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Indonesian Cooking, February 24

What comes to mind when you think of Indonesian cuisine? This is a question many of us pondered heading into last week’s workshop on Indonesian cooking. Thanks to our gracious leaders, Emil and Idris, we can now answer with confidence – and have added staple recipes to our repertoires for extra credibility.

Heading into the workshop many of us wondered if Indonesian was similar to Thai cooking? Or Malaysian? Others had exposure through their Dutch heritage and the recipes that had been brought to Holland following colonization of Indonesia. In search for answers, the evening began with rapid fire questions to Emil and Idris, who shared with us that indeed, Indonesian cooking is similar to both Thai and Malay cuisines.

More specifically, we learned that recipes often have a long list of ingredients which helps to develop their signature complex flavour profiles – curries are a great example. Some of the take-home messages we learned about staple ingredients included:

  • You can never have too many shallots! – Shallots, and lots of them, are the basis of many recipes. They are used far more often, and in greater quantities, than garlic.

  • Peanuts – Peanuts are also abundant in Indonesian cooking, and for the quintessential peanut sauce recipe you needn’t look further than the one Emil provided.

  • Coconut – In the form of milk, flaked, or shredded, this is an essential ingredient that lends richness and depth to many Indonesian dishes.

  • Sambal – This mixture, with a base of chilies and shrimp paste, is a mainstay condiment. Stir it into curries or other dishes, or simply dip chips in it for an afternoon snack. Idris made us one from scratch that was a particular hit among the spice lovers in the group.

  • Galangal – This root originated in Indonesia and is similar in appearance (though not necessarily flavour) to ginger. It is a staple in Indonesian curries, and it has an amazing pine aroma that it lends to dishes. Seriously – if you haven’t smelled it, you’re missing out.

  • Tempeh – Here in Canada, many of us are familiar with tempeh as a source of vegetarian protein, but did you know that it too originated in Indonesia? There it’s often fried, eaten as street food, and is an affordable alternative to meat. Paradoxically, here in Canada it’s expensive because it’s become trendy among veggies. Another difference of tempeh in Canada? It’s not nearly as flavourful as it is in Indonesia, so to get the most authentic experience, buy it raw and marinate with your own spice blend and wet rub.

  • Everything is better when it’s fried! – I’m not sure this one needs an explanation. Needless to say, snacking is big in Indonesia, and snacks are that much better when they are fried, right? Crispy and delicious.

  • Fried bananas: savoury or sweet? – The million dollar question. Savoury, Emil says.

The above list is by no means inclusive, but it’s a great start and will no doubt impress your friends. Other common ingredients, similarly used in Malay and Thai cooking, include palm sugar, lemongrass, and turmeric. Since many ingredients are shared staples with other South Asian cuisines you should be able to find them at your favourite local Asian grocer. Honorable mention to the Asia Market at 265 E Hastings Street (just east of Main). Rumour has it that the Asia Market sometimes stocks authentic tempeh, homemade by a local Indonesian lady.

With essential ingredients covered, it was time to get cooking! Many hands made light work of the copious amounts of chopping and shredding it took to create the Gado-gado and Cassava Leaf Stew that Emil and Idris guided us through. The payoff was delicious and plentiful! Both of these dishes were satisfying in their own right.

Gado-gado is best described as a warm all-encompassing salad that will satisfy just about any craving. With cucumbers, tomatoes, beans, lettuce and sprouts, it was chock full of succulent veggies; egg and peanut sauce added protein, not to mention layers of flavour; and the shrimp chips crumbled on top finished it off by lending a subtle, salty crunch.

The cassava leaf curry is one of those recipes that you think about when you are craving both comfort food and extreme nourishment at the same time. The amount of shallots and fresh turmeric in this dish are sure to provide a serious immunity boost. In addition, the cassava leaves provide such a green richness to the dish that someone remarked, “you can literally smell the chlorophyll”. Steamed rice was the perfect accompaniment to soak up all that goodness.

As the evening progressed from cooking to eating, the enjoyment continued with more great food, and conversation. Once again, we had an incredible spread of healthy potluck dishes including multiple salads, hearty lentil dishes, and one fantastic baba ganouj. Sadly, we missed out on Nancy’s beet hummus, which was accidentally left at home, but we look forward to trying it next time!

Big thanks to Emil and Idris for the approachable introduction to Indonesian cooking. With lots of ingredients being the key to this cuisine, the payoff is huge in the flavour.

If you missed the workshop, check out our photos and the Indonesian recipes, invite a friend (or two) over, and get cooking. You'll have a satisfying feast, and plenty of leftovers. Selamat makan (bon appetit)!

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Our workshops are fun, collaborative and hands-on. You don't need to be an expert to teach. Have an idea for a workshop? Email us! 

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