A little taste of Indonesia.
While most people use cucumbers (or cucumber salads) to diminish the heat of other dishes, I often use it the other way around – I spice things up with it. Atjar Ketimun is one of my favorite Indonesian side-dishes. Flaming hot cucumbers. So simple but so good. I like simple dishes because it’s the perfect way to really taste the pure flavors of food. When it comes to cooking, less is definitely more for me.
Atjar (roughly translated) means pickles, Ketimun means cucumber. ‘Atjar‘ stands for a variety of pickled side-dishes, one of the most renowned Atjars around here is Atjar Tjampoer. You can always find it in my fridge.
At my Kayotic Mansion we eat this alongside fried vegetable rice (Nasi Goreng), chicken satay and satay sauce. The atjar gives zing, crisp, freshness and heat. It compliments the rice perfectly without taking over its flavor. But it’s got more purposes than to just jazz up your rice, it’s also great on a sandwich or hamburger. Talk about fusion cooking!
6 tbsp white vinegar
2 tbsp water
1 heaping tsp sugar
1/4 to 1/2 tsp turmeric
1/2 tsp salt
It looks so simple, and it really is. Only a few ingredients. It’s the absolute perfect balance in this dish is that makes it so good. The Indonesian kitchen excels in balancing flavors.
Here’s the star of the evening. I used a little over 1/2 a cucumber. You can leave the skin on or take it off, it really won’t matter flavor-wise. I leave it on because the deeper green of the skin gives the atjar a bit more color, and it gives a little bite. I thoroughly rinse it first, though.
Finely chop the cucumber. When I plan it as part of a rice meal, I go for small cubes. When I want it for hamburger topping, I slice it wafer thin. When eaten with a regular meal, I coarsely grate it (and leave out the chillies and turmeric).
I used about 1/3 of a medium onion. I wouldn’t go past 1/2 onion or it becomes too overpowering.
Grate the garlic. I used 1/2 a reasonably sized clove.
Now I would normally use 1 tbsp Surinam sambal (very hot condiment) or a Madame Jeanette – an extremely hot Surinam bell pepper. Since I doubt either one can be bought globally, just go for whatever hot pepper you have in your region that doesn’t have an outspoken flavor. I only had one lonesome, sad, green chili pepper in my fridge, so the choice was easy. Red chili pepper would have looked much better, though. More color and contrast. Color is always good! I left the seeds in because it’s supposed to be very hot. Chop it or, like I prefer doing, mash it in a mortar.
Atjar Ketimun can be prepared in various ways – you can throw everything in a bowl (raw), set it aside and it will turn out great. However, I prefer to lightly sautee the onion first, it seems to bring out the flavor in a more subtle way. Drizzle a tiny bit of oil in a hot pan and sautee the onion until it starts ‘sweating’. If you’re gonna use chili pepper, sautee them right along with the onion, it will spice up the oil and that will distribute the heat more evenly.
After a few minutes you can add the turmeric, stir well and let it cook for about 30 seconds. I love the smell that arises now, and the pretty yellow color is amazing. Add the vinegar, water, sugar and taste. Aim for a perfect sweet & sour balance. When you’re satisfied with the flavor, add your chili puree. Simmer over low heat for 2 to 3 minutes.
Put the cucumber in a bowl, add 1/2 tsp salt and a good shake of black pepper.
Pour in the onion mixture and combine. Pretty color, eh? The colors will get even more intense over time. Check the seasoning and tweak where needed.
Cover the bowl with foil. Let the atjar marinade in the fridge for several hours – preferably 24 hours.
Serve with a few thin cucumber slices and a little parsley.
This is the life! The colorful, picturesque, fresh life.