on june 23rd, denmark celebrates sankt hans aften; which is also known as midsummer or summer solstice. normally danes will flock to a big bonfire by a body of water to drink beer and eat sausages with snøbrød (bread cooked on a stick over a fire). the fire is supposed to symbolize burning a witch, as it's not nice to burn effigies anymore. but this year i wanted to avoid the crowds, especially after distortion; which has caused me to swear off beer for a while due to the stench of it mixed with urine for the entire week following the festival. luckily, my friend arranged a little grill party in her backyard which was pleasantly quiet and, well, undanish.
for this occasion, i chose to make one of the recipes that i learned in bali. the plan was to take a ghetto cooking class which would hopefully be taught by a mom (or even better, a grandma!) in her home with several other participants. but i didn't do enough research and my parents ended up treating me to a cooking class with the executive chef at the villa we stayed at in ubud. but a word of warning before you embark on this recipe: it's fairly labor-intensive! i got to my friend's apartment and was chopping, pureeing, cooking, and folding banana leaves from 5pm to nearly 7!! definitely not something you should take to a dinner party, no matter how casual it is. i felt sorry for my friends watching me fold each banana leaf while their tummies grumbled... ;_;
seafood spice paste
adapted from chef rai nuriana at furama villas
yield: about 1 kg
400 g green chilies, seeded and sliced
3 small green birds eye chilies, seeded
225 g shallots, peeled and sliced
1 head of garlic, peeled
100 g ginger, peeled and sliced (are you seeing a pattern here?)
175 g fresh turmeric, peeled and sliced
125 g candlenuts
2 tbsp toasted belacan
2 tbsp crushed coriander seeds
200 g tomatoes, sliced
2 tbsp tamarind pulp
150 ml vegetable oil
250 ml water
2 lemongrass stalks, bruised
3 salam leaves (if you can't find them, just leave it out)
salt to taste
puree all the ingredients in a food processor or mortar except lemongrass, salam leaves, salt, and water. pour the paste into a heavy saucepan along with the remaining ingredients and simmer over medium heat for 1 hour or until the water has mostly evaporated and the paste is golden. let the paste cool completely before using it. you can save it for later by freezing it in an ice cube tray and afterwards putting the cubes into a freezer bag.
pesan be pasih (grilled fish in banana leaf)
adapted from chef rai nuriana at furama villas
yield: serves 2 as a main, 4-6 as an appetizer
300 g fish filets, chopped into big bite-sized pieces
125 g seafood spice paste
1 medium-sized tomato, cut into thin wedges
salt and pepper to taste
4 salam leaves
8 sprigs lemon basil
banana leaf, cut into 4 squares about 15 cm
bamboo skewers (or chives/spring onions/something to tie the parcels)
season the fish with salt and pepper and add the seafood paste. place one salam leaf on the center of the banana leaf, top with a fourth of the marinated fish (but if it looks like too much, cut back a bit), 2 tomato slices, and 2 sprigs of lemon basil. fold one third of the banana leaf over the filling and roll up tightly, securing with a bamboo skewer. (alternatively, you can also use spring onions or some long greens to tie them like i did. just make sure the greens are wet so they don't burn, letting the parcel fall apart.) repeat until you've filled all 4 banana leaves. cover the parcels and let them marinate in a cool place for 30 minutes.
you can steam them for 7 minutes, grill them for 9 minutes, or bake them for 9 minutes at 180°C. just watch out that they don't get burned or overcooked or else they'll be dry as hell. serve with rice!
i think they turned out pretty well, despite my frazzled preparation and lack of salam leaves. i think they were enjoyed by my friends as well - there were no leftovers as i unfortunately underestimated the amount that the recipe would yield. luckily there were plenty of other delights to shove into our mouths; the host made many sticks of delicious chicken satay using a recipe from rasa malaysia accompanied by a fiery chili peanut sauce that i resorted to simply spooning over my rice. the only danish thing about our dinner was a few sausages on the grill... which we didn't mind, seeing as those weenies were seriously outnumbered. a latecomer brought her own marinated pork belly and cutlets to grill; after two pieces they just pushed me over the edge, i was so full! but there's always room for dessert, which was a strawberry coconut cake. and sangria. lots of sangria.
...uh, happy sankt hans aften! hope we do it this way again next year. ^^