beef stewed in turmeric-ginger broth (pindang daging) a.k.a the ugly stew


After only 19 months of motherhood, I still very much am a novice. I might not be as clueless as when I first started out, but sometimes after a hissy fit or food being spat on my carpet and/or face, Bébé would make me feel like I’ve gained zero knowledge on motherhood. You might think that after more than a year of preparing solid meal for my terrible monkey of a toddler, I should know by now what works and what doesn’t. Well, it turns out I don’t. Every meal I prepare for Bébé has a 50% chance of wounding up on my carpet instead of in her belly. Remember way back when I bragged said that Bébé was such a good eater that she would even engulf unseasoned mashed steamed broccoli in a heartbeat? Well, scrap that. Fast-forward 12 months later and the monkey-toddler would sniff her food and give it a little lick before deciding if it’s worth her time. I wonder where she got this from. The National Geographics Channel??!

So long story short, I have stopped preparing her custom-made toddler food for a while now. Those toddler recipe books can rest in peace in my bookcase. I now only cook “normal” grown-up food for my husband and I and serve Bébé the exact same meal the rest of the family is having. I don’t tire myself making two different meals for my family and most importantly don’t get to eat my heart out when it gets spat out. So what’s the verdict on this “new” method? Well… Still a hit and miss. Sometimes in the most surprising way. While she has snobbily turned her nose up to Martha Stewart’s Mac n Cheese in the past, she would sometimes make it up to me and gobble up a whole bowl of boldly flavoured dish the next day, like she has something to prove.

And so enter: THE UGLY STEW.

Originally from South Sumatra, it is usually prepared with beef ribs that get simmered for hours (2? 3?) until they fall off the bone. I used cubed chuck/ stewing beef because that’s what I had on hand and simmered it for only an hour to get that melt-in-your-mouth feel. The broth is also supposed to be on the thin side but since I like my stews robust instead of soupy, I reduced the amount of water I used. And please don’t be afraid of the murky-coloured broth. It is one of the most flavourful broth that has come out of my kitchen and you’ll be surprised by how well the spices complement the beef. Warming yet bright. Slightly sweet from the caramelised soy sauce, a bit sour from the tamarind paste and tomatoes and zingy from the turmeric and ginger. It also gets an extra textural crunch from the fresh tomatoes and chilli slices that are put right at the very end.

I never thought that I’d cite Anne Burrell but I’ll go with her and say “Brown food tastes good!”. Yes, yes it does. And didn’t your momma ever tell you that ugly food tastes best? Well Bébé certainly thinks so.

Beef Stew in Tumeric-Ginger Broth (Pindang Daging)

serves 4-6

Turmeric Paste:

  • 30 gr (6) red Asian shallots
  • 23 gr (7) cloves garlic, peeled
  • 10 gr turmeric, the size of your pinky (5cm long), lightly charred over the flame of your stove/ briefly grilled
  • pinches of salt and pepper

Beef Stew:

  • 500 gr (1 lb) stewing beef, cubed into 5cm (2″)
  • 60 ml (¼ cup) vegetable oil
  • 50 gr (3 tbsp) turmeric paste
  • 2 lemongrass, white part only, pounded
  • 5 kaffir lime leaves, shredded
  • 2 cm (approx. 1″) galangal, bruised with a pestle
  • 2 cm (approx. 1″) ginger, bruised with a pestle
  • 1 lt (1 qt) water
  • 2 tbsp Indonesian sweet soy sauce (kecap manis)
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 tsp tamarind paste (the smoother version that comes in a tub/jar, like this one)
  • 2 big red chillies, sliced (optional, omit if you intend to serve this to a toddler)
  • 2 big green chillies, sliced (idem as above)
  • 6 tomatoes, quartered

MAKE THE PASTE: With a mortar and pestle pound the shallots until smooth, adding only then the garlic, and then the turmeric. To help make a smoother paste, add pinches of salt. Season with a little pepper at the end. You should have more or less 3 tbsp of paste.

FOR THE BEEF STEW: In a pot (cast-iron is best), heat vegetable oil over medium heat. When oil starts to shimmer, slide in the cubed beef and brown on all sides, about 5 minutes. You may/will need to do this in batches. It’s important not to crowd the pan as you want a nice brown sear on the beef. Having too much in the pot will steam the beef and you’ll get a greyish coloured beef in a puddle. When searing each batch, season with a pinch of salt and pepper. Set aside.

With the remaining oil in the pot, fry the turmeric paste, lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves, galangal and ginger until aromatic – about 3 minutes. Put the beef back in the pot and immediately cover with water. Bring to a boil for a minute then reduce to a gentle steady simmer. Cover the pot and maintain the simmer for 1 hour.

After one hour, check that the beef is tender. Add in the sweet soy sauce, tamarind paste, chillies, half the tomatoes and salt to taste (I used 1 ½ tsp in the end). Bring to a boil and check for seasoning. When the taste is to your liking, turn off the heat then add in the rest of the tomatoes. Garnish with a few slices of green chillies. Serve with white jasmine rice.


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