I've always been attracted to strong women. There I've said it - not with the intention, of course, of implying anything misleading about my sexual orientation, but with the intention of letting you know a little bit more about myself. Strong women, they always have a way of finding me. Which is something I find slightly odd, but I get to pick which ones should stay and inspire me, and which ones should go and continue to shape their lives with testicles in their brains.
Over the course of my three careers, I've met a number of influential women... powerful beings in heels, they were. Most of them were intelligent, some were extremely beautiful (and knew it, used it) while many were too full of themselves to feel compassion beyond their well-powdered noses. Very few managed to serve as my source of inspiration. However, there have been one or two.
When I was in my early 20s, I met one such woman. I was on a plane heading to Japan for work and just as I was starting to feel pleased at having a full row to myself, this lady walked out of the first class cabin and asked if she could sit next to me. There goes my extra leg-space, I thought. She explained that some young children were making a ruckus in her cabin and since she had a bit of a headache, she wanted to be someplace quieter - ironically that happened to be where I was, where the commoners sat. Anyway, she seemed nice and we quickly fell into a conversation. It turned out that she was a batik textile-designer, or in her words, cloth-maker from Indonesia on her way to Japan to exhibit some of her designs. We exchanged cards with the promise that next time we were in each other's countries, we would look the other one up. That woman's name was Josephine or Obin Komara (featured below in a recent Julius Baer advert) .
The following year, I found myself in Jakarta, also (sigh) for work. We arranged to meet and when I arrived at her boutique in my very unclassy jeans and black t-shirt, I was attended to by her snooty assistants who most likely thought I had come to ask for a job..LOL. Well, they certainly couldn't do enough for me once Bin came out and gave me the warmest hug! As I flipped though and wrapped myself with her luxurious silk batiks, I found out that it took at least 3 months to 2 years to weave a piece of cloth (they even breed the silkworms!) and that Bin employed around 2,500 artisan weavers and designers to help in their production. Needless to say, each cloth costs along the same lines as a high-end kimono. No way could I possibly afford them on my then paltry income!
All wrapped up in Bin Komara's signature batiks.
But I learnt a lasting lesson that day when Bin took me out for a stroll and then on to high tea at a prominent hotel. It seemed that everyone we met who knew her were falling over themselves to say hello or serve her in one way or another...and they genuinely looked like they enjoyed doing it. Then I saw what it was, this woman, who was both powerful and influential but best of all, fun to be with, seemed to wear her intelligence and compassion right on her bra straps. She looked people in the eyes and respected them back, no matter who they were. It was there and then that I decided that when the time came to grow up, I wanted to be just like Bin Komara.
Some of the biggest chillies I've ever seen... they were like huge, red fingers.
Bin fled to Singapore when the social and political unrest happened in Indonesia, and we sadly lost touch. I think of her often and subconsciously I may have bettered myself as a person because of her. I know this because people, even strangers, are always very nice to me and I often get the very best service wherever I go, be it a restaurant, an airline, a spa or a corporate organisation! Just ask some of my grouchy friends, they'll tell you it's true :-).
So what has this Ebi Talam recipe got to do with Bin Komara? Well, this is an Indonesian delicacy, for a start and I wanted to pay tribute to Bin's heritage. It's a colorful and tasty appetizer or finger-food and most joyous of all, it's people-friendly (especially towards those making it). Literally translated from the Indonesian language, Ebi means dried shrimp and Talam means tray, the tray here being the rice cake. The rice cake mixture contains coconut milk and aromatic pandan which give it a salty-sweet, creamy vanilla-ish flavor while the rice and tapioca flours turns this into a chewy cake.
I used my silicone rose molds to form the rice cakes, but of course you can use anything on hand. Cups and muffin tins are also good options.
This rice cake mixture is steamed for 20 minutes and then simply topped with cooked dried shrimps spiced up with some chillies, garlic and spring onions. It's amazing how you find bits of sweetness, heat, fragrance and saltiness in every bite. Just like a strong woman I once knew, this dish proved to be quite an inspiration!
Makes: 4 (cup-sized)
100g rice flour
25g tapioca flour
350ml thick coconut milk
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 pandan leaf (optional)
50g dried shrimp, soaked and chopped finely
1 stalk spring onion, chopped
1-2 fresh red chillies, deseeded and sliced thinly
3 cloves garlic, chopped finely
1 teaspoon sugar
4 tablespoons olive oil
1. In a bowl, combine rice flour and tapioca flour, add about half of the coconut milk and stir until well combined. Set aside.
2. Place the remaining coconut milk, salt and pandan leaf and bring to the boil. Slowly pour this hot coconut milk mixture into flour mixture above. Stir with a spoon until it resembles a slightly runny pancake batter.
3. Pour the rice cake batter into small molds or cups until full. Place these in a preheated steamer for 20 minutes until thoroughly cooked.
4. Remove the molds from the steamer and leave to cool completely before turning out the rice cakes onto serving plates. Spoon about a tablespoon of ebi topping on each rice cake and serve immediately.
1. In a small pan, heat olive oil over medium heat. Stir in red chillies and garlic and saute until fragrant.
2. Add the chopped dried shrimp, stir for 1 minute. Add in spring onion and sugar and cook for another 3 minutes until the dried shrimp is crisp. The topping is now ready for use.