Tuesday 20 August 2019

Fire and spice - sun-drenched Indonesian recipes


Steamed fish parcels with lemon basil
Steamed fish parcels with lemon basil
Golden vegetable stir-fry
Potato tuturuga
Fire Islands: Recipes from Indonesia by Eleanor Ford (£25, Murdoch Books). Photography by Kristin Perers.

Bring a taste of paradise to the table with these sun-drenched Indonesian recipes by Eleanor Ford.

Potato tuturuga

Potato tuturuga

Lime leaves, mint and lemon basil perfume this spicy, savoury curry. Tuturuga is made by the Minahasan people of North Sulawesi, where the name means 'turtle' - the original meat cooked with potatoes in this red spice paste. Today chicken or beef is more typical, but I keep mine meatfree as I think the potatoes cloaked in the spiced coconut milk are the best bit. Serves 2-4

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500g (1lb 2oz) potatoes, peeled

1 tbsp oil

2 lime leaves

250ml (1 cup) coconut milk

1 tsp sea salt

Small bunch of lemon basil leaves, shredded

Small bunch of mint leaves, shredded

Juice of ½ lime

For the bumbu spice paste

4 small red Asian shallots, peeled

4 garlic cloves, peeled

3 large red chillies, half seeded

2cm (¾in) ginger, peeled

3cm (1¼in) turmeric, peeled, or 1 tsp ground turmeric

6 candlenuts or 10 blanched almonds


Start by making the bumbu spice paste. Roughly chop the fresh ingredients and grind to a paste in a food processor, adding a little water if needed to help it come together.

Cut the potatoes into 4-5cm (1½-2in) chunks.

Heat the oil in a pan that will be large enough to hold the potatoes later.

Scrape in the bumbu and fry until fragrant and the rawness has gone. Add the lime leaves and wilt in the heat of the spices. Add the potatoes, coconut milk and salt and top up with just enough water to cover the potatoes. Bring to a slow boil and cook uncovered until the potatoes are tender and the sauce has reduced to a good consistency, about 20-30 minutes.

Leave to cool a little then stir through the lemon basil and mint. Taste for seasoning and brighten the flavours with a zap of lime juice.

Menu ideas

This also makes a great accompaniment to roast chicken or steamed fish.


Golden vegetable stir fry

Golden vegetable stir-fry

Sunshine colours of gold, orange and turmeric-stained yellow sing in this vegetable stir-fry. A good accompaniment for a rich meal. Serves 4


2 tbsp oil

1 egg

1 lemongrass stick, trimmed and well bruised

2 lime leaves

½ tsp salt

1 tsp sugar

200g (7oz) sweetcorn, fresh or defrosted

100g (3½oz) baby corn, sliced into 3cm (1¼in) on diagonal

100g (3½oz) carrots, cut into julienne

50g (2oz) green beans, sliced into 3cm (1¼in) on diagonal

2 spring onions (scallions), sliced into 3cm (1¼in) on diagonal

3 tbsp Chinese celery leaves, shredded

For the bumbu spice paste

3cm (1¼in) turmeric, peeled, or 1 tsp ground turmeric

2 garlic cloves, peeled

3 candlenuts or 6 blanched almonds

1 tsp coriander seeds

½ tsp peppercorns


Start by making the bumbu spice paste. Roughly chop all the ingredients and use a pestle and mortar to grind them to a rough paste.

Heat a wok over a medium-high heat. Add the oil and scramble the egg until dry and crumbly (I know this will be against your instincts, but go with it).

Add the bumbu, whole lemongrass and lime leaves and mix well. Season with the salt and sugar.

Add the sweetcorn, baby corn and carrots and stir-fry until beginning to soften.

Don't be concerned by a crowded pan; this is typical in Indonesia unlike the flash stir-fries of China. Add the green beans and spring onions and continue to stir-fry until cooked through.

Serve scattered with Chinese celery leaves.

Menu ideas

For a vegetarian meal, this makes a good pairing for Padang-style eggs or tofu fritters. Or try it alongside lemongrass fish sate or roasted coconut chicken.

I can happily eat this on its own too, in which case this amount serves two.


Steamed fish parcels with lemon basil

Steamed fish parcels with lemon basil

Opening your own banana leaf parcel at the table to reveal a delicately fragranced fish fillet brings pleasing drama to a meal. If you can't find banana leaves, use foil instead, but they are worth seeking out in Asian supermarkets for the subtle herbal taste they impart. Serves 4


4 x 150g (5½oz) skinless white fish fillets

Salt and pepper

Juice of ½ lemon

2 tbsp oil

200ml (generous ¾ cup) coconut milk

Banana leaves or foil, for wrapping

30g (1oz) lemon basil or Thai basil

1 bird's eye chilli, seeded and sliced

1 large tomato, sliced into 8 rounds

For the bumbu spice paste

1 lemongrass stick

1 large red chilli, seeded

1 bird's eye chilli (optional, for heat)

3 small red Asian shallots

3 garlic cloves

2cm (¾in) galangal, skin scrubbed

1cm (½in) ginger, peeled

1cm (½in) turmeric, peeled, or

½ tsp dried turmeric


In a bowl, toss the fish fillets with lemon juice, salt and pepper and leave to marinate out of the fridge whilst you prepare the bumbu.

Trim the lemongrass to the pale white and lilac part, bruise with the handle of a knife then finely slice. Roughly chop the remaining bumbu ingredients; blend everything to a paste in a food processor or high-speed blender. Adding a little water will help the blades bring everything together.

Heat the oil in a small frying pan and cook the bumbu over a medium heat, stirring often, for about 10 minutes until the raw garlic taste has gone and the oil separates from the spices.

Add the coconut milk and bumbu to the fish, turning to coat the fillets well.

Cut 8 pieces of softened banana leaves, each large enough to wrap a fillet. Lay them out in double thickness. Lay a generous layer of lemon basil leaves on each and sit a fillet on top, making sure you include all the coconutty marinade.

Scatter a little chilli over the top followed by 2 slices of tomato, then bury under another mound of lemon basil. Wrap the parcels well, securing with bamboo skewers or a ribbon of banana leaf. If you have time, leave to marinate in the fridge for up to 4 hours.

Preheat the oven to 180°C (350°F/gas mark 4). Space out the parcels on a baking sheet. Bake for 20 minutes and leave to rest for 5 minutes before opening the parcels at the table.

Chef's note

We tried spiced fish parcels in Java that my husband loved so much, he would have them as the lead recipe. The 4 fish fillets are coated in a bumbu spice paste made from the following: 4 large red chillies (seeded), 2 lime leaves, 3 candlenuts or 6 blanched almonds, 3 garlic cloves, 1 lemongrass stick, 2cm (¾in) kencur, 1cm (½in) turmeric, 1 tsp coriander seeds, 1 tbsp tamarind paste, 1 tsp salt, ½ tsp sugar, 1 egg and 1 tbsp oil. Wrap in parcels and cook as method (left).


Extracted from Fire Islands: Recipes from Indonesia by Eleanor Ford (£25, Murdoch Books). Photography by Kristin Perers

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