Soto is one of my favorite Indonesian foods. It’s a versatile soup; how can you go wrong with that?? I decided to try my hand at making it so that I can share my love of soto, as well as my appreciation for Indonesian culture, with my friends and family once I have left Indonesia. I’m sharing the recipe and process here so that you can try it yourself, too! I’ve also included simple recipes for sambal and tempe goreng, both of which are commonly enjoyed with soto.
Soto ayam (chicken soto) requires a multitude of ingredients, many of which are critical to flavor the seasoning. The recipe varies depending upon region (see here for more information about soto in Indonesia) but a typical recipe is as follows:
- 500 gram chicken
- 100 gram bean sprouts
- 100 gram rice noodles (vermicelli)
- 100 gram onion leaves and cilantro
- 250 gram eggs
- 200 gram raw cabbage
- 1 large spoonful salt
- 5 cloves garlic
- 5 small red onions
- 1 small piece of raw turmeric
- 1 small piece of raw ginger
- 5 cloves candlenut
- 1/4 spoon cumin
- 1 spoon peppercorns
- 1/4 clove nutmeg
- 3 onion leaves
- 3 stalks green onion
- 3 orange leaves
You may also be able to find a spice packet labeled “soto.” I’ve included its use in this recipe, but you can omit it if you’d like.
Making Soto Ayam
The more ingredients and seasonings you add to soto ayam, the more delicious the final product will taste. It is best to start with fresh ingredients! In Asian cites, all of these ingredients are available in local marketplaces. In some western countries, you can find most of the ingredients at the supermarket, but you may need to go to an Asian market for others, especially the spices.
Left: Some raw ingredients for soto ayam. Right: A typical soto seasoning packet.
You’ll need a pot in which to cook the broth and a wok in which to heat your seasoning. You’ll also need an extra pot if you’d like to boil your vegetables separately from the broth. Make sure you have a sharp knife and a cutting board handy, as well as either a mortar and pestle or other tool to grind ingredients into pastes! You’ll want to start by preparing your seasoning for the broth. Begin by peeling your garlic, onions, candlenut, and turmeric and slicing your green onion into thin rings. Next, briefly sauté first your soto spice packet, if using, then your peeled root vegetables, in the wok without oil. You only want to lightly brown these ingredients to bring forth the flavor and aroma. Remove promptly.
Left: Heating the soto spice mixture. Right: Lightly browning the red onions, garlic, and candlenut before mixing.
Once you’ve browned your ingredients, you can begin to grind down your seasoning mixture. Start by adding your peppercorns, salt, nutmeg and cumin to the grinding stone (or whatever tool you’re using). Grind these into a coarse powder. When you’ve finished with that, start to gradually add your onions, garlic, and candlenut, clove by clove, to the grinding stone and mash into a paste. This will take time and effort, so be prepared! Add your ginger and turmeric last. Continue grinding until you have smoothed out any lumps in the mixture and are left with a fragrant paste.
Before you return to your wok to complete your seasoning, make sure you put a pot of water on the stove to boil. One the boiling has commenced, add your chicken and the spices from the packet, which you heated earlier (if using). Back in the wok, start with your fresh leaves – the orange and onion leaves – for the seasoning mixture. Sauté these briefly before adding the paste from the grinding stone. Make sure you maintain a constant stirring so that you don’t burn any part of the mixture. Add the green onions and continue to stir. Once you’ve thoroughly mixed and heated everything (you should be greeted with a fragrant aroma at this point), you can remove the seasoning mixture from the heat and scrape it all directly into the pot of boiling water.
Let the pot of broth (your chicken, seasoning, and water) boil for about twenty minutes to allow the flavor to come through and the chicken to cook. While you’re waiting for the broth, boil your vegetables in a separate pot of water. You’ll want to make sure you cook the cabbage, bean sprouts, and noodles separately so that they do not mix or become stuck together. Boil until tender, but not limp. The timing will differ for each vegetables and the noodles, so make sure you keep an eye on things so as not to over- or undercook.
Various vegetables and noodles prior to and during cooking.
Once your chicken has been thoroughly cooked in the broth, you can remove it from the pot. Use two forks to shred the chicken and remove it from the bones. Remove as much of the meat as possible and plate it accordingly. Make sure you taste-test the broth, too. Does it need more salt? Pepper? Add seasoning to your taste.
Plate everything before serving. You may also wish to make some white rice to accompany the soto, but this is up to you. At any point during this process, you should boil your eggs in yet another pot. Once they’re boiled and cooled, you can slice these and plate them as well. Slice some fresh tomatoes and your cilantro for additional flavor and garnish.
Sambal is a key component in any Indonesian meal. There are dozens of types of sambal, and you can find recipes for this traditional chili sauce using mushrooms, tomatoes, garlic and onions, mangoes, pineapples, or any combination of fruits and vegetables in-between. The sambal shown here is simple – just cabai (chilies), a clove of garlic, and some salt. Simply take your chosen ingredients and grind them into a paste. Once that’s complete, you can add either water or broth from your soto to thin the consistency to your liking.
Simple sambal, composed of 7 chilies, one clove of garlic, a pinch of salt, and a ladle of broth.
Making Tempe Goreng
Tempe goreng, or fried tempe, is one of my favorite Indonesian/Javanese dishes! Tempe, a traditional fermented soybean dish, is available in a number of spice and cooking methods, though frying is the simplest and most popular preparation.
- 100 gram tempe
- 1 clove garlic
- 1/2 spoon salt
- Water (unspecified amount)
- 250 mL cooking oil
If your raw tempe is in a single block, first chop it into thin slices. Once this is complete, score each piece of tempe lightly on both sides and set aside. Then, prepare the seasoning. Peel the garlic, then grind it together with the salt to make a paste. Add enough water to form a marinade and dip each piece of tempe into the seasoning until fully coated. Pour the remaining marinade over the tempe.
Raw tempe, cut into thin pieces and scored lightly with a fork.
Next, head your cooking oil in a wok (there is no set temperature for this!). Once the oil is hot, add four pieces of tempe at a time and fry until golden brown. Adjust the heat as desired, but be careful not to burn the tempe! The frying process will take several minutes for each batch. After the tempe is thoroughly cooked, remove it from the oil and let sit for a few minutes before placing in a bowl to serve.
Tempe frying. In the photo on the left, the tempe has just been added to the hot oil. In the photo on the right, the tempe has been frying for several minutes.
The Final Product
Once everything is complete, you’re ready to assemble and serve your meal! You can choose to add everything to the same bowl instead, but I like this method of separation better because it allows everyone to customize their own bowls of soto according to their individual tastes. Soto is also commonly served with lime, so make some slices available to be squeezed into the soup. If you can find some fried or crispy onions and kecap manis (sweet soy sauce), you’ll be adding to the authenticity of the meal!
Top Left: Proteins: eggs and chicken. Top Center: Tempe goreng. Top Right: Vegetables and noodles. Bottom: The entire plated meal.
Soto is a hearty meal and is sure to be a crowd-pleaser. Feel free to add your own twist to the recipe and share it with your friends!