A virtual trip to the Fire Islands

A virtual trip to the Fire Islands – Bali is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the Indonesian archipelago, and few (including yours truly on her last visit some years ago) fail to fall in love with the steep verdant rice terraces, ancient rainforest, and in particular the exotic, flavoursome dishes. I’ve discovered a fab new book that takes me straight back there on a virtual tour.  In Fire Islands: Recipes from Indonesia, (published by Murdoch Books £25 hardback) Eleanor Ford gives a personal, intimate portrait of the country and its cooking, beyond the festival food of Bali, to the refined cooking of Java, and the spicy heart of Sumatra. Having spent both her childhood and adulthood exploring Indonesia, Eleanor’s cookbook presents the fascinating culinary variety that comes with a country that is made up of 17,000 – yes 17,000- islands and 300 ethnic groups, from the roadside warungs of Java to the no-order Padang joints of Sumatra and the beach restaurants of Lombok (which I recall were truly amazing).

For anyone lucky enough to be planning a trip, or wanting to relive a previous visit, Fire Islands will transport you to the bustling streets of Indonesia, where chilli-spiked sambals are served with rich noodle broths, and salty peanut sauce sweetens chargrilled saté sticks. Feasts of creamy coconut curries, stir-fries and spiced rice enjoyed in Indonesian homes will fill your kitchen with the aroma of ginger, tamarind, lemongrass and lime. Eleanor’s recipes celebrate the crunchy snacks and street food, the dry and aromatic, and the rich and creamy. And Eleanor doesn’t forget the sweet and sticky, with divine recipes for Green coconut pancakes and Black rice pudding with salted coconut cream. 

Eleanor Ford is a London-based food writer and the co-author of the award-winning cookbook Samarkand: Recipes and Stories from Central Asia. She has given talks at key venues from Asia House and Abergavenny Food Festival and has given interviews, cooked for journalists and written travel pieces in Olive Magazine and The Independent. And, excitingly for us, she will be giving a demonstration of some recipes from Fire Islands: Recipes from Indonesia at next month’s Middlesex Food Festival taking place in Sunbury.  

Here are a couple of delicious recipes to tempt you to buy the book.

Potato Tuturuga (Serves 2–4)

Lime leaves, mint and lemon basil perfume this spicy, savoury curry. Tuturuga is made by the Minahasen 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 meat-free as I think the potatoes cloaked in the spiced coconut milk are the best bit. 

500 g (1 lb 2 oz) potatoes, peeled
1 tablespoon oil
2 lime leaves
250 ml (1 cup) coconut milk
1 teaspoon of sea salt
small bunch of lemon basil leaves, shredded
small bunch of mint leaves, shredded
juice of ½ a lime

Bumbu spice paste:

4 small red Asian shallots, peeled
4 garlic cloves, peeled
3 large red chillies, half seeded
2 cm (¾ inch) ginger, peeled
3 cm (1¼ inches) of turmeric, peeled, or 1 teaspoon of ground turmeric
6 candlenuts or 10 blanched almonds

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

Cut the potatoes into 4–5 cm (1½–2 inch) 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 makes a great accompaniment to roast chicken or steamed fish.

Toasted coconut brittle

This gorgeous amber rubble is my secret ingredient. Sprinkled over shop-bought coconut ice cream it makes an instant fuss-free dessert, lifting an already sumptuous treat to new heights

350 g (1½ cups) caster sugar

1 tablespoon golden syrup

125 g (½ cup) butter  

⅓teaspoon salt 

200 g (4 cups) toasted coconut flakes  

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

½ teaspoon bicarbonate of soda  

Line a baking tray with parchment. Put 60 ml (¼ cup) water, the sugar, golden syrup, butter and salt into a large pan and cook gently without stirring until the sugar melts. Turn the heat to high. Cook as the sugar first bubbles, then caramelises and eventually reaches the hard-crack stage or 154°C (309°F) on a sugar thermometer.

Immediately remove from the heat and mix in the coconut flakes. Quickly add the vanilla and the bicarbonate of soda and stir to incorporate them without overmixing.

Quickly tip the mixture onto the baking tray and use the back of a spoon to smooth it out thinly, not worrying about being neat or even. Leave to cool and harden.

Snap into pieces or smash to a rubble in a mortar. Store the brittle in an airtight container. It will keep for a couple of months

Mrs Foodie

Twickenham Tribune

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