  • one medium onion, sliced
  • 2 tsp to 1 T sambal olek (Indonesian chili paste), to taste
  • 1 T kecap manis
  • 2 bell peppers, sliced in good size chunks (to taste) – I used a yellow and a red
  • 2 T fish sauce (you vegetarians out there, substitute a vegetarian “fish” sauce or Golden Mountain sauce)
  • handful of Thai basil leaves only, rinsed well.  If you can’t find Thai basil, “regular” basil will do – but it won’t taste the same.  Still good, just different.
  • oil for sauteing


  1. Press the tofu and slice into medium thin slices
  2. Dry fry the tofu in a nonstick pan over a low medium heat ’til both sides are golden brown
  3. cut tofu into 1″ or so pieces (larger or smaller is ok, to taste)
  4. heat the oil in a fry pan – add the onion and garlic.  Saute until the onion starts to brown
  5. add sambal oelek, kecap manis, and fish sauce.  Saute for a couple of minutes
  6. add the tofu pieces and saute over a low heat for 5 to 10 mins to allow the tofu to pick up the flavor of the sauce
  7. add the bell pepper – saute another 3 mins over med low heat until the peppers just start to cook.  You want them to retain some crispiness so don’t over do it
  8. add the rinsed basil leaves and stir to incorporate.  Saute about a minute, then shut off the heat
  9. serve over rice with lime wedges

Next time, it’s noodles for this guy.  Which will take a bit more in the way of sauce – probably a bit more of the kecap manis, a touch more heat from sambal oelek or one of it’s cousins, some sake … This was good with rice, but I think it would make a really good noodle dish.

NOTE: I first made this using 2 tsp of the sambal oelek. This gave it a nice, mild hint of spiciness – but keep in mind, in our house we tend to eat HOT and think it’s normal. 2 tsp may be plenty hot for your tastes. For us, next time I’ll probably use at least twice as much, or else add some fresh chili. If using nam prik pao, it may take an entirely different amount, depending on the “innate hotness” of the brand you’re using.

Reusable parchment! Gadget review #2

Baking happiness!

I have been using reusable parchment for 2 years now.

Super ParchmentThe first type I used was called Super Parchment (available at Amazon).  I found mine at a local kitchen supply store.  In the past I had tried some of those silicon mats that were supposed to be reusable (such as SilPat) and I HATED them.  I could not clean them for love nor money – I ended up throwing them away after just a handful of uses.  HATED THEM with a passion.

In 45 years of baking and cooking, I have never been able to develop the magical nose-twitch, holding-the-mouth-just-right-while-praying-to-the-god-of-pizza, special flip of the wrist to get a loaded pizza to slide off the paddle and into the oven. (And btw, I am convinced the God-of-Pizza – or at least the God-of-Getting-the-Pizza-off-the-Paddle – must be Loki or Coyote or one of those other trickster gods)

I do not care how many times people say it, corn meal does NOT act like little ball bearings.  The pizza sticks to the paddle anyway!

So when I came across this Super Parchment while browsing the kitchen store, I was more than ready to give it a try. From the first time I used it I was hooked.  There has been more pizza and bread baked in this household in the past 2 years than in all the preceding 43 years!  Not only did it totally solve our pizza woes, it has also been useful for baking cookies, cakes, and breads.

I have since added some reusable parchment under the name “Pan Pal liners” sold by The Webstaurant Store.  This stuff is much heavier duty than my original Super Parchment, 6 ml compared to 4 ml.  My supposition is that it will last longer, but the Super Parchment is 2 years old now and while it’s definitely showing its age, it is still every bit as useful as it was day 1 out of the package.

However, the Pan Pal comes in a larger size which I have cut to fit my baking stone.  I have also cut out liners for my cake pans, and I have liners for my cookie sheets.  They all work like a charm.

For cookies, I wipe the liner off with a dry towel between batches.  It makes baking batches of cookies go a LOT faster.

I store the liners for the cake pans in the pans.

The liners for the baking stone and cookie sheets may be rolled up and stored in a paper towel tube, a piece of PVC, or one of those mailing tubes for maps and posters. I have a spring-loaded curtain rod mounted over the sink between my kitchen cabinets where I hang a dishtowel and dishcloth; I hang the pan liners over this rod to dry after cleaning.

They do get, well, USED looking, as time passes – but I wouldn’t trade my reusable parchment for love nor money!  I have to say, of all the gadgets in my kitchen, the Super Parchment is the one that has made the most difference to what I am able to bake, LOL!

The heavier duty Pan Pal liners are easier to handle when cutting cake pan liners and my expectation is that they will last longer than the lighter weight Super Parchment, but both perform admirably in the oven.


  • cut to size (silicon mats cannot be cut to size)
  • wipe clean with a damp sponge
  • safe for oven use up to 500F
  • use for cookies, pizza, breads, cakes
  • roll or hang (unfolded) to store


  • fold, spindle or mutilate
  • try to cut something on the liner with a knife
  • use with meats or greasy foods
  • Immerse in water – spraying off is ok, but don’t soak.  The fibers will soak the water up through the edges and accelerate the deterioration of the liner (plus it looks ugly)
  • Allow to overhang the edges of the baking pan

Paneer revisited – another reason to love your microwave!

Well I finally got around to trying to make paneer in the microwave, and I have to say, it works a treat!I use a 4 qt pyrex bowl to make paneer from 1/2 gallon of milk at a time.  Use glass or ceramic for this project – microwavable plastic just won’t cut the mustard, plus plastic tends to hold oils and flavors and it can give your paneer an off taste.

Compared to making paneer on the stovetop, this is much easier to clean up, quicker, less likely to boil over, and it’s easier to monitor the temperature for consistent results.

I’m hooked on microwave paneer!


  • 4 qt microwave safe glass or ceramic bowl or casserole
  • A colander lined with butter muslin, flour sack cloth, or REAL cheesecloth (like this)
  • A large stainless steel stock pot or other large pan (if you plan to reserve the whey)
  • Weights for pressing the paneer (not needed for ricotta or desert paneer)
  • 1/2 gallon of whole milk
  • 2 T organic plain yoghurt – MUST have live culture, OR 2 T lemon juice or white vinegar
  • OPTIONAL: 1/2 c powdered milk (to increase paneer yield) DO NOT USE if you are making desert paneer or ricotta cheese

The higher fat content you can find for the milk you use, the more paneer it will yield.


  1. Put 1/2 gallon milk in the microwave safe bowl – use 2x capacity so it won’t spill over if it foams up in the microwave.
  2. Stir in the powdered milk if you are using it.
  3. Microwave on high in 5 min intervals – how long it ultimately takes depends on the power of your microwave.
  4. Keep heating at 5 min intervals until the temp of the milk reaches 120F – then start watching the milk and check the temp every 2 or 3 mins until it reaches 160F to 165F.
  5. Stir in the yogurt, vinegar, or lemon juice.  The curds should separate from the whey very rapidly.  If it does not fully separate, add a bit more souring agent until separation is complete, about 1 T at a time.
  6. Drain in a colander lined with butter muslin, REAL cheesecloth (not the gauze stuff they sell at the grocery store), or flour-sack cloth – or some variety of a thin, lintless cloth.  Suspend the colander over a large stock pot or other pan to reserve the whey for making dal, bread, or other uses.
Let the curds hang for about 15 minutes. Do not press. Unwrap it and you’re done. The sooner you use it the better.

FOR INDIAN DESERTS such as Ras Gullah:
For desert use, you will not press the curds, you will instead leave it hanging until the curds are cool enough to handle and you will knead the curds.

FOR MAIN DISHES such as Mattar Paneer:
Fold the straining cloth over the drained curds, remove from the colander, set on a plate or inside a pan and put a heavy weight on top to press the curds. I usually put the paneer wrapped in the muslin in the bottom of a large pan and set a plate on top of it, then put a milk jug full of water on top. I let that sit in the fridge overnight. Take it out the next day – there will be additional whey pressed out – unwrap it, cube it, and you’re good to go.


Masala Dhokla

I use this when I have leftover curry to use up and I don’t want to serve it again with plain rice – the Masala Dhokla is a quick and easy way to vary the meal.You can use any fairly dry leftover curry, such as chole, channa masala, any potato curry that doesn’t have a lot of gravy, etc.

This is a “quick” dhokla recipe that doesn’t require any fermentation and only takes a few minutes to mix up.


  • 1 cup besan (chickpea) flour
  • 2 T cream of wheat (farina, semolina, rava)
  • 1/2 tsp Fruit Fresh or citric acid or Eno salt
  • 1 tsp salt, or to taste
  • 2 tsp ginger paste
  • 1 green chili, finely minced
  • 1 T light sesame oil (gingelly oil)
  • 1.5 c water
  • 1.5 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp more of the Fruit Fresh, citric acid, or Eno Salt


  1. Stir the dry ingredients together with a fork.
  2. Add ginger, chili, light sesame oil (gingelly), and water.
  3. Mix well with a wire whip or a fork.
  4. Add 1.5 tsp baking powder and another 1/2 tsp of the Fruit Fresh or citric acid crystals, or 2 tsp of Eno salt. Mix well but quickly.
  5. Let the batter sit while you bring water to boil in a steamer or dutch oven with a cake rack in the bottom.
  6. When it reaches the simmering point, turn the heat down to keep it at the simmer (covered).
  7. Pour one-half the batter into a greased 8″ cake pan.
    Set the pan in the top half of a steamer or on the rack in your dutch oven.
  8. Cover the pan.
  9. The water should not touch the cake pan, you will have to watch and add water if it gets too low during the steaming process. This shouldn’t be to much trouble if you keep it at the simmer and keep it covered.
  10. Let it set up for a few mins in the steamer – how long depends on how thick you poured the batter, it could be only a minute or up to 5 if it’s a thicker dhokla.
  11. Spoon small amounts of your curry over the surface of the dhokla – for safety’s sake remove the steamer from the pan so you don’t get a steam burn while doing this.
  12. Then simply replace in the steamer and continue to cook. Voila, easy, quick Masala Dhokla!
  13. The batter should be done in 13 minutes or so (less without the masala). Use a knife to test for doneness (just like a cake).
  14. Remove from the steamer and loosen the edges of the dhokla with a knife. Put a plate over the top of the cakepan and flip the whole thing out to flip it out of the cake pan. You may have to shake it a few times to get it to drop out. Then put another plate over the plate with the dhokla on it (which is now upside down) and flip again, to get it right side up.
  15. Serve with ghee.

Simple as that!