Tengkleng: Solonese Mutton Soup

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Nunuk Sri Rahayu
Nunuk hails from Solo, the historic royal capital and cultural centre of Java, Indonesia. She has been cooking since the age of 12, and also performs and teaches traditional Javanese dance. Her dream is to eventually write her own Indonesian cookbook.

Tengkleng is a mutton soup similar to gulai, but much lighter. I have fond memories of how my grandmother treated us, her grandchildren, to a delicious meal of tengkleng immediately after she received her pension. 

That day willI always be special to me. The tengkleng seller stopped by our house and put down her basket. In the basket was a big claypot full of mouth-watering pieces of bone-in meat, smothered in a light yellow soup, decorated with small, floating red chillies. It smelled heavenly. 

The tengkleng seller was always roaming around the village, carrying her basket of tengkleng on her back, which she secured with kain, or a long piece of batik. My grandmother always bought tengkleng from her. There would be a lengthy conversation as she selected the best pieces of meat for us. I would wait excitedly for the transaction to be over. I could not wait for my next meal, imagining pouring the mutton soup all over a full plate of steamed rice.

The Origins of Tengkleng

Tengkleng originates in my hometown, Solo, also known as Surakarta. In fact, I can hardly find the dish outside Solo or its immediate neighbour Yogyakarta. The story goes that during the days of yore, only the royal family and the Dutch were able to afford mutton. They would eat the meat and leave the cooks and palace maids with only the bones, head and offal. They would use the remains to make soup of light coconut milk and spices. That’s how tengkleng was created. Nowadays, we joke that the soup is so irresistibly delicious that even the royals like to eat it.

The original tengkleng in Solo is still made from the legs, tongue and parts of the head. But these parts are an acquired taste and aren’t always available. Most people now use the ribs instead, and may add some meat.

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Cooking Method

This recipe also calls for mutton ribs (I asked the butcher to add some additional bones as well). The bones, when cooked for long in a slow fire, produce a rich, delicious soup. Mutton ribs don’t have much meat, and you might need to nibble on the meat using your hands, but that’s the real enjoyment of eating this dish.

Enjoy Tengkleng with steamed rice as an accompaniment. The soup is really fragrant from the spices, and is light, but with a hint of creaminess from the thin coconut milk. The flavour will improve one day after it’s cooked, so preparing it in advance is highly recommended. Enjoy the soup!

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Tengkleng: Solonese Mutton Soup

Tengkleng: Solonese Mutton Soup

  • Author: Nunuk Sri Rahayu
  • Prep Time: 30 minutes
  • Cook Time: 1 hour 50 minutes
  • Total Time: 2 hours 20 minutes
  • Yield: 6 1x
  • Category: Beef & Lamb, Soups & Stews
  • Method: Boiling
  • Cuisine: Indonesia
  • Diet: Halal

Description

Tengkleng is a delicacy from the city of Solo, and is a light mutton soup infused with coconut milk and spices. The dish was a favourite of palace cooks and servants, who concocted it from leftovers, but is today considered a luxury. 


Ingredients

Scale
  • 1 kg mutton ribs
  • 9 shallots, peeled, chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, peeled, chopped
  • 2 big red chillies, chopped
  • 1 tsp whole coriander seeds
  • 3 candlenuts, chopped
  • 0.5 tsp caraway seeds
  • 0.5 tsp white peppercorns
  • 4 cm fresh turmeric, peeled, chopped
  • 3 cm fresh galangal, peeled, bruised
  • 3 cm fresh ginger, peeled, sliced
  • 1 lemongrass, use only the white part, bruised, knotted
  • 3 kaffir lime leaves
  • 2 cloves
  • 2 cardamoms
  • 3 cm cinnamon
  • 1 tbsp tamarind extract
  • 10 whole bird’s eye chillies
  • 1500 ml very thin fresh coconut milk 
  • Salt to taste
  • 3 tbsp cooking oil

Instructions

  1. Blanch the mutton ribs in boiling water for 10 minutes, and then rinse with cold water. Drain, set aside.

    Blanch the mutton ribs in boiling water

  2. Using a blender or food processor, blend into a fine paste the: shallots, garlic, chillies, coriander, caraway seeds, white peppercorns and turmeric.
  3. In a large pot, heat the oil over medium high heat, then sautee the spice paste.

    sautee the spice paste

  4. Add the galangal, ginger, lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves, cloves, cardamom and cinnamon. Sautee for around 4 minutes.
  5. Add the muttons ribs.
  6. Add the coconut milk, stir until all the ingredients are well mixed.

    stir until all the ingredients are well mixed

  7. Add the tamarind juice and salt. 
  8. Stir the soup, and when it boils, reduce the heat to medium low.
  9. Cook until the rib is tender, around 1.5 hours. Stir occasionally and add hot water if necessary.
  10. 5 minutes before the soup is done, add the bird’s eye chillies.
  11. Turn off the flame. Serve with steamed rice.

Notes

  • Very thin coconut milk is crucial for the dish. If fresh coconut milk is not available, it can be substituted with 1.5 lt water, and 50 ml canned coconut. 
  • If you prefer more meat, you can use 500 gr ribs and 500 gr meat. Always include bones for a hearty broth. 
  • Cook the soup on a low flame to extract the essence of the bones.

Keywords: One-pot meals, Coconut milk, ribs, luxury

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