Thursday, 29 November 2012

Lawar Ayam (Indonesian Coconut and Bean Salad)

I secretly wish I could own all the cool cooking utensils which have very limited use. I'm not talking about electrical appliances - I have no desire for large electric stand mixers which take up heaps of bench or cupboard space. Nor do I covet the strange electrical appliances like pie makers, popcorn makers, egg cookers etc - because you don't really need those things, I can bake pies in the oven and I can make popcorn in a saucepan. If I ate eggs I would cook them in a pan. No, I'm not talking about appliances - I'm talking about utensils.

Here is an example - cannoli tubes. I'd LOVE to have some cannoli tubes - so I could make cannoli! But honestly, I wouldn't make cannoli very often and since they have such a specialised use I can only conclude that they would sit in my draw and never get used. I still want them though.

But why am I talking about this when there is a picture of bean salad at the top of this post? Good question. It's because I'm going to introduce you to a very specialised utensil that I bought on my recent trip to Sri Lanka, and I'm so glad that I did! It's a coconut grater. That's all it does, grate coconuts. It might seem excessive to have a utensil just for grating fresh coconut, after all I don't buy them that often. But, if you have ever tried to use a fresh coconut in your cooking before then you'll know what I'm talking about.

The first time I bought a fresh coconut it seemed like such a great idea - they were $1.99 each! I thought, "awesome - we can have lots of things with fresh coconut!". So, I bought it and brought it home - where it proved to be somewhat of a struggle. You might think that getting into the coconut is the hardest part - I admit, it was challenging. As we don't have a machete in our kitchen (mores the pity), we eventually managed to get it open with a hacksaw. But then the real challenge started: how do you get the flesh out?

I once read a recipe on the internet which said: "scoop the flesh out of the coconut". This is laughable, because if there is one thing that coconut flesh isn't - it's "scoopable". The flesh is hard and it very keen on staying attached to the outside shell. I ended up hacking away at it viciously with a knife, slightly dangerous. This yielded some randomly sized chunks of coconut flesh, but I made do with it. But then - the recipe said "grated coconut", so I wasn't finished battling with the coconut yet. My traditional grater was useless against it, it was too hard. In the end I tried it in my food processor, which worked slightly better but the pieces were still too hard for the processor to grate finely.

The whole experience really put me off using fresh coconut in cooking. I hung up my apron and declared "never again!".

Until.... during my trip to Sri Lanka in July of this year, we took a cooking class in Unawatuna. The first thing we did in the class was to grate up some coconut and make our own fresh coconut milk and coconut cream. She had an amazing contraption for grating her coconut which simply worked like a dream (she also showed us how to crack it open without a machete or a hack saw!). Here it is:

I bought one from her on the spot and, despite it looking like some sort of horrible torture device, didn't get any questions from customs on the way home to Sydney. So now fresh coconuts are no longer as daunting, which was lucky - because I found a lot of recipes during my research for Indonesia Month which called for fresh grated coconut. No problem, I thought, I've got it covered!

Grating coconuts with ease in Sri Lanka
This recipe uses fresh grated coconut, courtesy of my coconut grater. However, most kitchens don't contain such a contraption, so you may have to substitute. Fresh grated coconut can be bought in some Asian supermarkets, or you can substitute desiccated - however I recommend steaming it to put some of the moisture back in otherwise your dish will be too dry.

Lawar Ayam

200g green beans, trimmed
1 tbsp vegetable oil
2 shallots, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 red chilli, minced
1 tsp red curry paste
3-4 tbsp water
1 cup fresh grated coconut (probably sub 1/2 cup desiccated, and steam to rehydrate)
Juice of 1 lime
Salt and pepper to taste

To Make
1. Cut the beans into 2 inch lengths and blanch in boiling water until just tender, about 3 minutes. Drain and rinse with cold water until completely cold.
2. Heat the oil in a small frypan and add the shallots, garlic and chilli. Cook for about 4 minutes. Add the curry paste and water and simmer for about 2 minutes.
3. Remove the frypan from the heat and stir the coconut through. Combine this with the cooked green beans in a bowl and mix well. Finally, add the lime juice and season to taste with salt and pepper.

Serve at room temperature. Serves 2, or 4 as a side.

This month I'm featuring lots of amazing recipes from Indonesia!
Check out my other Indonesian recipe posts:


  1. I think the traditional version has kemiri (candle nut) in it.

    1. Yes it does, however, all I can do is make the best with the ingredients available. Thanks for visiting.

  2. Ayam means chicken in Indonesian, should this be a side salad for a chicken dish?

    1. You're right! Traditionally this salad is made with the addition of minced chicken. I've made mine vegetarian, but not speaking Indonesian didn't alter the name :) Perhaps this should be called "Lawar Buncis" for beans, but I don't want to butcher a language I don't speak and risk using it improperly - so if any Indonesian readers would like to suggest a more appropriate name for this salad then I'll be glad to change it :)

  3. Well, this is awesome, very helpful for everybody who want learn about Indonesian culinary. Have you another unique traditional recipe from other region of Indonesia? Thanks for your gorgeous sharing.

  4. this salad is called 'sayur urab'. (if you care to change the headline some five years later... ;)