Seasonal Pantry: Warm up with a soup from Malaysia
A few days ago, as I watched an episode of “Our Planet,” the most recent nature series narrated by Sir David Attenborough, I was transported back to Malaysia, specifically to the Malaysian state of Sarawak on the island of Borneo.
Early in the morning on the day I was to return home, my guide Ramlee, who had become a good friend, picked me up at my hotel and we headed out of town. “Hurry,” he said, “hurry, we don’t have much time.” After a drive of about 30 minutes, we pulled into a small parking lot and Ramlee ran to my side of the car to open the door. He grabbed my hand and began pulling me along a winding path that zigzagged through cages, other structures, and jungle foliage.
Soon, we came to a large clearing that had, on the side farthest from us, a wooden platform about 10 feet high. A man was piling bananas, papaya, and other fruit onto the platform when Ramlee suddenly shouted “ Look, Look!” I gazed in the direction of his pointed finger and saw, in the far distance, something moving towards us, swinging from the trees that stood high above the thick canopy of the rain forest.
Orangutans. Wild Orangutans.
As they came closer, I could see that one was much larger than the other. After about 15 minutes, they made it to the platform and began their morning feast.
Ramlee warned me not to get too close, as, he explained, the bigger of the two, a male, liked to steal sunglasses off people’s heads. He spoke of finding piles of them here and there in the forest, which he considered his home.
We walked back to the car slowly, taking time to stop at the cages which held orangutans and other animals who were receiving medical care before being released back into the wild. Every morning at 8 a.m., he told me, staff put out fruit for the area’s wild orangutan, who are suffering a severe loss of habitat.
In Our Planet’s episode on the world’s jungles, Attenborough explains that we are losing about 100 orangutans a week, a loss that will lead to their extinction in our lifetimes if something is not done. Each episode of the series concludes with a simple call to action, an invitation to visit ourplanet.com, where you find a range of activities that will help. Do it for yourself, for your children, and for their children. Do it for the orangutans.
On my first night in Kuching, the capital of Sarawak, I came across a booth alongside the river that served this fragrant soup in big clay bowls. It remains one of the best things I have ever tasted, and it is not difficult to make at home.
Ginger Beef Noodle Soup
Serves 4 to 6
1 quart spicy beef stock (recipe follows), hot
3 tablespoons clarified butter or coconut oil
1 large yellow onion, diced
6 garlic cloves, minced
1 13-inch piece fresh ginger, grated
2 beef shanks, each about 2 inches thick
— Kosher salt
2 stalks lemongrass, bulb parts only, crushed and very thinly sliced
1 teaspoon whole white peppercorns
1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes