Been to Bali? Here are three tasty favourites you've likely tried on your travels.
There's not a tourist restaurant in Indonesia that doesn't serve nasi goreng, the umami-packed fried rice that will colour every traveller's memories. It takes a little care to make it well, but can be undeniably delicious with the sauces adding treacly depth and a smoky edge from the heat of the wok. What's more, it is the perfect way to use up odd vegetables (the below are just suggestions; any will do but keep them chopped small) and yesterday's rice. In fact, it demands rice that has been cooked and cooled, which helps keep the grains light rather than oily.
3 tbsp oil
1 small onion, sliced
2 spring onions, sliced
1 small carrot, finely chopped
6 fine green beans, finely chopped
4 garlic cloves, chopped
1 large red chilli, seeded and sliced
handful Asian greens, finely sliced
handful shiitake mushrooms, sliced
300g (1½ cups) cold cooked rice (about 150g (¾ cup) rice), steamed and cooled
2 tbsp kecap manis, plus more to serve
1 tbsp tomato paste
1½ tbsp soy sauce
1½ tbsp sesame oil
ribbons of omelette
Heat a wok until almost smoking. Add the oil followed by the onion, spring onions and carrot. Stir-fry until softened, then add all the remaining vegetables and continue to stir-fry to a collapsed tangle of lightly caramelised vegetables.
Add the eggs and stir through, cooking until the egg is dry and crumbly. Turn off the heat.
Add the rice, sauces and sesame oil to the wok and very carefully mix with the back of a spoon – you don't want to break the grains. Taste and adjust the seasoning, splashing in more of the sauces if needed for salt, sweetness or more depth of flavour.
Reheat gently, turning the rice and avoiding the heat at the centre of the wok where it may catch.
Serve at once with any of the suggested toppings and spin over a fine stream of kecap manis.
Note: Crazy rice (nasi gila) is Jakarta's take on nasi goreng. It is souped-up with extras like meatballs, sausages, prawns and punchy spices stir-fried with the rice. One of the most famous versions is Obama nasi gila, so named as it comes from the street where the US president went to school.
Photo: Kristin Perers
It is the peanut dressing that makes this salad. So compelling is the mix of umami with the zing of kaffir lime that folk songs have been penned to its name in Jakarta. I promise it is worth the effort of frying and grinding your own peanuts – it lifts the dressing to a new level – but no one will judge if you use peanut butter. Gado gado translates as a "jumbled mix" so choose any vegetables you have. Bulk it out with tofu, boiled potatoes, ribbons of fried tempeh and prawn crackers if you want a more substantial meal. Or strip it back to just the blanched vegetables and dressing.
100g snake beans or green beans, cut into 3cm lengths
2 bok choy, sliced
large handful water spinach
large handful spinach leaves
¼ Chinese cabbage, cut into 2cm slices
2 handfuls beansprouts
150g silken tofu, cut into small cubes
oil, for frying
75g (½ cup) raw peanuts, skin-on, or unsweetened peanut butter
1 tbsp oil (if using raw peanuts)
1 garlic clove, crushed
½ tsp salt
½ tsp dark palm sugar (gula jawa), shaved
1 tbsp kecap manis
2 tsp crisp-fried shallots
juice of a kaffir lime or ½ lime
prawn crackers or rice crackers
Prepare the ingredients for the salad. Trim and slice the vegetables. Fry the tofu in a little oil for about 15 minutes, until golden. Soft-boil the eggs for six minutes and peel under cold water.
Bring a large saucepan of water to the boil. First add the beans. After 1½ minutes add the bok choy, water spinach and spinach. After half a minute more, add the cabbage and beansprouts and immediately turn off the heat. Drain and run cold water through the colander to stop the cooking. Set aside.
If you are using raw peanuts in the dressing, you'll need to fry them to bring out the toasty flavours. Heat the oil in a wok over a high heat until shimmering, add the nuts and stir-fry for a minute. Reduce the heat to medium and continue to fry, stirring often, for five minutes or until the nuts are deep golden brown. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels.
Using a large pestle and mortar, food processor or high-speed blender, grind the peanuts (and their skins) with the garlic, salt and palm sugar. Keep going; the oils in the peanuts will eventually come out, turning the rubble into a smooth peanut butter. Thin with a little water, but the dressing should be thick and fragrant. Mix in the kecap manis, crisp-fried shallots and juice from the kaffir lime. Taste to make sure the flavours sing, and adjust if needed.
Traditionally the dressing will be ground in the wide bowl of a ulek, coating its base. The vegetables will be added on top and tossed together. I like to replicate this by spooning the dressing into serving bowls and spreading it up the sides. Arrange the vegetables and tofu on top, along with halved boiled eggs and a few crackers. Drizzle over a little kecap manis and let everyone toss together their own portion at the table.
Note: The Javanese dish of karedok is a raw salad with the same peanut dressing. Mix salad leaves, finely shredded cabbage, beansprouts, sliced Thai eggplant, sliced cucumber and finely sliced green beans. Toss with the peanut dressing and serve at once.
Roasted coconut chicken
Roast chicken gets the spice treatment. The flavour is authentically Indonesian, the method not, but I think you'll love it nonetheless. The bird is bathed in a silky coconut sauce, which thickens and caramelises in the oven forming an irresistible burnished crust.
1.5 kg chicken
1 tbsp tamarind paste
2 tbsp oil
400ml (1½ cups) full-fat coconut milk
2 tsp dark palm sugar (gula jawa)
Bumbu spice paste
2 onions, roughly chopped
4 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
2 large red chillies, half seeded and chopped
2 lemongrass sticks, trimmed and sliced
4cm turmeric, peeled, or 1 tsp ground turmeric
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp salt
Find a roasting dish in which the chicken sits reasonably snuggly, just a little room around the edges to hold the sauce. Put the bird inside and paint the skin with tamarind paste. Leave to come up to room temperature whilst you make the bumbu.
Grind all the bumbu ingredients to a paste in a food processor. Heat the oil in a pan and cook the bumbu for five to 10 minutes, stirring often, until the rawness is replaced with fragrance.
Paint the chicken all over with some of the bumbu, adding a spoonful inside the cavity. Keep the rest of the bumbu in the pan.
Preheat the oven to 190C.
Add the coconut milk and palm sugar to the excess bumbu in the pan. Bring up to the boil and simmer for about five minutes, stirring all the while. Pour over the chicken.
Roast for one hour, or until the chicken is golden and when you stick a knife between the leg and breast, it is just the palest pink (it will finish cooking as it rests). Baste with the coconutty juices occasionally as the chicken cooks to help keep it succulent.
Remove the chicken from the dish and leave to rest somewhere warm for 20 minutes. Spoon off and discard the oil from the roasting dish sauce. Serve the rest with the chicken.
Images and recipes from Fire Islands by Eleanor Ford, photography Kristin Perers, published by Murdoch Books, RRP $49.99