Banana, Sweet Potatoes, and Tapioca in Coconut Milk

Kolak is rather heavy and is usually eaten after the mid-day nap. It's not something you'd eat after a big dinner, but you might like it after a light meal. I got this recipe from an Indonesian friend who has lived in the US a fairly long time, teaching at a university.

Kolak isn't a dessert - Indonesians don't eat desserts as Westerners know them. Sweet stuff is snack food. In Indonesia there's no big distinction between breakfast or lunch or dinner food. Whatever is leftover from one meal you eat at the next, along with more freshly cooked food and plenty of rice and sambal, that is, HOT chili paste. However, there's a big distinction between regular meal food and snack food. Sweets are snack food. So are fried rice, most noodle dishes, and certain other savories.

In Indonesia, people eat about six times a day. Generally, no one eats a lot at any one meal, which consists of lots of white rice and a couple side dishes of vegetables and a little meat. You eat dinner leftovers for breakfast, often unreheated (it's already hot enough at 7 AM when people go to work). Then there's a mid-morning snack, often cake or a sweet and spicey fruit dish (rujak, for example, which is a mixture of diced or grated fruits AND vegetables with a peanut sauce that includes brown sugar AND !HOT! chili). Then there's lunch. All work stops and people go home from their jobs to eat lunch with their famiily, who all them take a nap, and take a bath. Around 3 or 4 PM they eat a second snack - like rujak, or kolak (recipe below), or something sweet with crushed ice. People go back to work until about 7 PM, when they go home and eat dinner. They have a third snack around 10 or 11 PM when the snack vendors come down the streets with satay (Indonesian "shish kabob" with peanut sauce) or mie goreng (stir fried noodles) or various sweets, such as putuh, little cylinders of steamed coconut and sugar.

KOLAK - serves 4 to 6
  • Plantains (1 or 2, ripe) or bananas (2 or 3, unripe) - sliced in 1 or 1-1/2" pieces
    Plantains are big starchy bananas that MUST be cooked. If you can't find them, use under-ripe bananas (still greenish)

  • Sweet potatoes or American yams - 1 or 2, depending on size, peeled and cubed
    American sweet potatoes and American yams are really the same thing, just slightly different varieties, one being more orange, the other more yellow in color, with a very slight difference in taste. African and Asian yams are variety of starchy tubers with white flesh

  • *Large* tapioca pearls (aka sagu or sago) (at Thai markets), about 1 cup - If unavailable, use regular tapioca
    When using real Southeast Asian tapioca/sago, you may need to cook it separately first until transparent before adding to the Kolak.

  • Coconut milk - more than enough to cover - at least several cups
    Indian shops often have "concentrated coconut cream". You dilute this with water and, Voila! coconut milk. You can sometimes find cans of frozen coconut milk at supermarkets or healthfood stores. Then there's canned coconut milk sometimes in the Asian or Gourmet food aisle of the supermarket, which isn't as good. Or you can make your own: see Indonesian food basics.

  • Brown or Palm Sugar (in Thai markets) - 1 tablespoon or more to taste

  • Cinnamon sticks - 2 or 3 or 4
    what is usually sold as cinnamon is actually *cassia* from a different but related tree. Real cinnamon is very, very thin, multilayered, and light in color, not just a single thick dark curl. Try to find this, the flavor is truly superior to cassia, but use whatever is available

  • Whole Cloves - about 1 tsp.

  • Salt - a pinch
  • Put all ingredients into a saucepan. Use enough coconut milk to cover the plantains and yams well. Bring JUST to a boil - don't let it really boil, or coconut milk may curdle or separate. Turn heat down and simmer (little bitty bubbles at edges of pan) uncovered. Stir occasionally to make sure coconut milk doesn't burn at the bottom of pan.

    Test the yams and plantains with a fork or knife (stab, stab) for done-ness after 1/2 hour. Cook until plantains and yams are tender, tapioca is transparent, and sauce is thick.

    Serve warm or at room temperature. Don't chill, as coconut milk may harden

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