Basic Sayur Asem: Simple Tamarind Soup with Vegetables (Vegan)

This recipe is for a simple, stripped-down version of sayur asem — a spicy tamarind soup with vegetables. The sayur asem here is the red West Javanese version.

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Deyana Goh
Deyana was born in Singapore and lives there. She is half-Chinese, half-Arab, with a grandmother who was born to an Arab family in Bogor, Indonesia. Deyana grew up eating Indonesian food as it is cooked in Arab-Indonesian households, and has fond memories of the festive whole chicken stuffed with lamb.

Some time ago, we put up a recipe for sayur asem, a sour tamarind soup that’s ubiquitous in Java. That particular recipe was for an elevated, special version of sayur asem that includes beef trimmings for a richer flavour.

In this recipe, we have gone the other way and made a stripped-down version that’s much lighter, but just as refreshing. This is actually much closer to the sayur asem cooked at home on a regular basis, especially for lazy cooks. But I’ve pared it down further, and omitted certain ingredients that you’d typically find in a home-cooked sayur asem. These ingredients are: boiled groundnuts (peanuts), corn, and labu siam (chayotte).

I even had to omit melinjo leaves and seeds — an Indonesian plant considered key to making a good sayur asem. This is simply because they’re so difficult to find in Singapore. Still, the resulting dish is a decent version that balances taste with convenience, especially for people living outside Indonesia.

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Instead of labu siam (chayotte), I’ve included potatoes, because for some reason my family always replaces labu siam with potatoes. You can be more authentic and use labu siam, but do note that the cooking time will be much shorter. I also like my long beans super soft in sayur asem, so I have a tendency to overcook it. 

The sayur asem here is for the West Javanese (Jakarta-area) version, which is red in colour. There’s also a Central/East Javanese version, which is clear — the difference is in the chillies. In the red version, a greater number of chillies is used compared to the clear soup, making it slightly thicker and much redder. Both versions are delicious.

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Basic Sayur Asem: Simple Tamarind Soup with Vegetables (Vegan)

Basic Sayur Asem: Simple Tamarind Soup with Vegetables (Vegan)

  • Author: Deyana Goh
  • Prep Time: 15 minutes
  • Cook Time: 30 minutes
  • Total Time: 45 minutes
  • Yield: 3 1x
  • Category: Soups & Stews
  • Method: Boiling
  • Cuisine: Indonesian
  • Diet: Vegan

Description

This recipe is for a simple, stripped-down version of sayur asem — a spicy tamarind soup with vegetables. The sayur asem here is the red West Javanese version.


Ingredients

Scale
  • 1.5 litre water
  • 1 large red onion, peeled and sliced
  • 6 big red chillies, sliced
  • 1 clove garlic, peeled and sliced
  • ½ tbsp tamarind paste, diluted in water
  • 2 inch galangal
  • 1 large potato, quartered
  • 200g long beans, sliced
  • Salt to taste
  • Pinch of sugar

Instructions

  1. Blend the onion, chillies, garlic, and galangal.
  2. In a large pot, bring the water to boil.
  3. Add the blended paste and the diluted tamarind paste.
  4. Add the potato slices, long beans, and salt.
  5. Cook until the potatoes soften, about 20 minutes. 
  6. Add the pinch of sugar, stir, and adjust seasoning.
  7. Turn off the flame. The sayur asem is ready!

    Sayur Asem is ready


Notes

  • If you prefer crunchy long beans, just shorten the cooking time.

Keywords: One-pot meal, spicy

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