Bakwan: Indonesian Corn Fritters

The first time I tried homemade bakwan in Kediri, I was reminded of corn bread— although bakwan is more savory and less cakey than the sweetened side dish. There are variations that rely more on other vegetables likes cabbage or bean sprouts, but the bakwan that my host families in Kediri and Madiun would make on a weekly basis consisted of corn.

Bakwan 4
The bakwan essentials

Bakwan usually appears as an accompaniment to rice, along with protein sources like tempeh and tofu. It’s served with peanut sauce when eaten with nasi pecel and topped with spicy sambal when paired with nasi campura typical mixed rice meal. It goes with a little bit of everything:

Bakwan pecel
A common breakfast in Madiun: Bakwan atop rice with vegetables and fried tempeh. Don’t forget the pecel sauce.

It’s savory, a little spicy, and versatile. Now that I’m home, bakwan goes well with curry cashew dressing (and literally any dressing) in salad, or served warm and topped with avocado and lime, like a snack. My host family made their bakwan with fresh chilies. But since I couldn’t get any at our grocery store, we’re using dried spices. My host family would also grind the batter by hand, using a mortar and pestle, and then fry the bakwan in a wok. We’re going to use a food processor (but a blender would also work) and a medium-sized frying pan.

Despite the substitutions, they taste pretty close to the original! And everyone’s got their own bakwan recipe committed to memory, which requires little to no measuring. Some are more cakey, or crispier, or sweeter than others; no two households’ versions are exactly the same. The ingredients list is short—a lot shorter than required for soto ayam, anyway. As long as you buy some corn this summer, you likely have everything else on-hand.

Bakwan 2

Bakwan

Makes about 20

Ingredients

  • 4 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 teaspoon chili powder
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 2 cups raw corn (about 4 ears of corn)
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour (plus extra if you need it)
  • 4 green onions, chopped (white and green parts included)
  • 1 cup canola oil or other neutral frying oil

 

Instructions

Batter: In a food processor, combine garlic, red pepper, chili powder, salt, sugar, and black pepper. Pulse until well-incorporated. It’s ok if a paste doesn’t form. Then add the corn. Process until a cohesive wet mixture forms, with no whole kernels left.

Into a large mixing bowl, pour the corn/spice mixture. Whisk in the eggs. Gradually whisk in the flour, a half-cup at a time. A batter the consistency of brownie batter should form. (It shouldn’t be as runny as pancake or cake batter.) If needed, add additional flour, 1/4 cup at a time, until you reach a lumpy consistency. Then fold in the green onion.

Frying: In a medium-sized pan, heat 1/4 cup oil over medium-low heat. Once it’s audibly sizzling, spoon 2-tablespoons of bakwan batter in the oil per fritter. Cook for about 2 minutes on each side, or until golden-brown. Let rest on a wire rack or on paper towels to soak up any excess oil. Add oil to the pan as needed to cook the rest! Enjoy with rice, on salad, or on top of a serving of roasted vegetables with your favorite sauce.

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