Indonesian-Australian chef and food writer, Lara Lee, is very much in tune with her roots. Her recent cookbook Coconut & Sambal, is a celebration of the Indonesian kitchen, inviting readers to immerse themselves in a culture known for its spices and unique combination of tastes like sweet, salty, sour, and bitter.
According to Lee, the key to creating a tasty Indonesian meal is balance—of textures, produce, and flavors. “A traditional Indonesian meal will feature vegetable, meat, and fish dishes prepared in different ways, such as steaming, frying, or sautéing,” she relayed in an interview with National Geographic.
Lee adds that the dish that best sums it up is nasi goreng. “Recipes vary, but most start with rice stir-fried with spice paste and a mix of vegetables, tofu or meat, all served with a crispy fried egg on top and kerupuk (crackers) on the side,” she further explains, adding that this dish is often eaten for breakfast.
Named as the Best Cookbook of Fall 2020 by The New York Times and Eater, Coconut & Sambal is Lee’s first book, and an homage to the culture she knows and admires. But before returning to her roots, Lee’s trained as a chef at Leiths School of Food and has spent time working in Michelin starred kitchens.
“I began my research with the doyenne of Indonesian cuisine, writer Sri Owen,” she explains how her research process came about. “Thanks to her, I was introduced to home cooks across Indonesia.” Lee then traveled around Indonesia for a whole year, collecting more than 300 recipes, which she later whittled them down to 85, adapting them to better suit her taste.
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