Monday, March 30, 2020


If you've ever cooked Indonesian food, you've noticed that the proportion of ground coriander (ketoembar) seed to turmeric (koenjit) powder is often the same (2:1), irrespective of the dish. Other ingredients that occur regularly, in standard measures, are galangal (lengkoeas), lemon grass (sereh), Chinese keys (temo koentji), plus tamarind (asem) and shrimp paste (trassi).
And, of course, the standards: garlic, ginger, chilies.
Onions or shallots.

Frequently the cooking progression is fry whatever till fragrant, add a splash of whatever or the main ingredient. Then add another splash, or cover and bring up to a boil, turn low, simmer till the oil comes out.

So all things considered, the main differences between various dishes is the amount of acid, the intensity of coconut, the chili content, and the textures.
Or whether one or more of these factors is missing.

Garnishes (crumbled peanuts, chives, fried onions or crusty bits, or fragmentive things of some sort) further differentiate dishes.

Lunch was curry soup with small bits of meat, plenty green stuff, dashes of fish sauce and a squeeze of citrus, sliced green chili, over rice stick noodles. No garnish, because I didn't think of anything in time.
There was, of course, sambal.

Sambal is fundamental.

Sambal (chili paste) is the great be-all and end-all of condiments. It's Dutch, Indonesian, Malay, Surinamese, and Antilenyo. Slighty differently spelled, it's also Ceylonese, and with entirely different names, the Burmese, Thais, Laotians, Cambodians, and Viets are also familiar with it. The name quite probably derives from Sinhala, and spread with Indonesian merchants as well as the V.O.C. imperialists throughout the archipelago, later also showing up in the Dutch West Indies, Anglo Indian kitchens, and grocery stores, supermarkets, and restaurants, all over the Netherlands.

What is added to the chili paste, and whether it is cooked in any way, determines what kind of sambal it is, but even if the sambal on the table is highly complicated, it frequently has sambal oelek right next to it. Sambal oelek is plain ground chili paste with a little salt added, and sometimes a little lime juice. It can be found at grocery stores in the civilized world.

Sriracha Sauce, in case you were wondering, is a more liquid form of sambal, which makes life or work in the suburbs (Marin, San Mateo) bearable.

If you ain't got sambal, you ain't got nuttin'.

Just saying.

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