This blog is devoted to gluten-free cooking and eating, but I should call this post Strava food. The one social media site that makes the most sense to me, and to which I post one or more times a day, is Strava: a site devoted to cycling and running. People post their daily activities on the site to keep track of their running or biking mileage and other work-out related data. The site offers challenges for its users, goal setting options, and training programs. Over the years the site has expanded to allow its users to post interesting photos of such things as sights they see during their activities, their new shoes or bicycles, workout selfies, and food they eat before or after their workouts. I started using Strava in 2012, and since then the world has become a much smaller place for me. I see photos of snowy fields in Russia, mountain vistas in Switzerland, day dawning over trails in Turkey, and many more sights of cities and countries I would never otherwise see. The comment section of each activity allows athletes to communicate with each other, and I’ve met some pretty wonderful people through discussions related to Strava activities. Although the support one receives from other athletes is an amazing benefit to using Strava, the photograph and comment sections are, to me, the most educational feature of this site.
When users whom I follow, or who follow me, post photos of dishes they ate after their workouts, I always ask about food I don’t recognize, especially when its posted by athletes who live in other countries. Recently I decided to start making some of this food myself, so that I can experience foods from authentic foods from other cultures. I have a Strava friend, Hedy, who lives in Jakarta, Indonesia, who posts photos of meals his wife prepares for him. As Ramadan ended, he posted some photos of his post-Ramadan meals, several of which looked so delicious I asked him for the recipes. The first of dishes I’ve prepared is called nasi pecel, and its really just vegetables with a spicy peanut sauce. Hedy had his wife send me the recipe via message on Facebook (a social media site I don’t use much at all, admittedly no even for this blog, but it was useful for this purpose). Both Hedy and his wife write in English pretty well, so we don’t have much of a language barrier. I had to laugh, though, when I read the first of his wife’s instructions for the recipe: “Make your peanut sauce.” To my knowledge, I don’t have a go-to peanut sauce. In fact, I don’t recall ever having made a peanut sauce before. At this point I searched online for authentic nasi pecel recipes in order to find out how to make the peanut sauce. In my search, I found as many varieties of peanut sauce recipes for nasi pecel as I found recipes for nasi pecel. The various peanut sauce recipes, although different in some ways, share common ingredients: garlic, shrimp or prawn paste, kaffir lime leaves, tamarind, and a large number of peppers (although the type of pepper varies). The type of vegetables served with the rice and peanut sauce varies from recipe to recipe as well. The recipes I read were, however, uniform in their use of white rice. Fortunately, every single nasi pecel recipe I viewed was naturally gluten-free.
In the end, I’ve drawn inspiration from several recipes of nasi pecel (including Hedy’s) and created a delicious, light vegetarian dish with a bit of a kick, perfect for dinner on these hot Texas summer nights. My version is probably Americanized more than would please some native eater of the real deal nasi pecel, and probably more Americanized than pleases me, but it is close to the authentic recipes I saw. Some of the ingredients, while common and easy to find in Indonesia, are not easy to find in S Texas. Additionally, even though we’re used to spicy heat in our Tex-Mex fare, I knew I had to tone down the large number of peppers called for in the dozens nasi pecel recipes I’ve studied. I limit the number of serrano peppers I use in my peanut sauce (And I now have a peanut sauce I can claim as mine!) to two and experiencing the amount of heat from using just two peppers, I have developed a great amount of R-E-S-P-E-C-T for ability of Indonesians to handle the heat in their food. I couldn’t find shrimp paste, but honestly I’m not sure I would buy it anyway. I don’t particularly like shrimp. Instead of kaffir lime leaves (which I can find only occasionally in stores around me), I use the zest and juice of two limes. Some people use a combination of bay leaf and lime to substitute for kaffir lime leaves, though. Finally, I stray from the universal use of white rice in this dish and use black rice instead. I like black rice and the color of black rice adds drama to the appearance of the final dish.
What I really like about making this dish is that is draws me closer to someone I’ve met only through a mutual love of running, who lives half a world away from me, but who was willing to share his food with me (albeit virtually). See, I love this communal aspect of food; it brings people together. It’s a way of sharing and knowing. As a way of sharing and knowing, food moves out of its material realm and into the spiritual. Yes, Hedy and I share data from our runs, but in the end I don’t learn much about his culture from running, and he doesn’t learn much about mine. A little, maybe, through sharing photos of places and people we see on our runs. When I really learned more about Hedy’s culture, and Hedy himself, is when he shared his food with me, first through images, then with recipes. He introduced me to his wife by asking her to provide recipes. He told me a little about himself through FB message. Seeing the recipes written by his wife, with her easy (and actually very endearing) assumption that I have “my” peanut sauce; searching for ingredients that, while exotic to me, are so common Indonesia that they appear in street food; having gained an idea of what Hedy and his wife eat by having made and eaten my own version of nasi pecel, just the sharing of recipes has bridged distance and culture, bringing me closer to Hedi, his wife, and their world. He also learned more about me and my culture by helping me learn about his food. What an amazing new use of Strava, I think.
- 1 cup peanuts
- 1 clove garlic, peeled and chopped
- 2 serrano peppers, seeded and roughly chopped
- 1 inch piece of ginger, peeled and roughly chopped
- 1 tablespoon fish sauce
- Zest and juice of two limes
- 2 tablespoons of tamarind concentrate
- ¼ cup piloncillo sugar (or palm sugar)
- 1 cup uncooked black rice (3 cups cooked)
- 3 cups shredded red and green cabbage
- 3 cups mung bean sprouts, rinsed well
- 3 cups baby spinach
- In a pan over medium heat, place the peanuts (no oil necessary). Stirring frequently to prevent burning, toast the nuts until they start to turn a golden color and smell fragrant, about 15 minutes. Remove the peanuts from the heat and place them into a food processor or blender. Add about 1 tablespoon of sesame seed or olive oil to the pan. Add the chopped garlic and serrano peppers. Stirring frequently to prevent burning, saute the garlic and peppers until the garlic turns golden and the skin on the peppers begins to look blistered. Remove from heat. Add the garlic and peppers to the peanuts in the food processor. Add the rest of the peanut paste ingredients to the food processor and process until smooth. This mixture will be paste-like in texture and thickness. Place it in a container with a tight lid and refrigerate. To use, place the desired amount of paste in a bowl and mix in water until the mixture is the desired consistency for sauce.
- Cook the rice according to package directions. Cool the rice slightly. Divide the cooled black rice, cabbage, spinach, bean sprouts evenly among four plates, each in a separate pile. Place some peanut sauce to on the side of the plate. To enjoy, mix the peanut sauce into the vegetables and rice as you eat.