There’s a point in the summer when fruits and vegetables are at peak, and the challenge is to fully appreciate this moment when melons taste like melons, tomatoes really taste like tomatoes, and sweet corn sends you into a Proustian reverie. The food practically falls onto the plate, already perfect. Take this easy Indonesian Sweet Corn Sambal.
Several years ago, in Amsterdam, I fell hard for Indonesian food. In Minneapolis, we didn’t have an Indonesian restaurant scene, but Amsterdam did. Indonesia was a Dutch colony from 1800 to 1949, and these restaurants are the delicious remains of a darker past.
At the start of every meal, we’d be given some insanely crispy krupuk chips and spicy sambal for dipping, the same way you get bread in an American restaurant, or salsa and chips at a Mexican place. I came home looking for krupuk and sambal, and added some Indonesian flavors to my pantry.
Once you tire of boiling ears of sweet corn, you must try it Indonesian-style. I’m not pretending that it is authentic, just tasty. Sambal is the salsa of Indonesia, and Krupuk can make a great chip for dipping. I picked up some Sambal Bajak, Ketjap Manis, and Garlic Krupuk, and just wanted to have them play with my locally grown corn, jalapenos, shallots, and tomatoes.
Sambal and The Origins of Ketchup
Sambal Bajak is a chile paste with shallots, sugar, and candlenuts, and often has shrimp paste, so check your label. You can always use another chili sauce, if you don’t have it.
Ketjap Manis is a soy sauce flavored with deeply caramelized sugar and molasses, giving it a slightly bitter sweetness. It’s the forgotten progenitor of America’s favorite condiment, ketchup, if you can believe it. Ketjap Manis was one of many fermented, sweet and sour condiments of the time, probably a descendant of Roman Garum, the stinky fish sauce of the Roman empire. The umami-rich sauce made the trek from Malaysian Islands to the Colonies with traders, who used it to jazz up their boring porridge based meals. Of course, the Colonists had to make a version with what they had on hand, and the first Americanized version of ketchup was born. In the 1700’s, American ketchup was made with just about anything, from mushrooms to anchovies, and the tomato version didn’t make the scene until much later.
The Global Melting Pot
Foods evolve and change, and ketchup is a perfect example of how people change something to fit their environment and tastes. Americans dropped the soy sauce, kept the sugar, and added spices and more sugar. Indonesian immigrants moved to the Netherlands and opened restaurants, where they serve “rijstaffel,” created just to please the Dutch. I put corn in Sambal.
Work with What’s In Season
Like the Americans who created ketchup, you work with what is at hand. This sweet corn is like candy, it’s so sweet and crisp. To give it some Indonesian flair, I chopped a couple of jalapenos and added garlic, ginger, and lime zest. A quick saute in a hot pan, and my sambal was ready for dipping.
I bought pre-fried krupuk, but you can also buy the uncooked chips and fry them yourself. They are quite a show, as the little pressed pieces of starch hit the hot oil and puff up to four times their size. If you just serve it with corn chips, it will still be delicious.
Enjoy the best of summer in a sambal. It’s a fresh alternative to salsa, and a great way to enjoy sweet corn.
Indonesian Sweet Corn Sambal with Krupuk
- 1 tablespoon canola oil
- 1/2 cup minced red shallots
- 2 large jalapenos seeded and minced
- 2 cloves garlic chopped
- 1 tablespoon fresh ginger minced
- 2 ears sweet corn cut off the cob
- 1 teaspoon ketjap manis
- 2 teaspoon sambal bajak to taste
- Prep all the vegetables. Place a large saute pan over medium high heat, and drizzle in the canola oil. Add the shallots, jalapenos, garlic and ginger and stir until the shallots are lightly browned and soft. Add the corn and stir until the corn is softened slightly.
- Stir in the ketjap manis and sambal bajak and cook for a minute, then taste, add more hot stuff if you want more heat. Serve warm with krupuk.