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Sayur Asem - Vegetables in Tamarind Soup

Experience the greatest Indonesian soup! The broth is light and infused with tamarind, lemongrass, and shrimp paste. You won't stop until you lick the bowl clean.
Indonesian sayur asem - vegetables in tamarind soup.

Indonesian sayur asem - vegetables in tamarind soup.

Sayur asem or vegetables in tamarind soup is arguably Indonesia’s most popular vegetable soup.

This Sundanese soup is packed with plenty of fresh vegetables. The broth is extremely flavorful, with spiciness from chilies, sourness from tamarind and tomatoes, freshness from lemongrass, earthiness from ginger and galangal, and bold umami from terasi/belacan/shrimp paste.

This recipe has a very long list of ingredients, but I promise it will be your new favorite soup and it is going to be love at first sip!

Vegetables for Indonesian sayur asem: cabbage, kale, corn, tomato, and zucchini.

Vegetables for Indonesian sayur asem: cabbage, kale, corn, tomato, and zucchini.

What are the common vegetables in sayur asem

There is no set rule to what should and should not be included in a proper sayur asem, but the more popular vegetables you will find include cabbage, chayote, young jackfruit, snake beans, corn, tomatoes, melinjo seeds, and melinjo leaves.

If you live outside of Indonesia, finding all the above vegetables can be very daunting, if not impossible. You can use a mix of more commonly available vegetables in your country.

Since I live in the US, these are the vegetables I use whenever I cook a pot of sayur asem:

  • corn
  • cabbage
  • tomatoes
  • zucchini, to substitute chayote
  • green beans, to substitute snake beans
  • kale, to substitute melinjo leaves
  • dry red skin peanuts, to substitute melinjo nuts

Before using the peanuts for sayur asem, I boil them first in a pot cover with two inches of water for one hour to soften the peanuts.

Ingredients for Indonesian sayur asem: peanuts, shallot, garlic, ginger, red chilies, candlenuts, terasi/belacan/shrimp paste, galangal, tamarind, lemongrass, daun salam, coconut palm sugar, salt, white pepper, and turmeric.

Ingredients for Indonesian sayur asem: peanuts, shallot, garlic, ginger, red chilies, candlenuts, terasi/belacan/shrimp paste, galangal, tamarind, lemongrass, daun salam, coconut palm sugar, salt, white pepper, and turmeric.

Spices, herbs, and seasoning for sayur asem

There are a lot of spices, herbs, and seasonings that go into this soup. The list is long, but you will love the result. There is a reason why this is one of Indonesia’s most beloved vegetable soup.

1. Spice paste

First is the list of ingredients making up the spice paste, which include red chilies, shallots, garlic, candlenuts (Indonesian: kemiri), ginger, galangal, terasi/belacan/shrimp paste.

Candlenuts can be substituted with an equal amount of macadamia nuts. And terasi/belacan can be substituted with 2-3 tablespoons of fish sauce.

Use a food processor or a blender with a spice attachment to puree together all the listed ingredients into a smooth paste.

2. Other spices, herbs, and seasonings

Then we will also need lemongrass, daun salam (Indonesian bay leaves), tamarind, salt, white pepper, coconut palm sugar, and turmeric.

Daun salam (Indonesian bay leaves) are very different from regular bay leaves. It is best to omit if you don’t have these. Using regular bay leaves will give a very different flavor profile to the soup.

I use wet tamarind sold in plastic packaging. To use this, please mix the stated amount with half a cup of hot water. Stir to mix and when cool enough to handle, use fingers to massage the tamarind in the hot water to make tamarind paste/juice. Strain to remove pulps and seeds.

(1) Boil together water, spice paste (red chilies, shallot, garlic, candlenuts, finger, galangal, terasi), lemongrass, daun salam, tamarind, salt, turmeric, coconut palm sugar. (2) Add peanuts and boil. (3) Add cabbage, corn, zucchini, green beans. (4) Add kale and tomatoes.

(1) Boil together water, spice paste (red chilies, shallot, garlic, candlenuts, finger, galangal, terasi), lemongrass, daun salam, tamarind, salt, turmeric, coconut palm sugar. (2) Add peanuts and boil. (3) Add cabbage, corn, zucchini, green beans. (4) Add kale and tomatoes.

How to cook sayur asem

First, boil water in a soup pot over medium-high heat. Add spice paste, lemongrass, daun salam, tamarind juice, coconut palm sugar, turmeric, salt, and white pepper. Cook for 3-5 minutes, or until fragrant.

Add boiled peanuts. Reduce heat to a medium, cover the pot, and cook for 10 minutes.

Add cabbage, corn, zucchini, and green beans. Cook, covered, for another 15 minutes, or until the vegetables are tender.

Finally, add kale and tomatoes. Cook until kale is wilted and the tomatoes are just starting to become soft, about 5 minutes.

Turn off the heat, taste test, and add more salt if needed. Serve the soup immediately with steamed white rice.

Indonesian sayur asem - vegetables in tamarind soup.

Indonesian sayur asem - vegetables in tamarind soup.

What to serve with sayur asem?

Most Indonesian restaurants offer rice meal sets on their menu. These set meals are perfect for students and working people who don’t always have the luxury to eat at home, especially during lunch hours.

If you visit Indonesia and have no idea which dishes go well together, choosing one of the many offered rice meal sets is often a great idea. Also, if you are traveling alone, set meals let you sample many different dishes in one sitting. :)

An Indonesian rice meal with sayur asem typically looks like this:

Indonesian sayur asem - vegetables in tamarind soup.

Indonesian sayur asem - vegetables in tamarind soup.

Other Sundanese dishes to try

Sayur asem is one of the signature dishes of the Sundanese people. Many popular Indonesian dishes come from this cuisine.

Other than sayur asem, you may have heard of dishes such as lalap, karedok (similar to gado-gado, but with the emphasis of using raw vegetables), ayam bekakak/grilled chicken, soto bandung/beef and daikon soup, and ikan bakar/grilled fish.

These are far from exhaustive, and it may take me many years to cover even just a portion of Sundanese recipes.

Sayur asem with chayote, melinjo nuts, melinjo leaves, and snake beans.

Sayur asem with chayote, melinjo nuts, melinjo leaves, and snake beans.

Sayur Asem - Vegetables in Tamarind Soup

4.9 from 16 reviews

Author: Anita Jacobson

Categories:

Cuisine:

Ingredients:

Prep Time: 30 mins

Cook Time: 2 hours

Total Time: 2 hours 30 mins

Serves: 8

Print Recipe

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup dry red skin peanuts, or 1 cup fresh melinjo nuts (Indonesian: buah melinjo)
  • 20 gram tamarind (Indonesian: asam Jawa)
  • 6 cup (1½ liter) water
  • 2 lemongrass (Indonesian: sereh), bruised
  • 8 daun salam (Indonesian bay leaves)
  • 60 gram coconut palm sugar (Indonesian: gula Jawa)
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric powder
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground white pepper
  • 500 gram cabbage, cored and cut into bite sizes
  • 500 gram zucchini, or chayote (Indonesian: labu siam), 1-inch pieces
  • 100 gram green beans, or snake bean (Indonesian: kacang panjang), cut into 2-inch pieces
  • 1 corn (Indonesian: jagung), cut into 1 inch sections
  • 100 gram kale, or melinjo leaves (Indonesian: daun melinjo)
  • 2 tomatoes, quartered
  • Grind the following into spice paste
  • 10 red chilies
  • 75 gram shallots
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 5 candlenuts (Indonesian: kemiri), or macadamia nuts
  • 1 inch (25 gram) ginger
  • 1 inch (25 gram) galangal (Indonesian: lengkuas)
  • 10 gram (about ½ tablespoon) terasi/belacan/shrimp paste, toasted (Note 1)

Instructions

  1. Boil peanuts: Boil dry peanuts topped with 2 inches of water in a pot. Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook for 1 hour, or until peanuts are soft. Drain and set aside.
  2. Make tamarind juice: Mix tamarind with half a cup of hot water. Stir to mix and when cool enough to handle, use fingers to massage the tamarind in the hot water to make tamarind paste/juice. Strain to remove pulps and seeds.
  3. Prepare tamarind broth: Boil water in a soup pot over medium-high heat. Add spice paste, tamarind juice, lemongrass, daun salam, coconut palm sugar, turmeric, salt, and ground white pepper. Cook until fragrant, about 5 minutes.
  4. Add boiled peanuts. Reduce heat to a medium, cover the pot, and cook for 10 minutes.
  5. Add cabbage, corn, zucchini, and green beans. Cook, covered, for another 15 minutes, or until the vegetables are tender.
  6. Add kale and tomatoes. Cook until kale is wilted and the tomatoes are just starting to become soft, about 5 minutes.
  7. Turn off the heat, taste test, and add more salt if needed. Serve the soup immediately with steamed white rice.

Notes

  • (1) Place shrimp paste in a microwave-proof bowl, covered with a microwave-proof plate. Cook in the microwave for 30 seconds to toast. Toasted shrimp paste should have pale color, crumbly, and very fragrant.
Indonesian Pantry
Indonesian Kitchen

Comments

  • Christie Gagnon Christie Gagnon says:

    Looks healthy and delicious!

  • Chris Collins Chris Collins says:

    I've never tried Sayur Asem but after reading through this I'll definitely be giving it a go! It looks so delicious!!

  • Kiki Johnson Kiki Johnson says:

    I have never added tamarind to soups - more to curries and stews but I can totally see how this would add the most amazing zing and just right right touch of acidity! Will try!

  • Sally @ Savory With Soul Sally @ Savory With Soul says:

    Love trying out new international dishes! This looks so good - saving it for date night!

  • Katie Crenshaw Katie Crenshaw says:

    This looks so healthy and flavorful. I can't wait to try it. It is perfect for adding in on my Meatless Monday dinner rotations!

  • Dolly @ Thrifty in the Kitchen Dolly @ Thrifty in the Kitchen says:

    Wow! I have never heard of this until now but my mouth is watering just thinking about it!

  • veenaazmanov veenaazmanov says:

    Full of delicious flavors and a super delicious filler. Love the combinations too.

  • Emily Liao Emily Liao says:

    This soup was perfect! Definitely filled with tons of flavor and so easy to make. Adding this to my soup rotation!

  • Cindy Cindy says:

    The kids have been so active in the kitchen during quarantine. They have had fun picking out recipes and making them. They picked out your recipe and we made it today! It was a hit! This recipe was a stretch for my kids tastebuds, but they LOVED IT. I am so glad we tried it!

  • Jersey Girl Cooks Jersey Girl Cooks says:

    I've never had this before but want to try it! The spices and flavors look heavenly!

  • Mimi Mimi says:

    Hi Anita, I tried the recipe tonight but I halved it as the recipe served 8. However, when I halved the water to 3 cups it was insufficient as it didn't cover the vegetables so I added more water so the vegetables were covered with water while boiling. Does that sound ok?

    • Anita Anita says:

      Hi Mimi, it should be fine to add more water to cover the vegetables. Just do a quick taste test once you are done with the cooking. You may need a tad more salt and/or sugar to balance the addition of water. :)

  • Beth Beth says:

    Yum! This soup is so delicious and has lots of flavor to it! Can't wait to make this again!

  • Lauren Vavala | Delicious Little Bites Lauren Vavala | Delicious Little Bites says:

    I've never heard of this before but wow! I just love all of these flavors. I bet it's so good!

  • Alexandra Alexandra says:

    This soup was warming and full of flavour - absolutely delicious!

  • Traci Traci says:

    What a unique and beautiful recipe! I love your simple instructions...thanks for sharing!

  • Genevieve Genevieve says:

    This soups looks amzing and so healthy! I love your colorful photos too!

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