Regular readers of this nonsense will remember that I have been "into" Indonesian food for a number of years now, that number being, say...5. I mean, I'd tasted it in America a couple of times but it was either in people's homes or in faraway places. It wasn't until we got here that I had enough potent doses for the addiction to take root.
After I was hooked, I began my hunt for a high-quality, well-written, modern, authentic Indonesian/Malaysian cookbook. In English. With pictures. This is no trivial set of requirements it seems, cos nothing out there fit the bill. The Sri Owen books seemed OK in many respects, but there were no photos. And since I only know what about 6 or 8 Indonesian dishes are supposed to look like, I needed a bit more guidance for the rest.
The point to all this is, I'd been searching/waiting/thinking about writing one for some time before I found Cradle of Flavor. It's not perfect, but it's pretty darn good. The recipes themselves are extremely thorough and clearly written, and though they usually include quite a bit too much detail, that detail can come in handy if your mind's not 100% committed to cooking that day. The stories behind the recipes and the author's travels in general do an elegant job of tying everything together into a very personal whole.
I've been working my way through it via a pretty non-standard approach. I've been cooking the things nobody else had claimed yet on the Cooking With Cradle of Flavor thread, so I haven't even really gotten around to cooking any of the sure-fire winners like rendang yet.
I guess it's not hugely surprising to see what the last things to be chosen are: recipes featuring exotic ingredients like oxtail or black glutinous rice; also those involving "messy" techniques like deep frying or unusual (for the Western cook) preparations such as whole fish.
The biggest surprise so far is how really easy all of the recipes have been. Some of them are barely even recipes...the Garlic-Marinated Tempeh (tempe goreng) from a while back is basically just cutting up tempeh, soaking it in some water, and then frying it. Today I'm making Pan-Seared Tamarind Tuna (tuna goreng), and it's really just tuna marinated in tamarind paste and then sauteed in peanut oil.
I mean, it's not all quite that simple. There are plenty of recipes with medium-size ingredient lists (10 or more), and many of those recipes utilize more than one cooking technique to deliver depth of flavor, which is apparently a very Indonesian thing to do. For example, Twice-Cooked Tofu with Coriander (tahu goreng bacem) took some time because you first make a marinade for the tofu, reduce it completely with the tofu in the pan, and then deep-fry the tofu after that.
As I mentioned, I haven't made too many recipes that would be my first choices thus far, but due to a shrimp-defrosting snafu, I had to make Stir-fried Shrimp Sambal with very little warning, and that is something that my little meal-planning sniper would have in its sights. It's a simple preparation (shallots, candlenuts, garlic, palm sugar, shrimp paste, and chiles) that's extremely delicious.