Sop Kambing: Indonesian mutton bone soup

First were the complaints, then came the silent grumbles and now I mostly resign myself ... to the bad food. Our Indonesian helper, who has been with us for the past 12 years, is hands-down one of the worst cooks. Well, maybe second worse only to my dear mom. Mom does the weekly food shopping and both of them continue to cook uneatable dinners that no one enjoys but still pretends to eat.

Sometimes I consider her food 'detoxifying' because  a visit to the bathroom most inevitably  follows (you know what I mean). Her forte is really salty and/or really spicy (really freaking hot that will leave you drenched in your own sweat). That is what most of her dishes taste like. Weird enough, she doesn't eat what she cooks. In fact i don't even know how she survived. I rarely sees her eat anything else besides instant noodles. When I offer her my cooking, she will kindly decline saying she's fasting.

Communicating to her is challenging as her English is very limited and I cannot string a sentence in Bahasa Indonesian to save my life. But one afternoon, while cooking my own food. I tried asking her what she actually eats. I started by asking her about Indonesian cultures and food preferences. I asked her about the mutton soup. If it's like what we had here in Singapore. She waded off to the back kitchen. I thought she had given up trying to understand my English. But then, when she got back, she was all excited and showed me this basket of filled with all type of aromatic spices…Nutmeg, coriander seed, mustard seeds. She frantically pointed to the mortar and pestle. Turning to the fridge, she dug out carrots and tomatoes. Then and there, on pure instinct, I rushed out to get a kilo of mutton shanks. Finally, that evening, we had probably the best dinner we've had at home. And I learnt a great recipe from my helper.

Sop kambing, aaahh… the good old sop kambing. The ultimate comfort soup! The Indonesian sup kambing is of Arab origin, combining hearty vegetables like tomatoes, carrots and aromatic spices, which is a significant departure from the Muslim Indian version. It is hearty, vibrant, fresh, full flavoured and very satisfying. 

Spice paste:
4 teaspoon coriander seeds
1 teaspoon white peppercorns
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
1 teaspoon cumin seeds or powder
½ teaspoon turmeric powder
1 teaspoon grated nutmeg
Knob of fresh ginger, smashed
5 cloves of garlic, whole
1 large onion, halved
7 tablespoon vegetable oil

1kg lamb shanks and ribs
2 liter water
2 medium size carrots, cut into 2 cm pieces
2 medium potatoes, peeled and quartered.
10 pieces of white cabbage leaves, cut into big pieces
3 red tomatoes, quartered
5 cardamon pods, bruised
1 large knob ginger
Salt to taste

Fried shallot flakes
Sambal (optional)

First you need to make the spice paste. Use a mortar and pestle, grind your coriander, fennel, peppercorn and cumin seeds. Peel your ginger and garlic, add those in together with your turmeric powder and pound into a paste. Peel your onion and cut it into 8 pieces, and make sure that each layer is loose. Heat up a pan on medium heat, add in the oil and stir-fry your onion. Add in the spice paste and stir-fry until the fragrance is released. Be careful not to burn the paste otherwise it would be a charred, bitter taste. Once the onion is soft, pour the mixture into a bowl and leave it to cool for ten minutes.

Wash your ribs and marinate with salt and black pepper. Stir well, cover and let it marinate for an hour. Fill pot with room temperature water. Add in the ribs and bring to bowl. Wash ribs to remove scums and discard water.

In a clean pot, bring water to boil. Add in your bruised cardamon pods, star anise and cinnamon stick. Add in your meat together with every drop of the spice mixture. Let it boil for 5 minutes then cover and leave the soup to simmer on low heat for at least two hours. You know the soup is ready when the meat is so soft that it easily slides off the bone.

Serve in a soup bowl and garnish with coriander leaves, fried shallot and some sambal on the side. Enjoy!

Till next post, ss 

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