Urap sayur is a popular Indonesian side dish/salad combining blanched vegetables with a spiced coconut topping. It's easy to make with a delicious combination of spicy, sweet and sour flavors.
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When we were in Australia, the different primary/elementary schools each learned a different foreign language. As it worked out, the school my kids went to taught Indonesian.
While to be honest, they didn't learn all that much, and it's not the most useful for them now they are back in the US anyway, I am all for the idea of learning languages young. And if nothing else, I think some of the cultural learning may stick with them.
Unfortunately food isn't typically part of school languages, but I took it upon myself to learn a little more about Indonesian food while it was that bit more accessible. We all enjoyed some delicious gado gado salad, and those of us who like spice ate all the beef rendang. We already knew nasi goreng, but it's hard to say no to more.
This Indonesian vegetable side/salad is maybe less well known elsewhere, but it's even easier to make and packed with flavor. It's relatively light, but the coconut topping adds so much depth to it with a mix of spicy, sweet and sour.
About some of the ingredients
While this doesn't have a huge list of ingredients, there are a couple which may be less familiar and can be harder to find. However most you can find in the majority of Asian food stores, or if not there are options to substitute as follows.
Grated coconut - use fresh if possible, if not frozen. Dried desiccated coconut is much drier but would work in a pinch rehydrated with water - just add enough water to the coconut until it feels relatively soft. In the photos here I had larger chunks of coconut which I put in the food processor which can also work well.
Makrut lime leaves - these can also be called kaffir lime leaves. If you can't find fresh leaves, it's best to skip as dried don't really work here. Instead, you could add a little grated lime zest to give a little of that zesty flavor.
Galangal - this can be harder to find, and you may only find it in dried powder form. If so, you can use a little of the powder (about ¼ tsp). If neither are available, use ginger as next-closest.
Tamarind - this is now relatively widely available, at least in Asian supermarkets and also online. You can soak pieces of the pulp from a block and many argue the flavor is better. But I tend to keep the concentrate in the fridge for easy use so have suggested that here - use as you have/prefer.
Palm sugar - this is the traditional sweetener, though you can also use coconut sugar or brown sugar which are relatively similar in flavor instead.
Chilis - you most likely won't get quite the same chilis as would traditionally be used and you can vary them a little to taste anyway. Typically, you use a milder red chili and then add some hot Thai red chilis for heat, if you want to. The extra heat is optional depending on your preference.
Top tip: blanching vegetables
The base of this dish is blanched vegetables. That is, vegetables that you cook briefly in boiling water. The key steps to blanching are not cooking the vegetables too long, and cooling them quickly. Together (especially the cooling), these mean the vegetables retain a little crispness and have a bright color.
Different vegetables take different times to blanch, so don't cook everything at once. Beans take around 2 minutes, spinach around 1 minute, and bean sprouts only about 30 seconds.
For most vegetables, you can cool them quickly and easily by having a bowl of iced water next to you as you cook and dropping them in once ready. If the water becomes warm, add extra ice.
The only real exception is spinach which is easiest to drain the water from and then run under cold water. I tend to cook the other vegetables first then end with spinach for this reason.
Spiced coconut topping
The topping here is what really makes the dish. The mix of a little sweet, the sour/tart tamarind, and spicy fresh chili as well as the citrusy freshness of kaffir lime leaves is so good. You can even make extra to use on other vegetables, it's that good. It will keep in the fridge a day or two.
Some recipes steam the topping while others fry it slightly, as I have here as I find it both easier and prefer the flavors. I have left it a little more 'wet' than some do but as you prefer.
I also had slightly chunkier coconut in the photos here that the finely grated you often find, as mentioned above. Both work, so use as you have/prefer. I've tried both and personally like the slightly chunkier, even if it's not quite as typical.
Urap sayur is easy to make and has such a wonderful mix of flavors. This isn't your average salad or veggie side, but something much more special. So give it a try soon.
Try these other tasty vegetable dishes:
- Greek green beans (fasolakia)
- Moroccan eggplant with chermoula
- Catalan-style sauteed Swiss chard with pine nuts and raisins
- Plus get more side dishes in the archives.
Urap sayur (Indonesian vegetables with coconut topping)
- 3 oz green beans 85g
- 3 oz spinach 85g (suggest large not baby spinach)
- 4 oz beans sprouts 110g
For the topping
- 1 mild red chili eg serrano
- 1 Thai red chili (birds eye chili, optional)
- 1 shallot or 2 if smaller
- 1 clove garlic or 2 if small
- ½ teaspoon galangal finely chopped, or ginger if not available
- 2 makrut lime leaves (kaffir lime leaves)
- ½ tablespoon coconut oil
- ¾ cup fresh grated coconut 75g, or use frozen and defrost
- 1 tablespoon palm sugar or coconut sugar/brown sugar
- 1 teaspoon tamarind concentrate
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- ½ tablespoon water
- Start by preparing the vegetables - trim the ends off the beans then cut them into lengths of roughly 2in/5cm (unless beans are large, this is generally roughly in half). Trim the ends off the stalks from the spinach and roughly chop the spinach leaves.
- Make the chili-shallot paste by roughly chopping the chilis, shallot, garlic and galangal and adding all to a mini food processor or blender and blending into a paste.
- Remove the central rib from the lime leaves then finely slice the leaves.
- Blanch the vegetables one vegetable at a time. Bring a pot of water to a boil and have a bowl filled with iced water nearby. Add the beans to the pot of water, cook for around 2 minutes then remove the beans and transfer to the bowl of iced water. Add the beansprouts to the pot, cook for 30 seconds then remove to the bowl of iced water. Add the spinach to the pot, cook 1 minute then remove the pot from the heat, drain and run the spinach under cold water.
- Drain all of the vegetables and set aside.
- Warm the coconut oil in a small skillet over a medium heat then add the chili-shallot paste. Cook for a couple minutes, stirring regularly, to become aromatic. Add the grated coconut, sliced lime leaves, palm or other sugar, tamarind, salt and water. Stir to mix everything well and cook for a couple minutes to soften and dry out slightly.
- Serve the vegetables, mixed together, with the coconut mixture over the top.
See some of my favorite cooking tools and ingredients in the Caroline's Cooking Amazon store.
I've drawn on a few recipes for this, in particular this recipe from What to Cook Today.