WHERE DID all the vegetarians come from? They can't all be refugees from a California commune. When I was growing up I didn't know any vegetarians. My grade school had lots of variety -- Italians, Germans, Greeks, one Japanese, and lots of Irish -- but no vegetarians. I guess it was too soon after the Depression and World War II rationing for people to worry about anything except having something on the table.
I do remember people who thought Catholics were strange because we didn't eat meat on Friday. Remember tuna casserole, salmon cakes and macaroni and cheese? But then even that changed when the Pope relaxed the rules.
Now it seems that I can't plan a dinner party without wondering who will eat what. There are those who will eat anything but red meat, those who don't eat meat or poultry, some who exclude eggs and fish and those few who won't touch any animal product that includes milk. I could stop inviting friends whos food preferences don't coincide with mine, but what can I do about my family? That's right, four of my seven siblings have converted to vegetarianism. Believe me, there is no vegetarian more staunch than a reformed meat eater.
Family reunions have become a wild melange of beans, brown rice, tofu and prime ribs. And if I ever want my sister, Karen, to visit again, I have to promise to forego the chicken stock in my soups.
I do think that I've solved my dinner party problem. When in doubt, I cook Indonesian. This sweet and spicy cuisine has hundreds of meatless main dishes. It's possible to cook a feast without stepping on any dietary toes.
This is the menu I used at a dinner early last fall. I called it an Indonesian Rice Table, as the Dutch do. There was a large electric wok filled with fluffy rice. The wok kept the rice hot all evening without it. On separate platters around the rice there were fresh corn fritters, shrimp sombal, fish in tamarind and turmeric, spincach sayur, vegetables with gadogado sauce, bean curd goreng and a hot fruit curry. I also served small bowls of condiments: toasted coconut, watermelon pickels, chopped nuts, spicy sambal sauce, and fried shrimp chips. Guests had a choice of cold Dutch beer or a fruit juice drink made from coconut cream and pineapple juice.
The dinner was a great success and no one but the vegetarians even noticed that there was no meat served. But best of all, dinner for 12 didn't break my food budget. You know, maybe those vegetarians have something there. The Condiments
There are many things that may be used as condiments. Almost any kind of nut may be chopped and placed on the table. Most kinds of pickles are possibilities: pickled cauliflower, peppers, canteloupe, kumquats, etc. One special condiment is fried onions. Onions are sliced paper-thin and allowed to dry for 6 hours on foil. Heat oil to 250 degrees and add the onions, frying until they are light brown. If the oil is too hot, the onions burn. Minced green onions, diced hard-cooked egg, and soaked raisins can also be put on the condiment tray. Diners will add whatever they wish to complement the food. Dessert
Serving a dessert after this meal requires restraint. Fresh chilled fruit or sherbet are probably best. Drinks
Fresh fruit juices are the best choice for nondrinkers. But my personal favorite is good Dutch beer. Any other kind of beer will do for the uninitiated. For a fruit drink, combine 2 quarts pineapple juice with 12 ounces canned coconut cream. Serve over crushed ice with fresh pineapple stick. Shopping
Oriental grocery stores often have the unusual items. Thai stores can provide lemon grass, tamarind and sometimes trassie, Trassie may be found as blanchan. Ask for shrimp paste. FRESH CORN FRITTERS (8 servings) 4 ears fresh corn cut and scraped off the cob or 1 1/2 pounds frozen corn or 1 1/2 cups creamed and 1 1/2 cups whole-kernel canned corn 2 tablespoons grated onion 1/2 teaspoon ground coriander 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin 2 teaspoon salt 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger 1 egg 2 tablespoons dried shrimp, minced (from Chinese grocery) 1/2 cup rice flour (from Chinese grocery) 1/4 teaspoon baking powder Coconut cream as necessary to thin mixture (see recipe below) Oil for frying
Combine all of the ingredients in a bowl. If the mixture is too thick, add coconut, milk or cream as necessary to make a batter thin enough to pour from a spoon. Fry tablespoon-size pancakes in 1/2 inch of hot oil. When lightly browned, turn and cook other side. Drain on paper towels.
Note: When using frozen corn, thaw and puree 1/3 of the corn. Proceed as above. COCONUT CREAM (Mades 2 1/2 cups) 1 coconut 2 cups water 12-ounce can coconut cream
Open the coconut. Peel away the brown skin. Place the pieces of coconut in a blender or food processor. Heat the water to boiling. Pour the water over the coconut. Process for 3 minutes. Add the canned coconut cream. Strain through a sieve. SHRIMP SAMBAL (8 servings) 1 tablespoon tamarind fruit (from Oriental grocery) 1/2 cup water 2 pounds large shrimp, shelled and deveined 10 dried hot red chilies (Szechuan hot chilies from Chinese grocery) 1 small onion 2 teaspoon trassie (shrimp paste from Chinese grocery) (substitute anchovy paste) Oil for frying 1 teaspoon salt 2 tablespoon sugar
Mix the tamarind with the water and strain. Marinate the shrimp in this. Soak the hot red chilies in boiling water to soften them. Remove the stems and seeds. Chop the onion. Place the hot chilies and onion in a food processor or blender and blend until smooth. Wrap the trassie in a small piece of aluminum foil and roast over an open fire -- it will smell very strong. If you decide not to use it or cannot find any to use, substitute anchovy paste.
Add a little oil to a saucepan and fry the chili and onion mixture. Mash the trassie to a powder and add to the saucepan. Simmer until fragrant. Heat a wok until it is very hot. Add a splash of oil. Drain the shrimp and place them in the wok. Fry until bright pink. Add the chili mixture, tamarind liquid the shrimp was marinated in, and the salt and sugar. Simmer, covered, for 3 minutes. FISH COOKED WITH TAMARIND AND TURMERIC (8 servings) 2 pounds fish fillets 1/4 cup tamarind 1 quart water 1 stalk of lemon grass crushed (substitute 2 strips lemon peel) 1/3 cup sugar 2 teaspoons salt 4 shallots 1 piece turmeric the size of your thumb (substitute 2 teaspoon ground) 1 1/2 tablespoon trassie (shrimp paste) dried and ground (substitute anchovy paste) Oil for frying 6 hot green chilies 6 hot red chilies
Cut the fish fillets in 1-inch cubes. Mix the tamarind with the quart of water. Most of the flesh will dissolve in the water. Strain to remove the seeds and fibers. Heat the tamarind liquid in a 4-quart saucepan. Add the lemon grass, sugar, and salt. Simmer. Use blender or food processor to crush the shallots, turmeric and trasie to a paste. Fry this paste in a little oil and add to the tamarind water. Bring to a boil and add the fish. Simmer the fish for 5 minutes. While the fish is simmering, cut the hot chilies into thin strips. Saute them very briefly to soften. When the fish is cooked, add the hot chilies and serve. The color will be bright yellow with red and green garnish. The flavor is sweet, sour and spicy. SPINACH SAYUR (8 servings) 2 pounds fresh spinach washed, stems removed 3 brazil nuts 10 shallots (substitute 1 medium onion) 2 hot red chilies, fresh 1 teaspoon trassie, dried and mashed (substitute anchovy paste) 1/4 cup oil 1/4 cup water 1 teaspoon salt 1 teaspoon sugar
Clean the spinach and set aside. Place the brazil nuts in a food processor or blended with the shallots, hot chilies (stems and seeds removed) and trassie . Blend to a smooth paste. Heat the oil in a very large saucepan (it must hold all of the spinach) and fry the paste until it is fragrant. Add the water, salt and sugar. Stir. Add the spinach and cook until wilted. Almost any green vegetable may be cooked this way. VEGETABLES WITH GADO-GADO SAUCE (8 servings) 1 small head cabbage, sliced, cooked until tender 1 pound fresh green beans, cooked 2 pounds small new potatoes, cooked until tender 1 pound bean sprouts, blanched 1 head brocolli, cooked until just tender 1 head cauliflower, cooked until tender 1 pound zucchini or yellow squash, cooked until tender 12 hard-cooked eggs
These vegetables, or whatever you choose to cook, should be cut to sizes and shapes that are harmonious. Have them all cooked and hot at serving time. Arrange on a heated platter. Garnish with the hard-cooked eggs. Serve with gado-gado sauce. This dish may be turned into a complete meal by adding boiled shrimp and rice. Gado-Gado Sauce: 1/3 cup smooth peanut butter 1 medium onion, grated (or pureed in food processor) 1 clove garlic, crushed 1/2 teaspoon trassie, dried and crushed (substitute anchovy paste) 1 tablespoon brown sugar 1 teaspoon coriander 1/2 teaspoon sambul ulek (recipe below) or 1/2 hot red pepper Juice of 1/2 lemon 1 cup hot water
Combine all of the ingredients except the water. Slowly beat in the water.
Heat in a small saucepan until it is smooth and thick.
Note: This can be used as a dip for fresh vegetables at a cocktail party, or a sauce for avocados. BEAN CURD TAUHU GORENG (8 to 10 servings) 4 small bean curd cakes 8 hot hot green chilies 4 hot hot red chilies 1 teaspoon tamarind 1/2 cup water 1/2 pound small shrimp, peeled 10 tablespoons vegetable oil for frying 10 shallots, sliced 8 cloves garlic, sliced 2 stalks dried lemon grass (from Oriental grocery) 2 teaspoons sambal ulek (below) 2 teaspoons sugar 2 teaspoons salt
Cut bean curd in 1/2-inch squares. Remove seeds from hot chilies and slice in circles. Mix tamarind with 1/2 cup water and strain. Marinate shrimp in tamarind water. Heat wok until very hot. Add 10 tablespoons oil and stir-fry bean curd. Remove and keep warm. Fry shallots and garlic, add lemon grass and hot chilies. Fry 1 minute. Add sambal ulek, sugar and salt. Add shrimp and tamarind water and cook until shrimp are pink. Return bean curd, heat through and serve. SAMBAL ULEK 2 cups dried hot red chilies (Szechuan peppers) 2 cups boiling water or to cover 1/4 cup white vinegar 1 teaspoon salt 2 tablespoons oil
Cover hot chilies with boiling water and soak until soft. Remove the stems. Place the hot chilies (drained) in a blender with the vinegar, salt and oil. Blend until it is a chunky paste.This is used as a seasoning ingredient and as a condiment.It will keep for months in the refrigerator. HOT FRUIT CURRY (8 to 10 servings) 1 small green pineapple 2 firm green papayas 2 tart green apples 3 tablespoons oil 1 small onion, grated 1 clove garlic, mashed 3 teaspoons coriander 1 teaspoon cardamom 3 whole cloves 2 cinnamon sticks 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper 1 teaspoon salt 1 cup mandarin oranges (or two fresh oranges, sectioned) 1 cup coconut cream (see recipe above)
Peel and dice the pineapple and the papaya. Dice but do not peel the apples. Heat the oil in a 4-quart saucepan. Add the onion, garlic, coriander, cardamom, cloves, cinnamon sticks, cayenne and salt.
Saute about 2 minutes. Add all the fruit and toss well to cover the fruit with spices. Add the coconut cream and simmer for 3 minutes. Taste and adjust the seasoning. If too sour, add a little brown sugar. If too sweet, add a little lemon juice.