The Indonesian Kitchen

A combination of simplicity and practicality

One of the many surprising aspects of Indonesia is the way such delicious foods—often complex blendings of herbs, spices and seasonings—come out of the simplest of kitchens. The gleaming modern designer kitchen with tiled surfaces, electrical appliances and hot and cold running water is unknown to the majority of Indonesians. Kitchens are functional rather than aesthetic, with meals cooked over a wood fire or a kompor, a kerosene burner. In urban areas, gas burners fueled by LPG are increasingly used.

Preparing Indonesian food in your kitchen does require a fairly complex array of ingredients, but the number of utensils needed is not that great (see following section).
First and foremost you need something to grind or crush the seasonings (bumbu) that form the basis of countless Indonesian dishes and are also used as condiments or
sambals. In Indonesia, a saucer-shaped mortar together with a pestle, both made of volcanic stone, are used for this task. Unlike neighboring Malaysia and Thailand, where ingredients are pounded with a pestle inside a deep mortar, the Indonesian cook rubs or grinds ingredients with a backwards and forwards motion across the stone, which is broad and slightly rounded but almost flat.

Although a mortar and pestle is very useful for dealing with small amounts of ingredients, most modern cooks will find a food processor, blender or spice grinder the easiest way to prepare the basic spice paste or rempah. Small spice grinder attachments to food processors or blenders are widely available now and very handy for grinding small amounts of spices.

Also important is a chopping board and cleaver. This duo performs a myriad of tasks: chopping up chicken into the required size; cutting vegetables; finely mincing meat or fish in the absence of a food processor. The flat side of the cleaver is used to bruise lemongrass, cardamom pods or garlic (to remove the garlic skin), and so on. In Asia, a thick cross-section of a tree trunk is used as a chopping board; this type of board is durable and functional. Choose the biggest board available, with a cleaver that has a blade 3–4 in (7–10 cm) wide.

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