Members' Recipes Archive

March 2002
Sayur Tumis Boontjes
Petra Carter

Sayur Tumis Boontjes

By: Petra Carter

Serves: 6

I grew up with the fragrances of Indonesia - of toasting coconut and mixed spices, of rice steaming in cone-shaped bamboo baskets, of frying sambals and the waxy smell of hand-painted batiks that the women wore to the selamatans, the frequent semi-religious neighbourhood celebrations, organised in thanks for anything from a pregnancy or birth to a new job or the successful completion of studies.

I would do my school homework in the kitchen, whilst my grandmother made a multi-layered spekkoek — a laboriously layered cake from dozens and dozens of very thin buttery pancakes flavoured with cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg and mace — so rich that we could only ever manage a very thin slice! Other days the kitchen would smell of boiling vinegar, turmeric and chillies when a batch of atjar tjampur — a mixed vegetable pickle — was in the making. My mother might make our favourite serundeng — a condiment made with toasted coconut and peanuts, perfumed with cumin and coriander. Or rempeyek — a crunchy savoury peanut brittle. Abon abon too — another side dish made from slowly dried and sweetened, shredded meat (or its shellfish equivalent ebbie ebbie). We called it monkey hair because of its texture. My dad cooked too and had his own specialities. He was always in charge of the krupuk (huge, flat sheets of prawn crackers) and of course the regular family besengek or sate padang barbecues on Sundays.

Yet, despite this total immersion in Indonesian culture, I grew up in Holland. My parents had left Java in the fifties and, unable to suppress their love for all things Indonesian, started a business importing food and cooking equipment from there. Many Indonesians also immigrated to Holland around that time, where they integrated with ease into Dutch society. Indonesian food was adopted in Holland with gusto - not only in the many restaurants that serve rijsttafel (literally rice-table) but also in the home of every Dutch family.

At home an Indonesian meal can be as simple as a single-pot dish like nasi goreng (fried rice with onions, spices and meat) or bahmi (a stir-fried noodle dish with meat and vegetables). A rijsttafel on the other hand is a huge spread of plainly boiled rice served with anything between five and fifteen separate dishes of fish, vegetables, chicken, beef, pork and eggs, each in its own individual sauce, and always accompanied by umpteen side dishes of condiments.

Most of my parents' friends were Indonesian and still are. They taught us so many things. Amongst them was an old lady we called Oma (Dutch for granny) Hamar. She descended from an ancient bloodline of Indonesian nobility. But she knew how to cook, and spent much time with my mum, talking about Indonesian culture and food. The little book in which she wrote down the recipes in her neat, beautiful handwriting is now in my possession. I treasure it and I still often make the recipes below. They take a little time, but they are a therapeutic way to deal with today's hectic lifestyles. And now, another generation on, my children count these dishes amongst their favourites.

Sayur Tumis Boontjes

This dish is ideal for reinterpretation - I've used a combination of chicken stock and dried prawns (available from Asian food stores) and garnished it with hard-boiled eggs. But you can also use minced pork instead of prawns, leave out the eggs and add or omit vegetables of your choice. Serve with plainly boiled rice and the condiments below, on the side.


3 tbsp of vegetable oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 small red chilli, finely chopped
200 g dried shrimps or prawns
3 tbsp ground laos (galangal)
2 tbsp ground ketumbar (coriander)
1 tbsp gula djawa (jaggery or brown sugar)
800 ml of good, home-made chicken stock
600 g French beans, cut into 3cm lengths
½ cucumber, cut into small sticks
300 g fresh bean sprouts
4 hard-boiled eggs, peeled and halved


In a saucepan heat the oil and gently fry the chopped onion until transparent. Add the chilli and dried prawns and continue frying for another 8 minutes or so. Add the spices and fry for another 2 minutes. Next stir in the sugar and stock and bring to the boil. Add the French beans, simmer for 5-8 minutes or until almost cooked then add the cucumber and bean sprouts and continue cooking for another 1-2 minutes.

Float the halved eggs, yolk-side up, on top and serve hot, with plainly boiled rice and some abon abon or serundeng on the side.

© recipe copyright 2002 Petra Carter


Author: Petra Carter Email:

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