Betawi Beef and Noodle Soup
This is a time consuming recipe.
Soto Betawi, a soup of spiced beef and coconut milk, has become one of Jakarta's most famous indigenous dishes. It has a relatively short history, it's said to have been invented by Lie Boen Po, who sold his soup from a cart in the Betawi neighborhood of Jakarta. By the late 70's, the dish was known throughout the city and from there its fame grew internationally.
Traditionally made with beef offal, the dish has sprouted many variants. The recipe I used forwent offal and instead called for beef shanks and short ribs, but as the latter have become quite expensive in California, I decided to only use beef shank. It was my first time doing so, and I deboned it before cooking it - but you can also cook the whole shanks in the soup, then remove them and cube them and return them to the soup pot before adding the coconut milk. If you do this, you might want to also try to remove the bone marrow and also return it to the soup.
This particular recipe didn't call for potatoes, though these are also supposed to be an integral part of this dish. You can always add a couple of peeled, cube potatoes in the last quarter hour of cooking before the coconut milk is added.
Beyond this, I followed the recipe pretty closely. I wasn't able to find Indonesian bay leaves locally, so I substituted with curry leaves. I did manage to find palm sugar, which tastes a lot like maple sugar, but you can use brown sugar (or maple sugar if you have it) instead.
While the soup was quite good, and my husband particularly enjoyed it, I'm not sure if it was tasty enough to justify the long and intricate preparation, including the hunt for the ingredients.
- 3" ginger, peeled, divided
- 4 lbs beef shank, cubed
- 4 candlenuts or 8 macadamia nuts
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 1 Tbsp coriander seeds
- 2 tsp cumin seeds
- 2 tsp white peppercorns
- 3 medium shallots, peeled and quartered
- 5 garlic cloves, peeled
- 5 lombok chilies or 1 bird's eye chili
- 1 1/2" galangal root, peeled and sliced
- 1 1/4" turmeric root, peeled
- 1 Tbsp salt
- 2 Tbsp cooking oil
- 2 lemongrass stalks, outer leaves removed - bruised
- 5 kaffir lime leaves, bruised
- 4 Indonesian bay leaves or curry leaves, bruised
- 1 cup coconut milk
- 1 Tbsp palm sugar or brown sugar
- 1 lb rice vermicelli
- 2 fresh tomatoes, sliced or cubed
- 2 green onions, sliced
- 2 fried shallots
- 2 limes, halved or quartered
- kecap manis
Cut 1" of ginger root into thick slices and bruise the remaining 2" piece. Set aside.
Bring a pot of water to boil over high heat. Add the beef and boil for one minute. Remove the beef, rinse under cold water and set aside. Discard the boiling water.
Heat a small skillet over medium-high heat. Add the candlenuts or macadamia nuts, the cinnamon stick, coriander seeds, cumin seeds and white peppercorns and cook, stirring frequently, until they are roasted. Transfer to a mortar or to a spice grinder and grind into a fine powder.
Using a food processor or electric blender, puree the shallots, garlic, chili, galangal root, turmeric root, sliced ginger and salt into a smooth paste. Add the previously made spice mixture and mix well.
Heat oil in a soup pot over medium heat. Add the spice blend and cook, stirring frequently, for about five minutes. Add the reserved beef cubes and continue cooking for a few minutes, stirring to cover the beef with the paste.
Add the lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves, Indonesian bay leaves or curry leaves, the bruised ginger root and 2 quarts of water. Bring to a boil, then lower the temperature to low and simmer, covered, for 2 1/2 to 3 hours. Add the coconut milk and palm sugar and continue simmering, uncovered, for 15 minutes.
Meanwhile, cook the rice vermicelli according to manufacturers instructions. Drain and transfer to soup bowls.
Remove kaffir lime, bay or curry leaves and ginger from the soup and discard. Ladle soup onto the bowls with the noodles. Serve with the tomatoes, green onions, fried shallots, limes and kecap manis on the side.
Adapted from a recipe at Amsterdam Cooking Workshops
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