Book review: Coconut & Sambal, by Lara Lee

25 June 2020 by
Book review: Coconut & Sambal, by Lara Lee

Lara Lee's Coconut & Sambal is the product of a journey that took her from the west coast of Sumatra to Timor in the east, as well as into the London kitchen of mentor Sri Owen, the food writer behind the first English-language Indonesian cookbook published in 1976.

Lee, an Indonesian and Australian chef and food writer, trained at Leiths School of Food and Wine and now runs London-based event catering business Kiwi & Roo, as well as supper clubs across the city.

Her first cookbook traces her family's Indonesian culinary heritage and is named after two ingredients often used in the cuisine. For me, it was an introduction to sambal, the hot relish used to season food. Sambal is as common on an Indonesian table as salt and pepper, and can be used to add flavour even to baked potatoes or burgers, and Lee provides pairing suggestions.

The book is separated into savoury snacks; soups and rice; vegetables, tofu and tempeh; fish and seafood; poultry and eggs; meat; sweets; and basic recipes; while the critical sambal also has its own chapter. At the back it helpfully lists vegetarian, vegan, dairy and gluten-free recipes.

Lee's vegetable nasi goreng was as satisfying as it was simple and has made its way straight onto my rotating list of weekly dinners, as will spicy baked aubergines with balado sauce and tomato sambal, and the fried shallot and coconut rice, which Lee suggests serving with sliced egg crêpes and peanut sauce. I also love the idea of her pandan and coconut cake, a green Victoria sponge-like creation made with dessicated coconut and coconut milk, filled with mascarpone and lemon curd or raspberry jam.

Even on the greyest days of lockdown, Coconut & Sambal is as colourful as Lee's grandmother's kitchen, with both the food and photography offering an escape to the fishing villages of the Maluku islands, the food markets in Ubud and the street food stands of Jakarta.

Coconut & Sambal by Lara Lee (Bloomsbury Publishing, £26)

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