Indonesia is not only a land of temples, tea plantations and rice paddies, I discovered last year; it is also a land of extraordinarily good food. The tropical climate, tempered by high mountains, leads to an abundance of ingredients, and the ethnic mix that includes Malay, Melanesian, Chinese, Japanese, Arab and Indian, overlaid with colonial Dutch, produces spicy, exuberant dishes of great originality, all served with rice as the famous rijsttafel.
To reproduce such largesse here -- two dozen dishes are not unusual -- would require a week, so the following menu is no more than an evocation of the most enjoyable dishes, made with ingredients that could be found here in Washington without too much trouble. Flavorings such as shrimp paste, tamarind and galingale (which are available only in specialty markets) were avoided, and only Indonesian soy sauce, for which regular dark soy sauce can be substituted, was used. Lemon grass, a fragant herb which tastes like its name, is now available in some oriental markets, but can be omitted.
The menu opens with barbecued chicken, unusual in that the chicken is fully cooked in a spicy sauce before the pieces are browned on the grill. Then comes one of the famous satay kebabs in which meat or poultry is marinated in a spicy soy sauce, then broiled over charcoal. Lamb is used in this recipe, though beef is equally good.
A characteristic ground peanut sauce is served with the satays and the same sauce forms the basis of a dressing for vegetable salad, an Indonesian standby. A variety of roots and greens are lightly cooked (for safety in a tropical climate), then left to marinate up to an hour at room temperature.
With these three main dishes comes a variety of accompaniments: fritters of fresh corn with crab meat, a hot relish of daikon radish and a mixture of toasted coconut and peanuts to sprinkle over all. To these could be added fried banana, any chutney and a cooling mixture of grated cucumber with yogurt and chopped mint.
Dessert, if you wish to serve one, is easy: the widest possible selection of papaya, pineapple, mango, star fruit, guava and other tropical fruits. Set the spread on a cloth of batik, to give a touch of atmosphere, and give each guest a big bowl and leave them to compose the mixture they like best. Timetable
From the work viewpoint, this menu is pleasantly spaced, with a good deal of preparation done ahead. After a flurry of activity about an hour before the feast, all that remains is to fry the fritters and grill the chicken and lamb -- surely a job for volunteers.
Up to 2 weeks ahead: Make peanut sauce and store in refrigerator. Toast coconut with peanuts and store in airtight container.
Up to 2 days ahead: Cook chicken and refrigerate.
Up to 24 hours ahead: Make daikon relish and refrigerate. Boil rice, prepare for reheating, and refrigerate.
Up to 12 hours ahead: Marinate lamb cubes and keep in refrigerator. Prepare vegetables for salad and refrigerate.
Up to 6 hours ahead: Make mixture for corn fritters and refrigerate.
1 hour before serving: Light the grill and set the table. Thread lamb cubes on skewers. Arrange vegetable salad on a platter, spoon over sauce and leave at room temperature. Dry coconut and peanut mixture in a low oven; transfer it to a serving bowl. Transfer radish relish to serving bowl.
20 minutes before serving: Heat oven to 350 degrees.
15 minutes before serving: Reheat rice in oven. Grill chicken and lamb kebabs. Reheat chicken sauce on top of stove. Fry corn fritters. BARBECUED CHICKEN IN COCONUT SAUCE (Ayam Panggang Besengek) (12 servings)
4 shallots, cut in 2 to 3 pieces
2 cloves garlic, cut in 2 to 3 pieces
8 macadamia nuts or 16 blanched almonds
2 teaspoons chili powder
2 teaspoons turmeric
2 teaspoons ground coriander
2 blades fresh lemon grass or the zest of 1 lemon
1/4 cup peanut oil
3 2 to 2 1/2 pound frying chickens, each cut in 8 pieces
1 quart coconut milk (below)
In a food processor or blender, pure'e the shallots, garlic, macadamia nuts or almonds, chili powder, turmeric, coriander, and lemon grass.
In a skillet or saute' pan, heat oil and fry the shallot mixture over low heat 1 to 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Add half the chicken pieces and cook gently until it is a deep yellow on all sides. Note: Do not allow oil to become too hot or spices will scorch. Take out chicken and cook remaining pieces in the same way.
Stir in coconut milk, replace all chicken pieces, cover, and simmer for 15 to 20 minutes, stirring occasionally, until chicken is tender. Drain chicken pieces and reserve sauce. Chicken and sauce can be prepared up to 2 days ahead and kept covered in refrigerator. Note: Store chicken and sauce separately.
To finish, light the grill and cook chicken pieces close to the coals for about 5 minutes on each side until well browned. Bring sauce to a rolling boil and cook for 3 to 5 minutes until it thickens slightly. Serve sauce separately.
To prepare grated fresh coconut, choose a fresh coconut and shake it to be sure it contains liquid. With an ice pick or awl, pierce two of the "eyes" and drain off liquid. With the dull edge of a cleaver or heavy knife, tap the coconut about one third down from the eyes while turning the nut slowly. Eventually you should hear a faint cracking sound, an indication that you have found the nut's fault line. Continue tapping until nut separates into 2 pieces. Remove top, pull out coconut meat, and pare off brown skin. Grate meat in a food processor or blender.
To prepare coconut milk, pour 4 cups boiling water over 4 cups grated fresh coconut or unsweetened shredded coconut. Leave until cool, pure'e in a blender or food processor, and then strain, pressing to extract all the liquid from the pulp. INDONESIAN LAMB KEBAB (Satay Kambing) (Makes 12 kebabs)
Beef -- preferably a tender cut of steak -- is excellent grilled as satay also.
3 shallots, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, crushed
3 tablespoons dark soy sauce
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
2 teaspoons ground coriander
2 teaspoons ginger
2 tablespoons white vinegar
2 tablespoons oil
3 pounds boned leg or shoulder of lamb, cut in 3/4-inch cubes
Peanut sauce (see below), for serving
In a large deep bowl combine shallots, garlic, soy sauce, red pepper, coriander, ginger, vinegar, and oil. Add lamb cubes and mix until thoroughly coated with spices. Cover and refrigerate at least 3 hours, or up to 12 hours.
To finish, light the grill. Thread lamb on 12 wooden or metal skewers and grill fairly close to the coals until brown but lamb is still pink in the center, 4 to 6 minutes on each side. Serve with peanut sauce. VEGETABLE SALAD (Gado-Gado) (12 servings)
In Indonesia, gado gado is often served by itself, or simply with boiled rice.
1/2 of small head cabbage, shredded
8 ounces bean sprouts
8 ounces green beans, cut in 2 to 3 pieces
1 small cauliflower, divided into flowerets
1 pound fresh spinach
1 cucumber, peeled, seeded, and cut in sticks
Peanut sauce (see below)
To prepare the vegetables, put cabbage in a bowl, pour over boiling water to cover and leave 1 minute; drain cabbage thoroughly. Repeat for bean sprouts, leaving them only 10 seconds.
Cook green beans in boiling salted water until tender but still firm, 3 to 5 minutes; drain, refresh with cold water and drain thoroughly. Cook cauliflower in boiling salted water until tender but still firm, 5 to 7 minutes; drain thoroughly.
Wash spinach thoroughly, discarding stems. Put it in a large pan with 1/2 inch water, bring to a boil, cover and cook over high heat until just wilted, 1 to 2 minutes. Drain and chop very coarsely.
All vegetables can be prepared up to 12 hours ahead and kept covered in the refrigerator.
An hour before serving, arrange vegetables in piles on a rectangular platter or in wedges on a round platter. Spoon sauce over vegetables and leave to marinate 30 minutes to 1 hour at room temperature. PEANUT SAUCE (Bumbu Satay) (Makes 3 cups or 12 servings)
A food processor or blender is a boon for this sauce.
1 1/2 cups shelled fresh peanuts
2 tablespoons peanut oil
1/2 onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, peeled
1/2 teaspoon dried hot peppers
1 tablespoon ginger
1 teaspoon brown sugar
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 cups hot water, more if needed
Salt and pepper to taste
In a frying pan, fry peanuts in the oil, stirring constantly until browned. Transfer them to a food processor or blender with the onion, garlic, hot pepper, ginger, brown sugar, and lemon juice. Pure'e until very smooth, adding a little hot water if necessary so the mixture churns well.
Work in more hot water, adding enough to make a sauce that is thick enough to coat a spoon. Transfer sauce to a saucepan and simmer for 2 minutes, stirring. Taste it for seasoning.
Peanut sauce can be made up to 2 weeks ahead and kept covered in the refrigerator. CRAB AND CORN FRITTERS (Dadar Kepiting) (Makes about 48 2-inch fritters)
Chopped cooked shrimp (udang) can be substituted for the crab meat, and 6 cups frozen corn kernels for fresh.
6 ears fresh corn
1 medium onion, grated
1 teaspoon ground coriander
2 cloves garlic, crushed
2 tablespoons chopped Italian parsley
3 eggs, beaten to mix
1/2 cup crab meat
1/3 cup flour
Salt and pepper
Vegetable oil, for frying
Cut kernels from ears of corn with a sharp knife, pressing out milk from cob with back of knife.
Mix kernels with onion, coriander, garlic, parsley, eggs, crab meat, flour, and salt and pepper to taste. Mixture should be the consistency of pancake batter; add more flour if necessary. Mixture can be prepared up to 6 hours ahead and kept in refrigerator.
Fry fritters shortly before serving: In a frying pan heat about 1 inch oil. Drop tablespoonfuls of mixture into the oil to form 2-inch rounds. Fry briskly until brown, about 2 minutes, turn and brown the other side. Note: Stand back from the pan, as corn kernels can burst during frying.
Drain fritters on paper towels and keep in a warm oven with the door open while frying remaining fritters. Serve them as soon as possible. DAIKON RADISH RELISH (Atjar Lobak) (Makes 2 cups or 12 servings)
This recipe is good made with any crisp vegetable such as red radishes or cucumber.
1 medium daikon radish ( 1/2 pound)
1/2 teaspoon salt, or to taste
2 tablespoons white vinegar
1/2 onion, thinly sliced
1 fresh mild chili, seeded and chopped
1 fresh hot chili, seeded and chopped
1 tomato, peeled, seeded and chopped
Peel and thinly slice radish. Coarsely chop slices and at once add salt and vinegar and mix well.
Stir in onion, chilies, and tomato; cover and chill. Relish can be made up to 24 hours ahead and refrigerated. Taste for seasoning shortly before serving. COCONUT WITH PEANUTS (Serundeng) (Makes 3 cups or 12 servings)
If using peanuts that are already toasted, freshen them by baking in the oven 3 to 5 minutes before mixing with the coconut.
1 tablespoon peanut oil
1 onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 cups grated fresh coconut or shredded unsweetened coconut
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 tablespoon ground coriander
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon Indonesian soy sauce
1 cup unsalted peanuts, toasted
In a frying pan, heat oil and fry onion and garlic until soft and lightly browned.
In a bowl, mix coconut with sugar, coriander, lemon juice, soy sauce, peanuts, and onion mixture. Spread coconut mixture on a shallow tray and toast in a 350-degree oven for 15 to 20 minutes, stirring often, until brown and crisp.
If peanuts are fresh, toast them also in the oven for about 15 minutes until brown, stirring occasionally.
Mix coconut and peanuts and leave to cool. Store in an airtight container up to 2 weeks. Note: If serundeng has been prepared more than 5 days ahead, dry it 5 for 10 minutes in a low oven before serving. BOILED RICE (12 servings)
3 cups rice
Oil for baking dishes and foil
Bring a very large pan of salted water to a boil. Add rice, stir, then boil for 10 to 12 minutes until just tender. Drain and rinse with hot water to wash away starch. Drain very thoroughly and let rice cool. Spread it in lightly oiled shallow baking dishes. Press a piece of oiled foil on top. Rice can be cooked up to 24 hours ahead and refrigerated. Reheat it 10 to 15 minutes in a 350-degree oven, then stir with a fork before serving.