|Grandad, Grandma, Mom in the Eel River
My grandmother was born on Java, Indonesia. Our family’s (my mom’s side of the family) celebratory meal was the Rijsttafel, the Dutch word for rice table, which consists of a table full of side dishes to go with rice. When others were carving turkeys and hams, we were scooping small spoonfuls of delicately assorted concoctions out of hand made ceramic bowls onto rice and eating with folded banana leaves.
From the vegetables grown in the garden to whatever food was drying on metal sheets on the roof, the small tract house and garden on Maple St in Ventura was the production site, and my grandparents the workers. Preparation began days in advance, the roles well rehearsed in a usual high-pressure atmosphere. Grandad in charge of the dirty work, the draining and shredding the coconuts, while Grandma energetically chopped, mixed, and cooked in the kitchen.
My favorite of the Rijsttafel is Serundeng Kacang garnish. This dish was so well loved at our last gathering that my mom ended up making multiple batches, one after the other as the bowl ran out. This can be made in a double recipe & stored in a jar. Also useful with Indian curry dishes
3 cloves of garlic sliced
2 tbls sliced onion
2 tbls sugar
1 tsp salt
1 tsp tamarind dissolved in 2 tsps of water
2 cups fresh grated coconut
2 tbls peanut oil, corn oil or safflower oil
1 cup roasted peanuts broken in quarters or crushed in blender
1.In a mortar or blender crush the garlic, sugar, salt, and tamarind into paste. Mix with the grated coconut.
2. Heat the oil in a large frying pan and toast the coconut mixture over low heat, stirring often. When light brown add the peanuts and toast more for 5 minutes.
Makes 2 & half cup. (This can also be toasted in the oven instead of fried)
Alternate recipe for Serundeng:
This recipe can be used with roasted soy beans instead of peanuts
2 cups fresh grated coconut or sweet & bought grated coconut
1 tbls. Coriander
¼ tsp. ground cumin
1 clove garlic crushed
2 tsp sugar (if using sweetened prepared coconut then reduce sugar)
2 tsp salt
2 tsps tamarind dissolved in1 tbls water (lemon juice can be substituted for tamarind and water)
1 salam leaf or grated lemon rind
½ cup dried roasted soy beans or sunflower seeds or peanuts
1 Mix together all the ingredients except the beans or seeds put on a lined cookie tray.
2. Bake in 250degree oven for 30 minutes. Stir frequently until light brown. Add the soya beans or seeds. Turn off heat & continue to dry in oven for 30 minutes.
The garden at the Maple Street house was an exotic utopia of seeds, root starts, and cuttings brought home from my grandparents’ years of world travels. Many conversations admiring the garden ended up revealing the story of a treasured something that grandma had nurtured for the duration of a trip and smuggled through customs to get it into the fertile soil at home. Once established, she would pass the plant or seed on, along with its story of origin. I can’t imagine how many passion fruits have flourished from cuttings because passersby couldn’t help expressing awe at the vine-covered fence bursting with purple flowers. They ended up going home from my Grands’ with an earful of foreign adventure and their own something, waiting to be planted.
Grandma’s Punch served at Rijsttafel
½ gallon black tea brewed strong and chilled
½ gallon pineapple juice
½ gallon orange juice
gingerale or soda water added for fizz
fresh passion fruit
Mix liquids together and make sure each glass gets at least a scoop of a ½ passion fruit…. will sink to the bottom for a crunchy, tasty crescendo.
My granddad, as I said before, did the dirty work. I think he would have preferred to read the newspaper, but he ended up happily weeding the garden. Often times there would be a squabble because he uprooted what to him was an unfamiliar, but which happened to be one of grandma’s newest babies. And often times the weeds were what she was nurturing in order to get an abundance to make a meal. I have had quite a few “Borage Partys” based on grandma’s recipe.
Large, fresh Borage leaves
A batter of flour, egg, water, favorite spices to taste.
Dip leaves in batter and fry.
In my minds eye I see my granddad on his knees, face hidden from view by his wide brimmed hat, keeping balance with his thumb and knuckle on one hand and combing the dirt with the other. To his side, my grandma with her cracked bare heels sunk into the ground, limberly bending at the waist to pick up a fallen avocado.