Asian Roots; Spotlight Galangal

Asian Roots; Spotlight Galangal

Excuse my delay in writing  a new post; exam season is just about finished in the land of Indonesia, and it every bit as stressful as you’d expect in an Asian country. Marking tests takes it out of you mentally more than physically, and for some reason this makes my desire for writing to diminish.

So let me introduce you to my next series of informative blog posts; Asian Roots. In many ways it is a continuation of essential Indonesian ingredients, but the ingredients I’m spotlighting are a little more relevant in a broader Asian perspective, so you could view it as essential Asian ingredients, but I’ll be focusing on roots.

Initially there’s only three types of roots which I will be discussing; ginger, galangal, and tumeric. Many people will be fairly familiar with the first, and almost as much with the final one, though I’d imagine this will be only in a ground form. Ground versions are good, and quite essential to Indian food, but outside of that country, the trio are used primarily fresh and often in combination.

Over the course of the next three weeks, I aim to inform you all about these scary, yet really not so intimidating “Asian roots”. This series will then culminate in the trios, in my opinion, ultimate useage. The making of the world’s most tasty dish; Rendang.

Let’s kick off with the least known of the three, any my personal favourite; galangal. Pronounced “guh-lan-gal”, it is also known as “laos” and “langkuas” in Malay based languages. Like tumeric and ginger it is a rhizome, and can be confused with ginger.

Galangal – lighter in colour than ginger – photo credit to Food Republic

It is often referred to as Thai ginger. This is simply because it is to Thai cooking, what ginger is to Chinese. It is part of the Thai holy trinity in cooking. Together with lemongrass and kafir lime leaves, it forms the base for the majority of their soups and curries.

There is definitely a small flavour overlap with its more famous cousin, but ask any Southeast Asian Ibu, and they’ll tell you that you can’t substitute the two with each other. While there are some similarities, they are only slight and really, in many ways, they are polar opposites

In appearance, they are of similar size, though galangal is often slightly larger. Ginger is somewhat darker in colour, galangal is whiter, and tumeric is often a light yellowy red.

In terms of flavour profile, ginger and galangal are truly poles apart. I’ve seen some recipes which suggest you can substitute one for the other, but this is a bigger lie than the £350 million Brexit NHS pledge (Remainer and proud – slightly bitter too). Ginger is hot and spicy, whereas galangal is cooling, fragrant and pine like. Comparing them is like fire and ice.

To prepare, you can treat galangal in a number of ways. Just bear in mind whether or not you intend it to be edible or not. The texture is extremely wood like, so if you intend to let people eat it, it must be heavily processed beforehand. Pounding or processing it into a paste is the best way to incorporate it into your meal. Most Southeast Asia recipe’s that use it will have it in paste form. If not, cut it into a disk and use it much like bayleafs or kafir lime leaves; to flavour your dish and be discarded at the end. If you are making it into a paste, then be sure to remove the skin, if as a disk, then there’s no need. It’ll be discarded anyway.

When it comes to storing galangal, I typically prefer to buy it fresh and when needed. It can be stored for a week or two in the fridge. There are some people who suggest buying it, cutting it into disks and freezing it. I’m not saying this method is bad, but I just don’t think you get the same zing out of it after freezing.

Cut into disks like this to flavour soups and curries. Just insure to remove them before serving, as they’re next to inedible. Galangal is also best frozen in this form. Photo credit: Jacquelyn’s kitchen.

 If you wanted to start cooking with this cool root, then I’d suggest using it in a simple stir-fry. The following one is just an example, and is actually one of my go-to stir-fry recipes.

Spice paste

3 tablespoons lemon grass – finely chopped

1 inch piece of galangal – finely chopped and skin removed

4 chopped garlic cloves

3/4 teaspoon of ground tumeric

Stir fry ingredients and sauce

Any vegetables you desire – usually choose green beans and carrots.

Any meat or substitute ( I often use tofu or tempe – a fermented protein substitute)

1 1\2 teaspoon sugar

2 teaspoon oyster sauce

1 1\2 teaspoon fish sauce

Salt to taste and if needed.


1. Blitz the spice paste into a paste (simple right?).

2. In oil, stir fry veggies and meat until about half done.

3. Add in spice paste and cook it out. Ensuring to cook the other ingredients thoroughly.

4. Add in the seasonings.

5. Enjoy with rice.

It’s a simple recipe set right in southeast Asia, with a lot of inspiration from Cambodia. It’ll give you a good example of galangal’s interesting flavour. Aside from this recipe, it you really wanted to try experimenting with galangal, then a simple look into any Thai cookbook would give you untold inspiration.

So to recap, galangal; it’s got a cooling, piney taste. It’s very woody and can be frozen. It’s essential to Thai cooking, but certainly very present in Southeast Asian cuisine. Stay tuned for more on ginger and tumeric. 

IFC – Indonesian Fried Chicken or Ayam Penyet a.k.a DEATH BY CHILI.

FeaturedIFC – Indonesian Fried Chicken or Ayam Penyet a.k.a DEATH BY CHILI.

Hello everyone, it’s been a long time since I last posted, and I think it’s about time I revisit this much ignored blog. I’m back with an explosive new recipe, and a real twist on fried chicken.

OK, so first of all, a disclaimer; this is nothing like the fried chicken you’ve seen in the past. In fact, I only call it fried chicken, because it is deep fried. This is where the similarities end. There is no breading, but there is a crispy skin. There is no glaze or sauce, just a super spicy oily sambal. This is not a recipe for those who faint of stomach.

So here I give you ‘Ayam Penyet’ or in English – ‘Smashed Chicken’. Personally I think ‘death by chili chicken’ is more appropriate, but you be the judge.

4 simple ingredients – red and green bird’s eye chili, red onions and garlic – mixed with the frying oil will make the best sambal ever.

The recipe is very simple, anyone can do it, but it delivers with big spice, big flavours, crispy skin and juice meat. Oh and when I say big spice, I mean it. In this particular, recipe I used 60 birds eye chili, and would have used more, but the wife isn’t so good with spice.

So here we go, proceed with caution…

I’ve broken the recipe into 3 stages; poaching, sambal and frying.


Poaching liquid

  • Big saucepan full of water
  • Plenty of salt
  • 1 teaspoon white pepper
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric powder
  • 1/4 nutmeg grated


  • 26 small, green, birds eye chili
  • 34 red / orange birds eye chili – sizes can range
  • 3 medium size garlic
  • 3 big Asian shallots or one normal one
  • pinch of salt
  • pinch of sugar
  • 6-10 tablespoons of frying oil – see later


  • Wok half full of appropriate cooking oil (something that can handle high temperatures – sunflower, vegetable or canola)
  • 3 large chicken thighs


  1. First all, you need to poach your chicken. Take your saucepan full of water, and add in the seasonings listed. Bring it to the boil, and then reduce the heat until you get just below a simmer. You don’t want a rolling boil here. Then add your chicken and poach it for about 10 minutes. The aim here is pretty much cook the chicken until about 90% done. Once this is done, drain the chicken and put it in the fridge to fully cool down. This stage is essential to achieving crispy skin.
  2. .Prepare the Sambal, this is probably the energy intensive part of the process. Put all of  the ingredients into  mortar and pestle (or cobek and ulek if you’re lucky enough to have one). Then simply mash into a rough paste. You don’t a perfect paste, you should still be able to see large pieces of chili, but they should be flecked in and amongst much smaller pieces, see photos for the best idea.
This just about shows the consistency you’re aiming for – as you can see most of the chili has been based into a fine paste, but there are still a number of larger flakes.

Note: DO NOT, and I repeat DO NOT be tempted to use a blender or processor, and DO NOT finely chop it all beforehand to make it easier. It will simply not taste the same. Trust me here, I didn’t believe it at first and its true. You also really want that roughness about it, it shouldn’t be uniform and this can only be achieved by hand.

  1. Get your oil hot, just to the point that if you put a wooden chopstick into it, it begins to bubble away. Then add in your well drained and fully chilled chicken. By having the chicken fully chilled, you won’t over cook the chicken as you crisp the skin. Rather you’ll simply be reheating it. I recommend using a nice long pair of tongs for this, as even well drained chicken may cause some hot oil to go flying. Cook it until the outside becomes brown and crisp. I find this may take 6 – 8 minutes.
  1. Now comes the good bit, and possibly the most important. Your chicken should be cooling, but do not throw that oil away. Take about 6-10 tablespoons of it (start with 6 and add more as needed) and add it into a warming pan. Then take your sambal and cook it out for about 1-2 minutes on medium heat. Instantly your kitchen should come alive with the smell of chili garlic and onion. You’re not looking for colour, just for the larger pieces of chili to start to wilt. Using the oil which was used for cooking the chicken ensures an extra infusion of taste, and really makes the dish. You want the sambal to come out fair oily, because the oil is where the flavor is.
Crispy chicken on the Cobek waiting for its sambal
  1. Put your chicken into the cobek (if you have one, a plate if you don’t), and put a generous amount of the sambal onto its crispy skin. Next, take the Ulek and lightly smash the chicken open, exposing the juicy meat to the spicy sambal oil. Give it a minute to get to know each other, and you’re almost ready to eat.
‘Smashed’ chicken with the all the good sambal and oil soaking into that delicious meat.

Serving suggestions: You want at least 1 – 2 chicken thighs each. Preferably 2, of course, though no one’s judging you for taking 3. Serve all the chicken on one plate, or cobek, and people help themselves. My favourite accompaniment is a bed of plain white rice, with a little Kecap manis or sweet soy sauce dashed over the top. The rice is perfect for mopping up all that delicious oil. Have some milk or chilled water handy, this one will knock your socks off.



Essential Indonesian Ingredients – Sambal

Essential Indonesian Ingredients – Sambal

This is an additional article, and a follow up, to my previous article about Sambal Terasi. Sambal is so variable, and flexible, with such an importance to the cuisine, I felt it required an additional article to explain this.


Ok, so first of all, Sambal isn’t necessarilly an ingredient. It is more typically used as a condiment, and can be found in almost every Warung and Kaki Lima – street food vendors – in Indonesia.

If I had to give a metaphor, to help Westerners understand this amazing condiment, it would be this; Sambal is to Indonesia, what parmesan is to the Italians; Pepper to the French, and tomato kethup to the British. It is something on the side of every meal, which people add to their own taste.

That is where the similarities end though, because whereas my European examples take a “one size fits all” approach, the opposite is true in Indonesia. A large number of Indonesian dishes will have their own specific sambal, and each vendor of that dish, is likely to have their own version of it. Such is the importance of this condiment to the national cuisine, a vendor’s livelihood can often depend on his sambal quality, as much his, or her, main product.

To give you an example of this, let me refer to a rather funny altercation with my wife, as we went out in search of Mie Ayam – Chicken Noodles. It is one  of her favourite meals, and being Indonesian, she considers herself a sambal connoisseur. We went to a street vendor, and everything seemed great. The noodles were the right ones, and well cooked. The chicken tasted great, and the broth was perfect. Then came the sambal, which wasn’t the correct one for the dish, nor well made. We’ve NEVER eaten there again.

Now you can see its importance, let’s move on to how you eat with it. Now in England, we have two types of Ketchup eaters – the “to the siders” and the “go crazy, and pour all over.” In Indonesia, there is only “to the side”, and you add small amounts of it, to each bite you have, just a small amount mind, as it can overpower the taste. The only exception to this, is when eating soups, or broths, when you add the sambal to alter the flavour or spice, and this is entirely to taste.

If you’re interested in cooking, and eating, Indonesian food, always try to “Google” the dish you want to try, to see if it has its own sambal. If I ever cover a dish, with a specific sambal, I will ensure to post it alongside. Pairing the right sambal with an Indonesian meal, is almost as important as the cooking of the meal itself.

To end with, let me give you a quick recipe for the most basic of all sambals – Sambal Oelek. The name comes from Ulek, the stone pestal and mortar.



20 keriting chilies, long thin ones
4 garlic cloves
6 Indonesian shallots – 2 ordinary ones


  1. I like to pre-chop all my ingredient, before mashing them into a paste, so do this first.
  2. Add your chopped chilies, shallots, and garlic to you cobek and ulek-ulek, or mortar and pestle, add salt to help you grind it, then grind.
  3. Add in a splash of oil to bring it together.
  4. (Optional) put the mixture in a frying pan, and cook the paste for a minute or two. I prefer this, as it blends the flavours nicer, and mellows the garlic, and shallots a bit.
  5. Salt to taste.

Sambal Oelek is the base for most sambals, so it is a great place to begin. From here you can add a whole host of ingredients to replicate Indonesian recipes, or make your own. Popular ingredient would be – lime, lemon, various vinegars, sugar, tomatoes, terasi, spicier chilies, bell peppers, etc…

Sambal Oelek is also what is commonl referred to as “chili paste” in many recipes.





Sambal Terasi

Sambal Terasi

If there is one  thing, which is definitively Indonesian, it is Sambal. It is said you are not Indonesian, if you don’t like and know how to make it.

That’s all well and good, but there are almost as many different sambals, as there are islands in Indonesia. This isn’t even an exaggeration, the dish you eat will most likely have a certain sambal; different ethnic groups will have their own, and each ibu – ibu will have their own recipe for each one.


In this post, I’m just going to talk about one type in particular – sambal terasi. It is a favourite amongst Indonesians, especially those in Java. It is special, because of the rather pungent ingredient, terasi, or shrimp paste. For more information on this fragrant ingredient, check out my previous post.


This sambal is easy to make, its main ingredients are simply; chili, garlic, red onions, and terasi. Secondary to these, I added salt, lime juice, a little palm sugar and vegetable oil. There is a secret in the oil I use though. My wife’s aunty shared this with me, and it is a bit of a game changer. Don’t use new oil, but oil that has been previously used to fry something. Indonesians often use oil from frying ayam goreng – something I’ll post one day – for this recipe, I used oil leftover from making buffalo wings with my secret sauce. No I won’t be posting that.

Ayo! Mari bikin sambal terasi.

6 cabe keriting – the long red, curly chillies
3 cabe lombok – the big fat chillies
3 cabe rawit – birds eyes chillies
3 cloves of garlic
4 red shallots – the small Asian ones. If you can’t get them, use 1 1/2 ordinary ones.
1teaspoon of terasi
1 teaspoon of lime juice
1 teaspoon of palm sugar
3 teaspoons of used oil


I should say here, that everyone makes their sambal differently. It a matter of personal taste. Some people, for example, will even add one tomato to this. The number of chillies is flexible, I use lombok to bulk out the body, and keep the spicy level to something in between mild, and hell. You could use no lombok and up to 15-18 keriting, to make it spicier. Though, if you really want heat, add more birds eyes.

Ultimately, this recipe is super flexible, and these amounts just represent my – and by that, I mean my wife’s – personal preference.

1. Roast the terasi – put it in a frying pan, no oil and  heat it gently for 2-3 minutes.

2. Chop up your main ingredients – chilies, shallots, and garlic. Yeah, you’re going to pound them into a paste, but this just makes life easier.

3.  Get out your cobek and ulek – ulek, or mortar and pestle. Honestly, don’t use a blender, you’re looking for some whole chilli pieces, this is not hot sauce. Bash, smash, mash and grind the chilies, garlic, shallots, sugar and terasi into a loose paste. See the photo for a rough guide.


Note: use salt to help your grinding effort. It reduces the moisture, and increases the abrasive action of your grinder.

4. Heat the oil gently in a pan, then add this paste. Cook the paste out for about two minutes.

5. Finish off with the lime juice.


This makes an amazing dip, as a condiment for all forms of food – sauces, soups and anything else you want a hint of spice in.

Essential Indonesian ingredients – terasi

Essential Indonesian ingredients – terasi


Terasi,or shrimp paste as it is known to us westerners, is an ingredient, which will ultimately divide opinion of all those who read this. It is made by taking the shells of shrimps, and putting them through a fermentation process. The result, is a  paste, or sometimes sauce, which is quite essential to a variety of Indonesian dishes.

The role shrimp paste plays in Indonesian cuisine, is actually very subtle, yet surprisingly essential. It is to Indonesia, what fish sauce is to Thai, and Vietnamese cooking, and the anchovi to the French. It brings seasoning, and that precious hint of unami to your  cooking.

The paste is actually prevalent across South East Asia, with almost every country, and often every village, city or town, within  it, having their own varieties. Contrary to popular belief – I’m looking at you Wikipedia – it is not used in most dishes, but when it is, it simply can’t be substituted, yes anchovies and fish sauce do the same job, but the flavour is very different.


Note: Indonesia never uses fish sauce – I repeat – never uses fish sauce. Just because Thai and Vietnamese cuisine does, doesn’t mean all South East Asian countries do.

The paste, as previously stated, is essential to a number of dishes. It is most often used in fish or vegetable based dishes and quite often dips too. One condiment, to which it is beyond essential, is sambal terasi. A favourite accompaniment to many Indonesian dishes.

When using terasi, there are a few things to be aware off. First of all, it stinks. It beyond stinks. It is wretched. It will make you vomit. Second, you have to roast it gently before use. This will make it smell worse, and worse again, it will make your whole house stink – windows  wide open people. Third, start off with small amounts. Properly used it takes dishes to an entirely new level; over used and it will ruin them completely. Finally, it is worth it. To really appreciate it’s subtle flavour, you need to make sambal terasi; both with and without the terasi. Once you’ve tasted the difference, you’ll learn to accept the ingredient. Though you’ll never love it’s smell.

With this in mind, I’ll be exploring the vast world of sambal this weekend, and finishing with an authentic sambal terasi recipe.


Ketoprak – Indonesia’s Finest Vegetarian Street Food.

Ketoprak – Indonesia’s Finest Vegetarian Street Food.

Ketoprak, it is a meal which is truly more than the sum of its ingredients. First of all, I had salad, I hate meals with no meat, and I actually hate a lot of the individual ingredients of this dish. Yet, it is 100% true to say, that of all Indonesian street food, ketoprak is my favourite.


This is a salad with a difference. Salads as the West know them, are typically dressed with an oily vinaigrette, or some form of mayonnaise. With ketoprak, the dressing is a thick, salty, sweet peanut sauce with a light tang to it.

The actual components of the salad are very different too. Protein in the form of eggs and tofu, starch from bihun (vermicelli noodles) and ketupat (rice cake) and the vegetables are beansprouts and cucumber. Finally, it is finished off with crackers, and some glorious crispy fried shallots for that crunchy texture. And lets not forget about that thick peanut sauce.

All of these ingredients are simple, and on their own slightly bland, but when you bring them together and mix them together in this incredible sauce; you get the kind of meal that a deathrow convict would order for their final meal.

Most of these ingredients are simple to find anywhere, though it is possible you’ll struggle with the tamarind juice in the peanut sauce, and the starchy ketupat. Tamarind juice, or asam in Indonesian, is a tangy acidic liquid, and if can be processed directly from the tamarind fruit. Just ensure that it is the sour variety, and not the sweet one. If you can’t find it, then simply use lemon or lime juice which is watered down in water. Use a ratio of about 1:2; 1 part lime, or lemon, juice and two part water. Ketupat is an essential part of the dish, and some Asian superstores may sell packs which help you make your own, ask for ketupat or rice cakes. If its not possible to find it, it can be roughly substituted for boiled new potatoes, just ensure you remove the skin.


Ayo! Mari bikin ketoprak – Lets make Ketoprak.


Peanut Sauce

500g peanuts – toasted, but not salted
2 cloves of garlic
2 birds eye chillies
1 tablespoon red sugar
watered down tamarind sauce – 2 parts tamarind, 3 parts water
sweet soy sauce
1/2 teaspoon of salt

Salad ingredients –  ultimately, the amounts are up to you, but this is a rough guide.

1/2 handful of bihun – vermicelli noodles
1/2 handful of beansprouts
5cm of cucumber cut up into chunks
8-10 bitesize pieces of tofu
1 clove of garlic
8-10 bitesize pieces of ketupat / 4 – 5 halved new potatoes
1 boiled egg (remove and this can be vegan – yay)
8 – 10 Asian crackers
fried crispy shallots to garnish

1. All of the ingredients in this meal are cold, so start of by boiling your eggs, and allowing them to cool before shelling. At the same time, in a pan, with about 1cm of oil in it and a clove of garlic, gently fry the tofu until the outside is browned.

2. Next make the paste for the sauce. Indonesian’s use a cobek and ulek – ulek, but you can use a mortar and pestle. I don’t recommend a blender, but if you’re lazy, don’t over blitz anything. Start of with grinding up the garlic and chillies with the salt. This does need to be made into a fine paste, and the salt helps do this.

3. Once the garlic and chillies are done, add in the sugar, follow by the peanuts. Don’t over grind the peanuts, some of its needs to be chunky for added texture. Now the paste is complete.

Note: This paste will actually make 3-4 portions of ketoprak, it is simply easier to make too much and then freeze it until next time.


4. Take about 2 – 3 tablespoons of the peanut paste, and add it into your serving bowl. From here add about 2 tablespoons of kecap manis / sweet soy sauce, and three tablespoons of the tangy tamarind water. Mix together thoroughly, and you should have a thick salty and sweet sauce. From here, add more of sweet soy sauce or tamarind water depending on your preference, what it is currently is my personal preference.

5. Once your sauce is made, lets begin assembling the salad. On top of the sauce, add the tofu and ketupat first.

6. Then on top of this add the bihun and beansprouts, and then scatter the cucumber. I then like to add a little more sweet soy sauce to the beansprouts and bihun, and then mix it all together.

7. Finally, sprinkle a few pieces of the crispy shallots, and add boiled egg, cut in half. Serve with the crackers on the side.



Essential Indonesian ingredients – kecap manis

Essential Indonesian ingredients – kecap manis

Indonesian cuisine is a treasure trove of unique ingredients combining to make incredible dishes. Despite its rich history, and fair share of famous meals, many of this cuisines most essential ingredients are not widely known. In this part of my blog, I hope to give you useful information regarding the best ingredients that Indonesian has to offer.

Kecap manis, quite possibly one of Indonesia’s best kept culinary secrets, is  an essential sauce in any Indonesia’s home. Kecap, generally refers to soy based sauces (kecap asin or kecap manis), and manis means sweet. It is essentially a sweet soy sauce.


The flavour this sauce brings is deep, and complex, and it’s always best to add it in smaller amounts, until you’re used to its properties. Like all soy sauces it brings a real depth of unami to your dish, as well as a mild sweetness, with a slight hint of aniseed. It is used both within the actual cooking of a meal, and as a condiment on the side for personal tweaking.

This versatile sauce is used across a myriad of different Indonesian foods, and in many different ways too. It is essential to any mie goreng or nasi goreng (that’s fried noodles and rice to the English speakers  out there), here it is added as the final ingredient, and then cooked out to reduce the moisture and intensify the flavour. It is often used in combination with peanuts, where it perfectly balances the nuts saltiness to make sauces for things such as ketoprak, gado-gado, and sate sauce. Finally, it is a prominent ingredient for meat marinades, and is used in all forms of grilled meat meals, such as dates, and the delicious ayam bakar (translated as burnt chicken).


Sweet soy sauce is really an ingredient unique to Indonesia, in fact over 90% of its consumption happens here alone. That being said, it does, in my belief, have the potential to be the next sriracha in terms of Asian sauces becoming popular. It makes amazing sauces for a quick, and simple stir fry, and has incredible potential in meat marinades. Both regular soy sauce, and honey are common in marinades, and this one ingredient can take the place of both. It has the opportunity for some incredible creativity.

In terms of locating this sauce outside of Indonesia, it is difficult, but not impossible. Within Europe, the Netherlands has strong ties to Indonesia, so frequently stocks the sauce. Though not everyone has the good luck to be Dutch. There are many Asian supermarkets which do sell the sauce in England, so try your luck with that or a nearby Chinatown.

In terms of brands to buy, there are 3 or 4, but there are only 2 which are worthwhile to me. Bango, and ABC, see the photos for a clearer view. Like all good sauces, the taste varies slightly between the two. ABC is saltier, and Bango sweeter, though either will do perfectly if you can only find one. My personal preference is always Bango, however, for me this sauce’s main objective is sweetness, so Bango just works better.


I hope that was informative for you, keep an eye out for my next recipe blog this weekend. I’ll be using this incredible ingredient to change your perspective of salads forever.