Tongseng is braised meat with cabbage and tomatoes in spicy coconut milk and a drizzle of sweet soy sauce. It’s fragrant and comfortingly delicious to enjoy with hot plain white rice.
This simple yet tasty dish is originally from Central Java, Indonesia. It was allegedly created by the goat satay sellers to make the most of the goat’s meat leftovers.
After all the meat was taken for the goat satay (Sate Kambing), the rest of the meat would be used to make Gulai Kambing (goat curry) and Tongseng Kambing.
Hence, most of the goat satay sellers would also sell either Gulai Kambing or Tongseng Kambing. And some do all the three of them.
And the dish is now one of many popular street foods in Indonesia. Well, at least across Java. So, next time when you travel to the country you may come across Tongseng sellers.
Often people enjoy this meat dish together with satay. Because as I mentioned above, most of the sellers are actually the satay sellers. So, when you buy the satay, you would be just tempted to get Tongseng as well. It’s like a part of the package.
Although it was initially made with goat’s meat, now people adapted the recipe idea to cook with different meat such as beef or chicken. Therefore, you might have seen recipes for chicken tongseng, or beef tongseng.
And the recipe I’m sharing with you here is lamb tongseng recipe. Simply because here in the UK lamb meat is easier to get than the goat meat. But really, both types of meat are very similar to one another in taste and texture. So you’re more than welcome to use any red meat you like such as beef, lamb or mutton.
You can use any part of the lamb you like. Ideally, you choose boneless meat so that you can easily cut in small pieces.
Spices and herbs
There are two types of spices you need for this recipe. One is the spices that are pounded into a paste, and the other one is the whole spices and herbs.
For the spice paste, you need an onion, garlic, ginger, candlenuts (Kemiri), turmeric powder, ground coriander, black pepper, sugar and salt.
And the extra spices and herbs you need will be Salam leaf, ginger, lemongrass, galangal and bird’s eye chillies.
You can use tinned coconut milk or coconut milk powder. And if you want to, you can even make your own coconut milk. Have you ever made it before?
Here’s how to make coconut milk:
- Grate one coconut using a grater or a food processor. Or, you can get a bag of frozen grated coconut.
- Put into the grated coconut in a bowl and add ¼ cup of water in. Using your hand and fingers, try to rub and squeeze the coconut until you see the water turn as white as milk.
- Then lightly take a handful of coconut and squeeze it over a sieve with a clean bowl underneath. Put the squeezed coconut in another empty and clean bowl. Do the same to the rest of the coconut.
- When you finish squeezing the milk out of the coconut, repeat the step 2-3 for about 3-4 times until the water squeezed out of the coconut becomes clear and transparent.
You will need white cabbage. Although I don’t see anything wrong with using different types of cabbages such as red cabbage, savoy cabbage, or pointed cabbage.
But I personally would recommend staying away from red cabbage for this dish. Simply because the purple colour of the vegetable can make your Tongseng look unappealing.
Two medium-sized tomatoes are more than enough for this recipe. But if you only have other tomatoes such as cherry tomatoes or plum tomatoes, don’t worry. You can use those little tomatoes and still make a delicious Tongseng.
Just cut the fruits in big chunks.
You only need a few stalks of spring onions/ scallions that you slice and add in the meat stew towards the end of cooking.
Sweet soy sauce
Since it’s an Indonesian dish, I think you should use Indonesian sweet soy sauce. I have used non-Indonesian sweet soy sauce in the past to make Indonesian foods. I must say the results were not what I expected. The flavour is just different from what Indonesian sweet soy sauce has to offer.
Fried onions (optional)
A scatter of fried onions before serving will make your dish taste even more delicious. But don’t fret if you don’t have it or don’t want to go to any trouble frying the onions yourself.
You will still have a tasty Tongseng.
How to cook Tongseng
Essentially, there are two parts of the dish that you need to prepare, the meat and the sauce. Just like the way Tongseng sellers do.
First, you prepare the meat by boiling it with some herbs until the meat is tender. If you think the meat that you choose is a bit tough, you can boil it in a pressure cooker to save time. Just make sure you don’t overcook it so the meat won’t break or become too soft. Once the meat is thoroughly cooked, drain its boiling water and set aside.
Secondly, you make the sauce by pounding some spices and herbs into a paste. Then fry the spice paste in a large cooking pan and add the other whole spices. Fry until it releases a nice aroma before you add in the meat. Once the meat is in, let it cook for about five minutes so it can absorb the spices then add the sweet soy sauce and a cup of water. Give it a stir and cook further at medium-high heat with the lid on.
Thirdly, add the cabbage, tomatoes, spring onions, chillies and coconut milk. Continue cooking until the sauce reaches the boiling point again. Let it simmer at low heat until the coconut milk looks thicker and shiny with a little oil separating from the edges.
The way to enjoy Tongseng
If you want to get the real feel of Indonesian street food, you may want to have this spicy meat stew with plain white rice and lamb Satay on the side.
I often just have it without as it is with rice without any side.
And if I fancy having a side dish, I would make chicken satay instead, and a vegetable stir-fry.
Thank you for reading this recipe. I hope you’re now inspired to try it. If you do, please let me know what you think about it in the comments below. It will be awesome if you can also share the picture of your created Tongseng. Or, you can tag me on Instagram and pin me on Pinterest @soyummyrecipesbydevy, when you share your cooking.
Before you go, don’t forget to check my other recipes for more inspo for your next dinner 😊.
- The real Indonesian beef Rendang – simply authentic.
- The best Indonesian sweet soy chicken – Ayam Kecap Manis.
- Indonesian chicken wonton – Pangsit Ayam.
- Nasi Goreng Tuna – Indonesian tuna fried-rice.
- Indonesian fried chicken – Ayam Goreng Bumbu.
- Ikan Pesmol – Indonesian fish dish in yellow pickled spices.
Thank you and all the best.