Claudia takes you through a journey in the rich Indonesian cuisine.
There is a name that circulates among the expats in Jakarta when it comes to talk about Indonesian cuisine: Ibu Molina (Ms Molina). She was actually born in India, but moved to Indonesia so many years ago that she has lost count.
Passionate by food and spices, Ibu Molina has worked in gastronomy since she arrived in Jakarta, and today she enjoys a healthy career with her own restaurant, catering, but mostly cooking workshops, both on Indonesian and Indian cuisine. I attended one on Indonesian spices, and I want to share with you the recipes I have learned.
Indonesian cuisine is the reflection of its country, which hosts more than 17,000 islands and 300 ethnic groups. It is rich, varied and very colourful. Nasi Goreng (fried rice) is the most popular and probably most known dish even outside of Indonesia, but there are of course many others, and they use meat and fish alike, with lots of vegetables, rice, of course, noodles, and much more. Fruit comes in enormous variety here, which allows concocting wonderful combinations of juices and desserts.
Spices are of fundamental importance in Indonesian cuisine, and you need to know a minimum of them and how to use them, if you want your Indonesian dish to be a success. I have never used spices when cooking, and I look at them with a certain suspicion, though I am aware that so many gastronomic cultures in the world have them at their core, and that each spice carries important stories – in Indonesia, for example, Portuguese and Dutch fought a war over spices: this beautiful country is very rich in cinnamon, cloves, cumin, ginger, nutmeg, to name just a few.
Just have a look at this:
Ibu Molina patiently took us through each one of them, telling us their name in the Indonesian language, and their most common use. I had seen them all in markets and supermarkets, but had no clue about how to use them, it was therefore very interesting to listen to her explanation, and even more to see her mixing them in colourful and delightful dishes.
Following are some of the Indonesian recipes I learned that day. If you need to check on any particular spice, I found this website very useful.
It’s a tasty dish and a healthy way to eat fish.
Any kind of white sea-fish (sea bass or bream, for instance)
2 small tomatoes
Chillies, garlic, red onions, coriander powder, salt, kaffir leaves, lemon grass, lemon juice
Prepare the following:
- 15/20 fat red chillies (remove the seeds)
- 5 cloves of garlic
- 6/8 small red onion
- 2 small tomatoes peeled and cut
- 1 tablespoon of coriander powder
- ½ a tablespoon of salt
Fry in 3 tablespoons of oil, grinding all ingredients roughly with a wooden spoon, then add 2-3 lemongrass (bruise one) and two tablespoons of lemon juice.
Cook for 5-7 minutes, adding oil if needed.
Take a banana leaf (you can previously heat it quickly on a griddle to make it softer), place a slice of fish on it, cover it with the above sauce, fold and close the leaf as shown, and cook on the griddle, turning constantly.
A lovely and healthy salad
Basil (kemangi, i.e. the Indonesian basil, which tastes of lemon)
For the dressing:
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and sliced
4-5 big red chili, seeded and sliced
1 and ½ cup of fresh and young coconut, grated
1 tablespoon of brown sugar
2 Kafir leaves
1 and ½ teaspoon of salt
½ inch of Kencur
Put all the spices of the dressing but the coconut in the mixer and blend them, adding a bit of water if necessary.
Cook in a dry wok for 5-7 minutes.
Add the grated coconut and cook until the mixture starts sticking to the wok.
Boil your vegetables (bean sprouts, spinach, cabbage and carrots), drain them well, add the dressing and mix thoroughly. Decorate with some basil leaves.
It can be served hot or cold, but you have to eat it the same day you have prepared it.
These chicken skewers are highly popular in Indonesia. When cooked well, they are really delicious.
700 grs of boneless chicken, cut into cubes
For the marinating sauce:
2 cloves of garlic
1 teaspoon of coriander
¾ of tablespoon of salt
¼ of tablespoon of pepper
For the peanut sauce:
1 cup of peanuts
3 pieces of long chili (seeded)
2 cloves of garlic
1 tablespoon of salt
1 tablespoon of brown sugar or sweet soya sauce
For the cooking sauce:
2 tablespoons of butter
¼ cup of sweet soya sauce
Turn all the ingredients of the marinating sauce into a paste, and mix the chicken cubes.
Marinate for one hour.
Prepare the peanut sauce:
Deep-fry the peanuts in oil until they become brown.
Pound or grind them into a fine powder, using a blender or pestle and mortar.
Fry garlic and chilli in a little oil, and crush them.
Add them to the powder with brown sugar, kafir lime or lemon juice, and a little lukewarm water.
You are now ready to assemble to skewers. Before doing that, wet the bamboo sticks to avoid the chicken to stick to them.
Place the skewer on a hot grill and turn them regularly.
When they appear a bit cooked, start adding the cooking sauce, keep turning.
When they are nicely golden, serve them and eat hot.
Text and photos: Claudia Landini