On my trips to Indonesia, my mother always packs me a care package of spices to bring back home to Berlin. These typically contain the lowest common denominator spices that form the many base of Indonesian cuisine like whole candlenut, cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg, tamarind, coriander, turmeric. All these things I can get in Berlin, only, you know, more intense in flavour, and occasionally she’d put in a surprise ingredient or two. Like ground chili paste. Or fermented shrimp paste (in an airtight bag naturally).
This time around, I found a small sachet of unidentified dried nutmeg-y-looking pods. It didn’t smell like nutmeg, but the visual similarity made me wonder about the toxicity of said pod. Nutmeg, when consumed raw and in large quantities, has psychoactive effects.
Over Whatsapp, my mother explained that they were kluwak pods, and yes, the raw fruit is poisonous to humans, since it contains a form of cyanide. The fermented format she’d packed for me is edible, that it’s the essential ingredient in rawon. The kluwak pods give the stew its characteristic black colour and the umami nutty flavour.
Rawon is an East Javanese beef stew, a region where three of my grandparents originated, and it often made an appearance on their dinner table. Rawon is eaten simply with steamed jasmine rice, sprinkled over with crunchy raw soybean sprouts, spring onions and fried onions, chili and kerupuk udang on the side. So good!
We were having 6 friends over for dinner last night, so I decided to make a big pot of rawon to serve to everyone, along with terong balado and gado-gado.
What you need for 1 kg of beef to feed 8 people
- 12 shallots, peeled
- 8 cloves garlic, peeled
- 2 tbs ground coriander
- 2 tbs palm sugar
- 2 tbs tamarind paste
- 1 tsp ground white pepper
- 3 candlenuts
- 5cm piece each of fresh ginger root, turmeric root, galangal root, all peeled
- the innards of 4 kluwak pods: this was a little gross to do tbh
- 2 tbs sunflower oil
- 1 kg beef: I used chuck, cubed and while I did trim the tendons, I left some fat on
- 100 ml beef stock
- 4-6 kaffir lime leaves
Blitz in the blender
The soft (and unexpectedly greasy!) innards of the kluwak pods, coriander, garlic, shallots, the white parts of lemongrass stalks, palm sugar, tamarind, ginger, galangal and turmeric roots, all blitzed into a paste in the blender.
Low and slow
Preheat the oven to 150C. In a Dutch oven, over a medium fire, heat some sunflower oil and stir fry the rawon paste until fragrant, around 2 minutes. Then turn the fire off and add the beef cubes. Stir until the beef cubes are well coated in the paste.
Turn the oven temperature to 120C, place the Dutch oven in the oven with the lid on and braise for 90 minutes. At minute 20, add the kaffir lime leaves and the beef stock (mine was homemade by Adriano — best Christmas present everrr). At minute 40, I added 500ml water.
A variation on a theme
My mother pointed out that leftover rawon can be recycled into brongkos, which is a Central Javanese dish, whose base ingredients overlaps that of rawon but has the addition of coconut milk, red beans, green (string) beans and fried tofu.
Serve beef rawon over steamed rice, dress with spring onions and soybean sprouts, fried onions, kerupuk. Enjoy!