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COOKING FOR TWO: Transported to Indonesia in every sate skewer bite

by G. Daniela Galarza, The Washington Post | September 15, 2021 at 2:10 a.m.
Sate Daging (Soy and Ginger Beef Satay) (For The Washington Post/Rey Lopez)

"The first time I watched the sky bleed tones of orange and red as the sun set over the sea in my father's hometown of Kupang, Timor, it struck me as a moment of coming home — but to a place I had never been before," writes Australia-based chef and author Lara Lee in her cookbook, "Coconut & Sambal: Recipes from My Indonesian Kitchen."

Evocative and energizing, Lee's book is a story of discovery and rediscovery, over and over, as she explores Indonesia in search of the food of her childhood and her father's youth. The flavors — spicy, salty, sweet and sour — conjure memories of the dishes her grandmother, who she called Popo, made for the family.

This recipe, for sate daging, or soy and ginger satay, was a signature dish of her father who was jokingly known as "the barbecue king." Savory with garlic, ginger and soy sauce, the marinade works just as well on chicken, pork, tempeh and mushrooms. Lee says that whenever she eats it, especially when it's served with her grandmother's peanut sambal, she is "transported to Indonesia" with every bite.

Light soy sauce, palm sugar, kecap manis (sweet soy sauce) and tamarind paste may be found at well-stocked grocery stores, specialty stores or online.

Sate Daging (Soy and Ginger Beef Satay)

  • For the sate:
  • ¼ cup soy sauce, preferably light
  • 2 tablespoons rice vinegar or white wine vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
  • 1 (2-inch) piece ginger (about 1 ounce), peeled and grated
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 1 teaspoon palm sugar or light brown sugar
  • ½ teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1 (14- to 16-ounce) rib-eye steak, cut into 1- to 1 ½-inch cubes OR the same weight of tempeh, cubed, or 8 to 12 ounces button or cremini mushrooms, halved
  • Sunflower oil or another neutral oil, for the grill
  • Cooked white rice, for serving (optional)
  • For the acar:
  • 6 tablespoons rice vinegar or white wine vinegar, plus more as needed
  • 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
  • ½ teaspoon fine sea salt or table salt
  • 2 Persian (mini) cucumbers or 1/3 an English cucumber (about 5 ounces), thinly sliced
  • 2 small shallots, thinly sliced
  • 1 red chile, deseeded and thinly sliced, or to taste
  • For the sambal:
  • 1 tablespoon sunflower oil or another neutral oil
  • 1 to 2 long red chiles, deseeded and finely chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, crushed
  • ¼ cup unsweetened, unsalted smooth peanut butter
  • 4 teaspoons kecap manis, or more to taste (can substitute with 2 teaspoons soy sauce PLUS 2 teaspoons light brown sugar)
  • 2 teaspoons tamarind paste (can substitute with 2 teaspoons lime juice PLUS 2 teaspoons brown sugar)
  • Fine sea salt or table salt, to taste

Make the sate: In a large bowl or gallon-size resealable bag, combine the soy sauce, vinegar, sesame oil, ginger, garlic, sugar and coriander. Add the beef (or other protein or mushrooms) and toss until thoroughly coated. Marinate in the refrigerator for 10 to 45 minutes; if using meat, it may be marinated overnight.

Make the acar: While the beef marinates, in a small bowl, using a fork, stir together the vinegar, sugar and salt. Add the cucumbers, shallots and chile, if using, and toss to combine. Set aside to pickle until ready to serve or refrigerate for up to 1 day.

Make the sambal: In a small saucepan over medium heat, heat 1 tablespoon of sunflower oil. Add the chile and garlic and fry, stirring until softened, 3 to 4 minutes.

In a small food processor, combine the peanut butter, kecap manis, tamarind paste, salt and cooked chiles and garlic. Pulse briefly, then add a splash of water to loosen the sauce and pulse again. Gradually add ¼ cup of water and continue to pulse until the sauce is pourable. Taste, and season with additional salt or kecap manis, if desired.

Cook the sate: If using wooden skewers, you will need to soak them in water for at least 30 minutes before grilling. If using a grill, lightly oil the grates with sunflower oil. Heat the grill to 450 degrees. If using a charcoal grill, heat the coals until they smolder or cook skewers over indirect heat. Use a grill thermometer or the hand method: If you can hold your hand an inch from the grill for no longer than 3 seconds, the grill should be around 450 degrees. If using a grill pan, heat it on high just until it starts to smoke lightly.

Thread 4 or 5 cubes of beef (or other protein or mushrooms) onto 6 soaked skewers. Cook the skewers for 1 to 2 minutes on each side for medium, or until lightly charred and done to your liking. Drizzle some of the sambal over the skewers and serve with the acar, additional sambal, and rice on the side, if desired.

Makes 2 to 3 servings.

Adapted from "Coconut & Sambal: Recipes From my Indonesian Kitchen" by Lara Lee (Bloomsbury, 2020).

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