This “relish,” a nutty, spicy topping classic in Indonesian cuisine, has many applications right here in New England. It perks up any simple dish from beef stew to fricasseed chicken to baked fish, and it’s great with plain steamed vegetables, especially cabbage and all its relations. It’s easy to make, it keeps well, and a little goes a long way.
- 2 medium-sized onions
- 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 1 cup raw peanuts
- 2 cups shredded fresh coconut or 1-1/3 cups unsweetened dried coconut (definitely second-best)
- 2 large cloves of garlic, minced
- 2 teaspoons ground cumin
- 2 tablespoons brown sugar
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- 1 to 1-1/2 teaspoons crushed dried hot red pepper
Cut the onions in quarters, then shred each quarter into the finest possible strands. Heat the oil in a skillet and fry the onion over low heat for 35 to 45 minutes. Stir more and more frequently as it cooks down. The onion should slowly turn first golden, then toast brown. It will shrink to almost nothing and finally start to become crisp. Be patient and don't try to hurry it - the toasted-onion flavor and texture are what makes this so great.
When the onion is ready, add the peanuts and coconut. Continue to slowly cook and stir until they are browned and toasted - about 10 minutes this time.
When the peanuts and coconut are done, stir in everything else and cook 5 to 10 minutes more, just until the garlic has lost its rawness.
Keep the serundeng tightly covered in a cool place. I suppose it's un-American to sprinkle this on clam chowder, but the results justify the disloyalty.
Freezing and Drying Hot Peppers
To Freeze Peppers: The fruits should be briefly but thoroughly heated to slow down the enzyme activity that causes decay. Either dip them in boiling water, then cool in ice water at once, or grill and peel as described in Mexican cookbooks.
Peppers will hold flavor better if frozen whole or in large pieces. Use plastic to tightly wrap recipe-sized amounts, then chop them, still frozen, when you're ready to use them. Once thawed, they will be soft and limp, but the flavor will be unaffected.
To Dry Peppers: Choose only unbruised, mature fruits. Unless they are covered with pesticides, peppers to be dried need not be washed. Just wipe with a soft cloth to remove any dust, sand, or small bugs. Use a thin, strong needle and button thread to string the peppers through the stem, leaving room between them for the free circulation of air. Take care not to pierce the flesh, which would increase the chance of spoilage.
Hang the string(s) in a dark, not-too-hot place with good air circulation. If weather is damp, as is so often the case in autumn in New England, lay peppers on racks, well apart from each other, and dry them in a turned-off oven (about 100°). Commercial dehydrators work fine, too.
Once dried, the highly decorative strings of peppers may simply be hung in an accessible spot. But unless you plan to use them up quickly, it's better to keep them in tightly closed containers in a cool place away from light. Like herbs, hot peppers lose volatile flavoring oils when exposed to light and heat.
Caution: Capsaicin, the hot in hot peppers, can burn. Don't bend over the work surface and inhale. If your skin is sensitive or you're working with a large number of hot peppers, rubber gloves are advised. (And never rub your eyes while working with hot peppers!)