If you’ve been reading this blog long enough, you’ll probably have noticed that each of my memories of my late grandmother is distinctly connected to cooking, eating, flavours and aromas. Not only was she a great home cook and did she occasionally take me out to eat at exciting restaurants, oma could also magically pull exotic fruits and coffee-flavoured candies from her handbag whilst on the road (rambutan or lychees and Kopiko respectively) and she was an excellent ‘supplier’ of cakes and snacks of which I was one of the main receivers.
At oma‘s house you could always find a couple of large transparent plastic containers with brightly-coloured lids filled to the brim with homemade kerupuk udang (prawn cracker) and emping melinjo (the latter, a type of chip made from melindjo nuts (gnetum gnemon), was not my favourite as a child. So bitter! I’m rather fond of it now, though). Other random types of snack would occasionally find their way into the snack-containers as well, but only one of them came in a separate, significantly smaller (thus, more special), glass jar: the slightly oily, salty home-fried peanuts with golden pieces of crisped up garlic, or kacang bawang putih.
While I am not usually a huge fan of peanuts as a snack, there is something very comforting and moreish about these kacang bawang and it’s not just because they remind me of my grandmother. I don’t know if it’s because they’re always a little crunchier, oilier and toastier compared to store-bought peanuts, or if it’s the intense slightly bitter taste of the large pieces of deep-fried nearly-burnt garlic that are scattered throughout, but these peanuts are just dangerously addictive!
While I have intrinsically connected this snack to memories of my grandmother (hence, the title of this recipe), Kacang bawang is actually quite a common snack amongst plenty of other families of Dutch-Indo descent and Indonesians (and plenty of other countries and cultures, I am sure). The recipe below is in no way uniquely my grandmother’s and plenty of other people have a very similar way of preparing it: fry raw peanuts and garlic and toss with salt. Simple.
Any differences that may be found between recipes are the soaking times and potential additional flavourings. Some people soak or boil the peanuts in water with some santen (creamed coconut) before frying them, others don’t soak them at all and most, myself included, stick to soaking in water and salt only. I did add some (dried) kaffir lime leaves into the mix for a subtle limey aroma, but you can adjust the flavourings according to your liking: fry some slices of fresh chili pepper with the peanuts or toss them with some dried chili flakes, or ground turmeric. It’s a snack. Have fun with it!
Note: The recipe below is for a relatively small amount which I can easily get through in a few days. Luckily you can easily multiply the ingredients and add some more oil to make a larger stash (which I highly recommend). The peanuts keep well when stored in an airtight container and, honestly, once you start frying peanuts why not make a large batch… you might need it hehe.
My Grandmother’s Kacang Bawang / Katjang Bawang (Indonesian Fried Garlic Peanuts)
- 500g peeled raw peanuts
- 12 - 15 cloves of garlic, or to taste
- 3 dried, or fresh kaffir lime leaves (optional)
- 1 teaspoon + ½ teaspoon salt, or more to taste
- Sunflower oil
Method*preparation time includes the (minimum of) 2 hours of hands-off soaking time for the peanuts. -
- Bring 1.5l water to a boil.
- Pour enough boiled water over the raw peanuts in a heatproof bowl until they are fully submerged. Add roughly chopped or torn (dried) kaffir lime leaves and 1 teaspoon of salt. Leave peanuts to soak for at least 2 hours or until the peanuts have plumped up (some people leave them overnight).
- After soaking, drain peanuts with a sieve, rinse with cold water and allow water to drain out for a few minutes.
- Meanwhile, peel and thinly slice the garlic cloves.
- When you are ready to start frying, add 4 - 5 cm of sunflower oil to a wok or small high-rimmed saucepan over medium heat. Once the oil is hot (test with one slice of garlic to see if it bubbles), add the garlic slices and fry until golden and fragrant, then transfer onto a baking tray covered with several layers of kitchen paper. Allow to cool slightly to check if the garlic has been fried enough: the garlic slices should be golden and crispy, yet not so dark that they start to taste too bitter (though they will be slightly bitter always).
- Next, fry the peanuts and lime leaves in batches for 4 – 6 minutes per batch until they ever so slightly start to change colour. Scoop fried peanuts onto the kitchen paper covered tray with the garlic and allow oil to drain off. The peanuts may still look very pale after a few minutes of frying, but they will continue to fry and brown slightly once removed from the oil. Do not keep on frying until they brown in the oil itself or they will become too hard and crunchy once cooled down (should they remain too soft when cool you can always return them to the hot oil for a minute).
- When you are done frying all peanuts, sprinkle with ½ teaspoon of salt (or more to taste) and lightly toss to coat and to distribute the pieces of garlic. You can keep the pieces of fried lime leaves in there too for a nice fragrance.
- Spread the peanuts out over the plate or tray and leave to cool. Once cooled, store in an airtight jar or container.