Rendang before, let alone made it. I always feel slightly disadvantaged when I try to cook something that I've never seen or tasted before (how would I ever know if I'd gotten it right?). But my good friend Michael Pang-Larsen (he added his wife's surname to his--how cool is that?) sent me a sample of one of his new products, a "sambal" (from his mother-in-law's special recipe), so I had to try it right away. It wasn't just the fact that I had a new, intriguing food product to try out (which would have been enough); or that my friend had spent 300 Danish kroner (about $54!) to send it to me-- it was, more than anything, the wild-man infectious enthusiasm Michael has for food, cooking, and life itself (on his LinkedIn profile, he lists his education as "School of Love - not yet graduated"). I just had to honor it all, immediately!
The recipe for preparing rendang he sent along with the package was simple: "approx. 200 grams paste, 1/2 liter coconut milk, for 1/2 kilo tempeh," with just a few notes on cooking and serving. The sambal itself (a wet paste made from all fresh roots and herbs) is brilliant--an Indonesian-Malay-Singaporean blast of flavor, fragrance and pungent heat. Enriched by a creamy reduction of coconut milk, this sauce is a freaking knockout. I live up a dirt road in a little town in Colorado, so I had no kaffir lime leaves (damn!), but I got a great effect by adding a splash of fresh lime juice at the end. I garnished the dish with shredded cilantro and slow-roasted grated young coconut. Ooh baby.
Lucky for me, I have a bunch of sambal left over. Michael thinks like a serious chef, so he doesn't bother with cutesy little "gourmet" jars. His sambal comes in a no-nonsense 1-kilo bag, for people who want to get in there and do some real cooking. My kind of guy.