Foodiva's Kitchen: 'Tis The Season for Ketupats (Savory Rice Cakes)

Monday, September 13, 2010

'Tis The Season for Ketupats (Savory Rice Cakes)

During this period of festivities, one of the dishes that's a must in every household is the ketupat, a rice-cake wrapped in woven coconut (or screwpine/pandanus) leaves. Here, I am showcasing two types of ketupat weave designs. One is the traditional squarish-shaped one, while the other is more triangular and is not so much woven as folded, like the way you make samosas. The triangle ketupats are easier to fill with rice than the square ones too, because the opening to the latter is a bit small. The filled woven casings are boiled in a bunch for up to 5 hours (yes, 5!). The long boiling time ensures that it keeps well for up to a few days without any refrigeration.

Over the years, various relatives of mine have taught me how to weave the ketupat casing. The basic weave comprises three vertical and three horizontal interlocking loops, with the two ends of the coconut leaves ending up together at the diagonal opposite ends of the ketupat casing. Needless to say, I have attempted and failed, tried again and then subsequently forgotten how to make these over the years. Just like tato origami boxes, they're a complete mystery to me. It's just much easier to ask one of these family experts to weave the ketupat cases for me. I think I'm more analytical than visual, and if I have any spatial ability at all, it's pretty close to zero. Which probably explains why the boys are better at doing this than I am. My mother, however, has never bought into this scientifically-based excuse because to her, dexterity comes with practice. And obviously, I have not practiced enough to master this fine art of ketupat weaving.

Anyway, for this year's festivities, I thought I'd attempt to make ketupats with some spicy, fragrant peanut sauce to accompany it. Normally there would be barbequed meat satay skewers to complete the whole dish as well, but I drew the line and stopped at ketupats and peanut sauce. Will leave the satays to the experts (or maybe for another day when I'm braver), thanks.

My first attempt at the peanut sauce drew this comment from the in-house food critics, "Hmm... it looks different from mom's sauce, doesn't it?" (this was before any of the sauce even landed on his tastebuds, folks). Honestly, at that point, after all the roasting and grinding and saute-ing of peanuts over a hot stove the whole afternoon, I couldn't recall what my mom's sauce looked like. Maybe it was selective memory, amnesia, blind fury or a combination of all three, but I really thought my sauce looked alright, like the original even!

Just as well I didn't argue because a few days later, my mom made satay - the whole works - and her spicy peanut sauce did look different from mine. Tasted slightly different too, but you know what? I preferred my version, even after all these years when I'd gotten used to eating hers. Tradition is all well and good, but sometimes change is also good and reminds us that we are constantly evolving (foodwise, and as a species), as we are meant to be.

My satay peanut sauce
My MIL's traditional version

 Filling up the ketupat casings. L: Square, R: Triangular

All these dried chillies went into the sauce!

Once cooked, cut the ketupat diagonally across and remove the rice-cakes from the casings - the leaves are inedible! The ketupat rice has a dumpling-like texture and is eaten by dipping it in the savory peanut sauce or slathering the sauce all over the rice. Such bliss...

Since ketupat weaving is such a struggle for me, I won't even pretend to know enough to teach you how to do it. Instead, I'm going to direct you here for a diagrammatic tutorial and here for a video of how-to. If you manage to make your first ketupat without breaking a sweat, don't feel shy about dropping me a line to gloat about it. I swear, I'll be ever so delighted for you. ;-)

Cooking Method:
1. Wash and drain enough rice to fill up to 3/4 into each ketupat casing.
2. Loosen the ketupat strips at the loose ends to widen the opening just enough to fill in the rice. Spoon the rice in carefully, then close the opening by pulling the strips. Tuck the loose ends underneath the loops to secure.
3. Boil lots of water in a big pot, add salt and carefully place the ketupats inside the boiling water, ensuring they are submerged fully. Let the ketupats simmer on medium-high heat for at least 5 hours, adding more water if required.
4. After 5 hours, the ketupat leaves will turn brown, which means the rice is thoroughly cooked.
5. Drain the water, and if possible, hang the ketupats to dry.
6. To serve, slice diagonally across the ketupat and peel off the leaves to extract the rice-cakes. Dip in spicy peanut sauce.

Spicy Peanut Sauce (my version, hello..)
Makes 2-3 cups
1 1/2 cup dry roasted peanuts, unsalted (Use Planters brand if you can't bother to roast them yourself)
1 cup water
1 tablespoon sweet soy sauce
1 1/2 tablespoon sugar or palm sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup oil
1 heaped tablespoon tamarind pulp

Spice Paste:
6-8 dried red chilies (seeded and soaked in warm water)
3 cloves garlic
3 shallots
2 lemongrass (use white parts only)
1 inch ginger or galangal

1. Grind the peanuts coarsely with mortar and pestle or mini food processor and set aside.
2. Soak the tamarind paste in 1/4 cup water for 15 minutes, squeeze the pulp for juice and discard the pulp.
3. Chop the spice paste ingredients and blend together with a little water until smooth. Heat oil and fry the spice paste until fragrant.
4. Add the peanuts, tamarind juice, water, sugar, sweet soy sauce and stir thoroughly. Simmer in low heat while continually stirring for about 3 minutes until the peanut sauce turns smooth.
5. Serve warm or at room temperature with the ketupat and barbequed satay.

If you're strapped for time (when aren't we all?), you can turn to this bonus short-cut recipe below. My mom will hyperventilate if she knows! LOL.

Supersimple Spicy Peanut Sauce
Makes 1 1/2 cups

1 (280g/10oz) can coconut milk
1/2 cup chunky peanut butter
1/2 small onion, grated
1 tablespoon dark soy sauce
2 teaspoons brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes

In a saucepan over medium heat, combine coconut milk, peanut butter, onion, soy sauce, brown sugar, and pepper flakes. Bring to a boil, stirring frequently. Remove from heat, and serve warm.


Quay Po Cooks said...

Just had katupat today:D Know what we had it with? Cauliflower Polonaise and ABC soup! haha This is truly fusion!

Foodiva said...

Cauliflower Polonaise and ABC Soup? LOL. That sounds SO random, but I bet they all go very well together! I hope you posted recipes. ;-)

Quay Po Cooks said...

I will post the recipe soon:D

Kristen said...

Those ketupats are beautiful. I am so amazed by the intricate weavings. It must take so much time to make, but the results are worth it!

Foodiva said...

Kristen, yes they are intricate and because I don't have the time nor patience, I buy the empty woven casings ready-made!

A Thought For Food said...

Simply stunning! Those look fantastic! You must have a huge amount of patience to make these.

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