I may have come to Indonesia to teach, but that doesn’t mean I never assume the role of a student. One of my goals for my final three months here is to ask for as many cooking lessons as possible. My hope is that learning to cook in an Indonesian kitchen will be a new and fun way to connect with people in my community, and that it’ll arm me with plenty of recipes to dazzle friends and family stateside.
My education in Indonesian cooking began this weekend with a lesson from my friend RaRa’s Ibu [mother]. Our topic of the day: martabak telor, delicious pockets of fried dough filled with eggs, vegetables, and meat.
Most martabak vendors roll out yeasted dough into a thin circle and fill it with a mixture of beaten eggs, vegetables, and meat before frying it in a giant wok. This homemade version, however, uses a thin pancake batter to make the crispy exterior. Eliminating the yeasted dough reduces the prep time (no waiting for it to rise) and the counter space you need to stretch it paper thin. The result is just as delicious and much easier to replicate in any home kitchen. This would make a fun dinner for a crowd or dish for a potluck meal.
Yield: 7-10 medium-sized pastries
Note: We didn’t use measurements as we cooked, so all of these quantities I provide are approximation. Hopefully the photos will provide a sense of scale.
For the Filling:
- 1/2 pound carrots
- 1/2 pound white potatoes
- One bunch green onions
- 1/2 tsp white pepper
- 1 tsp salt
- 3-4 eggs
- Optional: meat, such as chicken or beef
For the pancake exterior:
- 2 cups flour
- 1 tsp water
- 1 egg
- Water (enough to make the batter thin)
Plus: frying oil (canola or peanut), margarine or butter, curried soup or coy sauce for serving
1. Make your filling:
Boil a potatoes and carrots until they’re fully cooked through then cut them into thin slices. Combine them in a mixing bowl with sliced green onion, a teaspoon of salt, and a hefty pinch of white pepper. Add 3-4 eggs — you want to use enough to bind the mixture together without making too much excess liquid. You can also add meat at this stage if you want it – canned corned beef is one popular option.
2. Make the pancake batter:
Mix two cups flour, egg, a pinch of salt, and warm water together to make your batter. I don’t have measurements for the water, but you’ll want to add until the mixture is thin and runny. Beat well so there are no lumps of flour.
3. Make the pancake:
Heat up a wok or non-stick frying pan. Pour in the pancake batter and swirl to distribute it, and use a wooden spoon to even out the thickness or patch up any holes. The technique is similar to making a french crepe.
4. Fill and fold:
Once the batter starts to set (this will happen quickly) add a generous ½ cup of filling to the center. Slip your spatula under the edges of the pancake and, if the bottom has cooked, fold them over the center so that you have a rectangular pocket.
5. Fry it up!
Add a tablespoon of margarine and enough oil to form a shallow pool in the bottom of the pan. Your heat should be medium-low — enough to make the oil spatter and pop, but not violently.
Fry the martabak until it’s brown and crispy on both sides. Press it down with your spatula as it cooks – this will reduce oil and other liquid inside and distribute oil evenly on the exterior. Use two spatulas to flip it when one side starts to get dark. You’ll probably flip it at least two or three times until it’s done – this will help you get a deep, even fry on both sides.
When the martabak is golden brown on both sides, remove it with a spatula and put it on a paper towel-lined plate to drain the excess oil.
Clean out your pan — strain the oil to reuse in the next batch and scrape out any dough that stuck to the pan during the frying. You want a clean slate to cook your next pancake.
6. Plate and enjoy.
Let the martabak cool for a few minutes then slice it into squares. Serve with curried soup or soy sauce.
Lizzy Hardison is teaching at SMAN 3 in Pangkal Pinang, Bangka. When she isn’t in the classroom, you can find her reading on her kindle, doing yoga and muay thai, and baking banana bread in her rice cooker.