I’ll admit, I love all types of Asian food but am a little intimidated by cooking it in my own kitchen.  The extent of my Asian cooking up until yesterday had been dumbed-down versions of pad thai, and a stir fry here and there.  Thanks to my boyfriend’s Christmas presents to me, however, I am now beginning my foray into cooking more authentic and varied Asian recipes.  The first dish I decided to try was an Indonesian recipe, Tahu Goreng Kacang (fried bean curd with peanuts) from The Complete Asian Cookbook by Charmaine Solomon.  Preparing this dish was a decidedly intense experience lasting almost two hours, but it was a good learning experience.  I got to open several of my Christmas presents: shrimp paste, sambal ulek, palm sugar, and tamarind.  In case you’ve never used tamarind before, here’s what you do:

  1. Bring half a cup of water to boil in a saucepan
  2. Add a walnut-sized piece of tamarind and soak (with the burner off) for 5-10 minutes
  3. Squeeze the tamarind and strain the liquid to remove fibers and seeds (I bought seedless tamarind so I didn’t do this step)
  4. Measure out the amount of liquid that the recipe calls for
  5. Store the leftover unused tamarind block in a sealed baggie or container in the crisper of the fridge.

I’ll refrain from describing in detail what the tamarind and its liquid look like, but just a hint: it’s brown.  Never fear, though, it doesn’t smell half bad.  Anyways, the dish was pretty cheap, as you can see from the recipe and cost information below.  The flavors of the sauce were interesting: a little sweet, a little salty, and a slight spiciness that hits you after a while.  The cabbage and the peanuts gave a nice texture contrast with the tofu.  All in all, this was good recipe for learning how to use some key Asian ingredients, and for learning something else: I really don’t like tofu as much as I thought I did. 

Tahu Goreng Kacang (bean curd with peanuts)

Ingredients     Cost
1 14-oz container hard tofu   $2.99
peanut oil     pantry
1 c. roasted peanuts, divided     $1.23
1 large garlic glove, minced   $0.05
½ tsp. dried shrimp paste (trasi) pantry
2 T. soy sauce   pantry
3 T. tamarind liquid     pantry
½ tsp. sambal ulek         pantry
1 tsp. palm sugar         pantry
½ c. coconut milk         $0.50
1 c. cabbage, chopped       $0.47
      Total cost (4 servings) $5.24
      Cost per serving $1.31

Wipe tofu thorougly on paper towels and then dice it.  Heat peanut oil in a frying pan and stir fry the tofu, being careful not to break the tofu, until it is golden brown.  Drain the tofu on paper towels.  In the same oil fry 1/2 c. of the peanuts for 3 or 4 minutes, being careful not to burn them.  Drain the peanuts on paper towels and set aside.

Stir fry the garlic and shrimp paste in 1 T. oil over low heat, stirring constantly.  Add 1/2 c. crushed peanuts, soy sauce, tamarind liquid, sambal, and palm sugar.  Stir until well-mixed.  Remove from heat and add coconut milk.

To serve, place tofu on a plate and top with cabbage, sauce, and garnish with fried peanuts.  You can also garnish with bean sprouts and scallions, but I chose not to (bean sprouts were expensive at my grocery store and scallions were temporarily not available).