Cookbook Review: Fire Islands: Recipes from Indonesia, by Eleanor Ford

A collection of enchanting, accessible dishes, from the refined cooking of Java & the spicy heart of Sumatra, to the festival foods of Bali.

By
A loving guide to the Indonesian islands, celebrating both the people and the food.
Overall
4.5

What makes a paradise? While we immediately think of the landscape, it’s the people and food that buoy the obvious to create those fond memories or dreams.

Indonesia comprises a series of islands, each with their own culture, religion, landscape and food. Eleanor Ford’s impressive new cookbook takes the reader of a loving journey, not just of the food, but of the people and places. Opening with a fascinating overview of the islands and the spirit of Indonesia, she follows up with a culinary journey through the Archipelago islands, providing a few paragraphs on six destinations, from Bali, Java and Sumatra to a generalised summary of the eastern islands.

This detailed opening to Fire Island sets the scene for the variety of dishes to follow. It highlights the connections between culture and food, and offers a true foodie the right context to appreciate the recipes on offer. The recipes endeavour to adapt home cooking from across the islands, having been sourced from both homes and chefs.

Ford discusses the importance of balancing a meal, and proceeds to organise the recipes by texture and flavour across nine chapters: Crunchy Snacks and Street Food, Rich & Creamy, Dry & Aromatic, Fragrant Broths & Tangy Sauces, Sweet & Sticky, and so on. There’s ideas for a vegetarian feast, one dish meals, and an introductory meal for those unsure of the cuisine.

Each chapter has an introduction, large stunning photographs of the food and scenery, and a feature page hidden amongst the recipes that highlight a specific use of ingredients – for example, using ingredients for fragrance, for bitterness and sourness, for heat, for spice, for richness, etc.

The recipes are laid out in two columns with a paragraph to introduce and explain the dish in western terminology. The instructions are in paragraph form, which can make it easy to lose your place, but the straight forward cooking methods make them easy to follow. I particularly like the final section on what to do with leftovers.

Fire Islands: Recipes from Indonesia is a beautiful, hardcover recipe book that could easily take pride of place in a kitchen library. As one unfamiliar with the cuisine, the book was enlightening and easy to follow. It has not only provided me with a new appreciation of Indonesian food, but of the cultures themselves. I tried out two recipes from the book, and found both to be well worth my time.

Pandang-style Eggs (page 74)

For a recipe so ridiculously easy, it garnered a lot of attention at my dinner party and will most likely become my default style of eating boiled eggs.

The eggs themselves are simply hard-boiled, cooled, then peeled. It’s the sauce that makes these so special. The Bumbu spice paste contains only five easy-to-find ingredients. Some are ground together in a blender with a little coconut milk, then the lot is tossed into a pot to boil. The cooked eggs are thrown in last to reheat in the sauce before serving.

Any leftover sauce can be reheated to use with more boiled eggs, but menu ideas at the bottom of the page suggest other recipes to pair with this dish. It’s a winner all-round.

Olah Olah (page 66)

This outstanding vegetable curry uses stir fried vegetables and a rich sauce to add taste and texture. To make it vegetarian-friendly, simply skip the oyster sauce and optional shrimp paste. It’s superb enough without either.

The recipe suggests this dish serves 4-6, but only if they’re referring to armies, not people. It’s an enormous amount of food that can easily be scaled back if you don’t want several take-home containers of leftovers. In cooking the full volume however, I was able to share the leftovers beyond my dinner party and have even more left over for myself. It was such a popular dish (especially by the non-vegetarians in my group!) that multiple people asked for a copy of the recipe.

Olah Olah is perhaps one of the better non-meat curries I’ve come across and, going by the reaction of all those who tried it, the dish will find it’s way to your favourites list too.

Reviewed by Rod Lewis
Twitter: @StrtegicRetweet

Distributed by: Murdoch Books
Released: May 2019
RRP: $49.99

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