Spicy explosion of flavour
AUSTRALIANS find it hard to come to any workable consensus about what “real” Australian food is, a problem that appears to become ever more complicated as our population diversifies.
And to be honest, with all due respect for the hard-working English chefs, having a heritage steeped in colonial British cuisine was never a great starting point.
But if you think our confusion over the primacy of lamb roast, meat pies or barbecued prawns is divisive, consider our neighbours to the north. Indonesia consists of more than 13,000 islands, 300 ethnic groups and 700 languages. That is an array of cultural practices, experiences and textures that is unmatched anywhere on earth.
In their national foods, there is no less diversity. While nasi goreng, satay and gado-gado have been exported to the far corners of the globe, even the simplest list of well-loved uniquely identifiable dishes would stretch into the dozens.
Yet perhaps Indonesia’s unifying theory of eating is not, in fact, the recipes, but rather what you’ll find alongside at each and every meal — sambal.
Sambal is a Javanese word that describes a spicy condiment based on hot chillies. At its most basic, being simply chillies and a little vinegar, it’s known as sambal oelek. This can be found in most supermarkets.
From there, regional variations explode into an elegant celebration of flavour. From lemongrass and garlic infusions to coconut and fermented shrimp, from soy sauce and palm sugar to lime and crispy shallots. There are different sambals for different dishes, and local specialties that you’ll only ever try if you travel.
And not all sambals are excessively hot — many formulas use de-seeded chillies for an aromatic and less intense version, particularly when delicate seafood is on the menu.
SAMBAL CORAL TROUT
serves / 4
1 young coconut
1 red onion, finely sliced
4cm piece ginger, cut into fine batons 4 cloves garlic, sliced
2 kaffir lime leaves, finely sliced
2 tbsp vegetable oil
2 tsp sesame oil
600g coral trout fillet, diced
1 tbsp sambal oelek paste
1 bunch snake beans, cut into 7cm lengths
2 tsp palm sugar, grated
6 green shallots, finely sliced on the bias
¼ bunch coriander leaves 8 Vietnamese mint leaves, torn Steamed rice and lime wedges, to serve
Pierce the coconut and drain the water. Reserve this for another use. Open the coconut and use a large kitchen spoon to remove the soft flesh, then slice into fine strips.
Fry the onion, ginger, garlic and lime leaves in vegetable oil and sesame oil in a wok over a high heat for three minutes, until very aromatic. Add the coral trout and sambal, then cook for two minutes, until the fish begins to change colour.
Mix in the snake beans and palm sugar and cook for one more minute, then fold in the shallots and herbs. Serve with rice and lime.
PERHAPS INDONESIA’S UNIFYING THEORY OF EATING IS NOT IN FACT THE RECIPES, BUT RATHER WHAT YOU’LL FIND ALONGSIDE AT EACH AND EVERY MEAL — SAMBAL.