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Home with the Lost Italian: Indonesian flavors at home

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Home with the Lost Italian: Indonesian flavors at home
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I was recently going through some boxes in our basement when I came across one filled with beautiful wooden trays and carvings from our time in Indonesia, where we spent several weeks while working aboard the M/V Clipper Odyssey.


I brought the trays out of exile, found them a new home in our kitchen and announced to Tony that I knew exactly what this week's grilling topic should be: Pork Satay with Peanut Sauce.

Culturally diverse, hot and exotic, Indonesia is a country filled with friendly people, market-lined streets and the wonderfully intoxicating aroma of satay, a popular street food that originated in Java in the early 1800s.

This grilled meat-on-a-stick specialty is considered a national dish of Indonesia and can be found throughout the country, with each region claiming its own version. However varied in preparation, satay is distinctly Indonesian and offers us a different blend of flavors from other Asian foods.

Tony and I have differing opinions when it comes to our favorite places in Indonesia. For him, hands-down it's Bali, where he enjoyed a paid week at a luxury hotel while conducting an advance site-inspection before joining the Odyssey for its new season. He fell in love with the hospitality, people, beaches and famously harmonious environment. (At the same time, I was sweating it out in a remote corner of the Amazon aboard the M/V Clipper Adventurer, where our air-conditioning went kaput for two whole days.)

I didn't get much time ashore in Bali but was fortunate to accompany an all-day trip up to the remote and mystical realm of Tana Toraja, located in the southern highlands on the island of Sulawesi.

Tana Toraja, or Torajaland, is a peaceful, misty, almost-forgotten land rich with custom and tradition, as evident in the native dress worn by its people, the unique and beautiful architecture of the ship-like tangokonan houses, the strange wooden dolls lining the granite cliffs in honor of loved ones who have passed away, and the omnipresence of water buffalo (a sign of true prosperity for any community in Indonesia).

Bali and Torajaland could not be more different in terms of landscape and culture, but I'm happy to report both regions share the national predilection for satay. Traditionally, beef and mutton are the preferred meats for Indonesian satay, but I enjoyed a chicken variety in Torajaland, while Tony feasted on pork satay in Bali.

Satay is easy to make and can be prepared a day in advance, which allows the flavors of the marinade to fully infuse the meat. For this recipe, we used pork tenderloin, which Tony cut along a bias into half-inch thick medallions.

Next, he threaded a wooden skewer through each piece of meat, just like making a stitch. He then placed the skewers in a shallow dish, covered them with the marinade and refrigerated them overnight.

When he grilled the skewers the next day, I was overcome by the smoky, aromatic intensity that filled our yard. I was immediately transported back to Indonesia and practically swooned in delight upon tasting the satay. I think our son Gio and Dave, our photographer, did, too. Our taste buds were in heaven, or at the very least, in Bali.

Our recipe today includes an amazing Balinese peanut sauce for dipping, but you can play around with a variety of different meats and sauces to suit your desire.

We don't venture far beyond North Dakota these days, so we love being able to experience the world again through the universal language of food.

Indonesian Pork Satay

Makes approximately 20 skewers


20 wooden skewers


2 whole pork tenderloins (plain, unseasoned), cut into half-inch cutlets.

5 to 6 scallions, sliced small for garnish

For the marinade

2 tablespoons lemongrass, minced

2 teaspoons fresh ginger, minced

2 teaspoons garlic, minced

1½ tablespoons Sambal sauce

2 teaspoons yellow curry powder

1½ tablespoons sugar

1 tablespoon fish sauce

2 tablespoons shallots, diced

½ cup vegetable oil


To start, soak the wooden skewers in cold water for 30 minutes.

While skewers are soaking, use a sharp knife to trim any excess fat from the tenderloins. Cutting along the bias, slice each tenderloin into half-inch cutlets. This should yield approximately 10 cutlets per tenderloin. Once ready, insert a wet skewer into each cutlet, threading it through just like a stitch.

To make the marinade, use a large bowl and combine all ingredients. Place the skewers in a shallow dish and cover completely with all of the marinade. Cover the dish with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least two hours, or overnight for even better results.

To grill

Heat grill to at least 400 degrees, then brush with vegetable oil to prevent the meat from sticking. Cook the skewers over direct, high heat for about 4 to 5 minutes on each side. The meat is ready when it has reached an internal temperature of 145 degrees and grill marks are visible on each side.

Warm Peanut Sauce

for Dipping

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

1 teaspoon garlic, minced

1 tablespoon shallots, minced

1½ teaspoon Sambal sauce

Zest of one lime (save lime for juice)

1 teaspoon yellow curry powder

1½ tablespoons lemongrass, minced

4 ounces coconut milk

(½ cup)

1½ teaspoons fish sauce

1 tablespoon sugar

Juice of one lime

4 ounces peanut butter

(½ cup)


In a medium sauce pot over medium heat, sauté the oil, garlic, shallots, Sambal, lime zest, curry powder, and lemongrass for 3 to 5 minutes, until garlic and shallots soften up.

Add the coconut milk, fish sauce, sugar, lime juice and peanut butter and continue cooking over medium heat for 8 to 10 minutes, stirring occasionally to combine. Once all the ingredients have blended together, remove from heat and transfer to a small bowl if serving immediately, or refrigerate for up to 3 days. Reheat before serving.

Tony's Tips:

- Lemongrass can be found regularly at Asian grocery stores.

- To prevent burning, soak the skewers in water for 30 minutes before inserting into meat.

- The amount of spicy heat in both the satay and the peanut sauce is mild in this recipe. For more intense heat, increase the amount of Sambal sauce.

- Use a meat thermometer to ensure the meat is fully cooked at 145 degrees.

- If you can't find Sambal sauce, you can substitute Sriracha sauce or one teaspoon of crushed red pepper flakes.

- Satay is best when cooked over charcoal, but our gas grill worked just fine.

- Tony prefers smooth peanut butter, but chunky or natural will also work.

Home with the Lost Italian is a weekly column written by Sarah Nasello featuring recipes by her husband, Tony Nasello. The couple owns Sarello's restaurant in Moorhead and lives in Fargo with their 9-year-old son, Giovanni. Readers can reach them at