Ever since I was a child, I’ve loved “ethnic food.” Thai food. Moroccan food. Chinese stir fries. Ethiopian vegetables. I love to eat it, and I love to cook it. My family didn’t travel to any exotic climes in my childhood (unless you count Disney World), though my father travelled extensively for business, which did introduce us to bulgogi, Indian curries, and pad thai.

One book that my father brought back from a business trip to Singapore was The Best of Singapore Cooking by Mrs Leong Yee Soo (1991 edition). Included among the delicious and exotic recipes is one for satay, barbecued beef or chicken with peanut sauce. Now satay can be found at every corner Asian restaurant, but back in the early 90s, this was about as exotic as it got. I adore this recipe, and I have made this recipe so many times, I actually have the ingredients memorized.

Galangal British Library MS
Galingale and Sweet Flag, 1280-1310, Tractatus de herbis, Italy, S. (Salerno). British Library, MS Egerton 747, f. 25.

The secret ingredient is galangal, a rhizome related to ginger. It is more aromatic than ginger, and can’t be substituted in this recipe. Galangal was prized during the Middle Ages as a luxury spice from the East, and it crops up in all sorts of medieval recipes. It was even used to make hippocras, a sort of spiced and sweetened wine.

Although the galangal is crucial to this satay recipe, you can use any sort of meat—pork, beef, and chicken are all delicious. Shrimp would be tasty, too. The recipe can be doubled, and leftover satay is excellent in a banh mi sandwich.


Serves 3-4

1 onion, cut in quarters
3 cloves garlic, peeled
1/4 thumb-sized piece turmeric root, or 1 tsp ground turmeric
4 stalks lemon grass sliced, or 1 tsp ground lemongrass
2 slices galangal root, or 1 tsp ground galangal
1 1/2 tsp ground coriander
1 1/2 tsp cumin
1 tbsp lemon juice
1 tbsp dark soy sauce
1 tsp salt
4-5 tablespoons granulated sugar
4 tbsp vegetable oil

1 lb beef or chicken, chilled and cut into thin strips

1. Blend marinade ingredients in a blender or food processor until smooth.
2. In a large bowl, mix marinade with strips of meat until all of the meat is evenly covered. Marinate meat for at least one hour in the refrigerator.
3. Preheat barbecue to “hot” setting.
4. Thread marinated meat onto soaked bamboo skewers or fine metal skewers.
5. Grill satay skewers on barbecue, turning over once each side has char lines (3-8 minutes per side, depending on your barbecue).
6. Serve satay with peanut sauce—my favourite brand is President’s Choice Memories of Szechuan Spicy Peanut Satay Sauce, available at Loblaws, No Frills, and Real Canadian Superstore.

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