Coconut & Sambal: Recipes from my Indonesian Kitchen

The Cuisine of Southeast Asia

Reviewed by Naomi Bussin

Of course it would be fascinating to travel to Southeast Asia.  After a year of being firmly rooted, I am not trying to sell you on armchair travelling.  But here are a few truths.  Pandemic or no pandemic, 1. I am not getting to Indonesia anytime soon 2. Indonesian food is delicious and 3. it’s interesting to learn about something new.  So, here we go.  

Coconut & Sambal was a small but mighty end-of-2020 book that gathered a lot of buzz. Author Lara Lee is an Australian born and trained chef currently living and working in London, England.  This book celebrates her Indonesian heritage and is targeted to the home cook.  

Coconut and sambal, a spicy condiment, are staples in the Indonesian kitchen. Sambal is customized in every kitchen but generally is made out of fresh or dried chilis, enhanced with a combination of garlic, ginger, lemongrass, tomatoes, citrus and/or fermented shrimp paste.    

Given the importance of sambal, I clearly had to make one. I chose tomato sambal, which was made of long red chilis and cherry tomatoes with some aromatics. It was simple enough to make, pureeing the ingredients and then sauteing them, although it did take a bit of time to cook.  I used my sambal for Oven Baked Fish with Tomato Sambal, which was easy enough to create, using the sambal with some lemongrass, lime and salt. It worked perfectly, and was spicy, salty, sweet and citrusy, just as I hoped.  I cooked it in the oven, but you could BBQ it in banana leaves or foil when the weather permits.  I cooked my fish with coconut rice, to cover all my Coconut & Sambal bases. The recipe and cooking method for the rice was different than usual and I was skeptical but it did cook properly.   

We also loved the Spiced Balinese Roast Chicken. Like a sambal, you make a spice blend of garlic, shallots, ginger and chilis and fry it, slather it over chicken and then cook it in the oven.  The chicken is placed above pieces of blanched kale (we added potatoes), which gets flavoured by the delicious juices. This was a keeper, although it does require multiple steps.  I feel that this can be adapted for the BBQ one way or another to make it simpler, but it was very good.  

I already like Nasi Goreng, Indonesian Fried Rice with Chicken and this bright yellow version, topped with fried eggs and homemade peanut sauce, did not disappoint.  Not a ton of work, just a lot of chopping.  

There are lots of other dishes to try, like Beef Rendang, a coconut milk curry, chili corn and easy no-churn Peanut and Banana Ice Cream.  Many vegetarian options and sample menus including dishes that will meet dietary restrictions.  Coconut & Sambal, delicious additions to your table, and your cookbook library.  

Naomi Bussin is a lawyer, mother of three and an accomplished cook. Food is her favourite subject and she reads cookbooks in her spare time.