Indonesian Recipe: Pecel
A Sweet and spicy peanut sauce served best with rice, spinach, and sprouts
Nasi pecel (rice with pecel sauce) is my favorite food in Indonesia. If you are familiar with my eating habits in the U.S., you wont be surprised as to why I like pecel so much. This stuff is practically peanut butter for you rice but with a spicy kick. I used to occasionally use peanut sauce when I’d make Chinese food back home, but it never really hit the spot. This stuff, however, is good. It’s also quite popular in my area. Small tokos (used to mean ‘restaurant’ in this sense, but generally means shop front) will sell this dish as one of their staple items. The recipe here may seem like an odd concoction, but I think you’ll find that the combination of ginger, chilis, and lemon leaves makes for an eclectic taste. My recipe comes from the women who lives next door to my host family. I have crowned her Ratu Pecel (the Queen of Pecel). I’ve had an almost endless supply of the sauce since moving to my permanent site, and it has all been courtesy of her. Yesterday, I asked if I could learn how to prepare it. Now, I share the benefits with you.
- 1/4 kg Peanuts
- 3 thumbs worth Ginger
- 1 oz. (10 cloves) Garlic
- Chili peppers to taste
- 8 Lemon leaves
- 5 oz. Brown sugar
- 2 pinches Salt
Makes: I don’t know, a medium sized bowl’s worth. Probably enough to last four people a couple of meals.
The first step to make pecel is to boil the peanuts in oil on a walk. When the peanuts have softened, remove them from the oil, and start to boil the ginger, garlic, and chilis in the same manner. The peanuts will need a few minutes to soften up, but the other ingredients should be ready quickly and need not stay in the boiling oil for long. Drain the oil from all of the boiled ingredients. Next, begin to grind the peanuts with a mortar and pestle (or a food processor if you’re cheating). At the end of this step, your peanuts should have the sticky consistency of organic peanut butter. It should not be overly chunky, but you wont be able to achieve a completely smooth consistency either. If your mixture is still dry, you haven’t broken up the peanuts enough; keep going. Move your ground up peanut sauce to a bowl.
Now, begin to grind the rest of the ingredients separately. Start with the ginger as it is the hardest to smash and grind. Then add the garlic, followed by the chilis, the lemon leaves, and finally the sugar and salt. Don’t add the next ingredient until the previous concoction has been ground and mixed up. This paste should have a similar texture to the peanut sauce.
Now, mix your two sauces and do some final grinding with the mortar and pestel until you are pleased with a thick, sticky texture. Store the pecel in this form if you do not plan on eating it immediately.
When you are ready to serve the pecel (either all of it or a portion), add hot water to the mixture until it has taken on the smooth texture of a thick sauce. You don’t want it too watery, but you do want it to flow like a liquid in contrast to the storage product.
Pecel is served best on rice (nasi pecel) with a side of spinach and sprouts.