Fire Islands: Recipes from Indonesia, written by Eleanor Ford, features the vibrant and flavor-packed cuisine of Indonesia with 100 regional recipes, personal stories, and stunning photography. A few highlights include Steamed Fish Parcels with Lemon Basil, Black Rice Pudding with Salted Coconut Cream, Sweetcorn Fritters, Mie Goreng, and Chilli-Fried Eggs. I will also be sharing her recipe for Chicken Sate following the review.
Disclosure: I received this book from Apollo Publishers in exchange for my honest review. All comments and opinions are my own. This post contains Amazon affiliate links. If you purchase something through the link, I may receive a small commission at no extra charge to you.
Eleanor Ford is a London-based food writer and recipe developer for the Good Food Channel and BBC Good Food Magazine. She has also been a restaurant reviewer for Time Out, editor for Zagat’s Hong Kong guide, and a judge for The Guild of Food Writers’ Awards. I reviewed her first book, Samarkand, back in 2016.
Chapters are divided according to the following- Crunchy Snacks & Street Food, Rich & Creamy: Ingredients for Fragrance, Dry & Aromatic: Ingredients for Spice, Fragrant Broths & Tangy Sauces: Ingredients for Heat, Salad & Dressed Vegetables: Ingredients for Bitterness & Sourness, Rice & Noodles: Ingredients for Rice Noodles & Soya, Awakening the Senses: Ingredients for Umami & Salt, Sweet & Sticky: Ingredients for Sweetness & Crunch, and Drinks: Ingredients for Richness.
Eleanor begins with an introduction to Indonesia and its seventeen to eighteen thousand islands (making it the world’s largest archipelago). She particularly focuses on the different regions (Sumatra, Java, Bali, Sulawesi, Kalimantan, Eastern Islands) and the encompassing flavors that help build the cuisine. Each chapter includes a collection of highlighted ingredients with their name in English/Bahasa Indonesia, description, and preparation tips for those previously unfamiliar. Following the recipes, Eleanor finishes with a few kitchen tricks such as preparing food in advance, cooking with coconut, and using banana leaves. You will even find ideas on what to do with leftovers so nothing goes to waste.
The food photography has been provided by Kristin Perers with preparation and styling by Rebecca Wilkinson and Tabitha Hawkins. Many of the recipes are accompanied by a full-page photo of the finished dish. Among the pages, you will also find beautiful landscapes of the country along with family photos. Measurements are listed in Metric and US Customary. Titles are written in English and occasionally the original language. Each recipe includes a headnote with background information, notes, serving size, menu ideas, and personal stories.
This book is a great pick for those interested in Indonesian cuisine. Recipes have been adapted with the home cook in mind. For beginners, the brief meal planning guides are a nice starting point whether you are looking for an introduction to Indonesian cuisine, vegetarian options, or even one dish meals. Many dishes come together easily, while others require a bit more prep work or longer simmering times. Having a market nearby with Indonesian ingredients will be helpful for locating items such as lemongrass, lime leaves, cardamom pods, bird’s eye chilli, tamarind paste, dark palm sugar (gula jawa), kecap manis, Thai basil, tempeh, pandan leaves, shrimp paste, glutinous rice flour, turmeric, galangal, and banana leaves.
These Chicken Sate finally gave us the excuse to use the grill for the first time in three years! Cubes of chicken are briefly marinated in Kecap Manis and garlic, skewered, then grilled until golden and cooked through. They were absolutely incredible paired with the creamy peanut sauce and lime wedges. Definitely the perfect kickoff to summer. We didn’t have them available, but Eleanor recommends adding coconut fibers or wood chips to help create a wonderfully smoky flavor.
If using bamboo or wooden skewers, soak them in water for about 30 minutes before grilling to keep the wood from burning.
Kecap manis (Ketjap Manis) is a thick, syrupy sweet soy sauce popular in Indonesian and Malaysian cooking. The sauce can be made at home (here is a recipe from Fuss-Free Cooking), but I have not personally tried yet. It can be found in the sauce section of markets featuring Southeast Asian ingredients or on Amazon: ABC Indonesian Sweet Soy Sauce (for a higher price).
Eleanor provides ideas to make a full meal by serving the Chicken Sate with Spice Rice (photo below) and Acar pickles or even a Sweet Coconut & Basil Salad for a light lunch.
I also made I.F.C. (Indonesian Fried Chicken), Sumatran Lamb Korma with Golden Lace Pancakes, Spice Rice, and Cucumber Limeade.
The I.F.C. (Indonesian Fried Chicken) is one of the first recipes in the book and what a perfect introduction. Whole chicken legs with the skin on are marinated in coconut water and spices overnight, boiled, then deep-fried. Eleanor recommends pairing the fried chicken with a salad comprised of cucumber, thinly sliced raw Thai eggplant, and lemon basil leaves, plus sweet tomato sambal.
After looking through the book, both kids were drawn to the Sumatran Lamb Korma with Golden Lace Pancakes. They had such fun swirling the golden turmeric pancake batter in the pan to create that striking lacy appearance. The pancakes were wonderful alongside the Sumatran Lamb Korma packed with a variety of warming spices, coconut milk, and new potatoes.
I made the Spice Rice to go with the Chicken Sate. This pale golden rice is scented with coconut oil, onion, garlic, ginger, cloves, cardamom, turmeric, and cinnamon. Other rice dishes found in the book include Sweetcorn Rice, Yellow Coconut Rice, Nasi Goreng, and more.
The Cucumber Limeade was especially refreshing as the temperatures continue to increase. Roughly chopped cucumber is blended with lime juice, sugar, and ice to create a slush consistency. It is combined with more ice and topped with a little sparkling water to complete the drink.
Overall, Fire Islands is a dazzling primer to Indonesian cuisine. I had such a difficult time narrowing down what to make for this review and can’t wait to try more.
Chicken Sate Recipe
Excerpt from Fire Islands
- 400 grams (14 ounces) skinless chicken breast
- 1 garlic clove roughly chopped
- 1 tablespoon kecap manis
- Oil for grilling
- Juice of 1/2 lime to serve
- 100 grams (2/3 cup) raw peanuts skin on
- 1 tablespoon oil for frying peanuts
- 1 garlic clove crushed
- 1/2 teaspoon shrimp paste toasted, optional
- 1/2 teaspoon dark palm sugar gula jawa, grated
- 3 tablespoons kecap manis
- Juice of 1/2 a lime
- Cut the chicken into a 2-3 cm (1 inch) dice. Mix with the garlic, kecap manis, and a pinch of salt. Set aside to marinate for 10 minutes (or if longer, cover and keep in the fridge).
- If using bamboo skewers, soak in water to stop them from burning whilst the meat marinates. Thread the chicken onto the skewers, keeping the pieces tightly packed together.
- The best results are indisputably on a barbecue- add coconut fibres or wood chips for the wonderful smoky notes- but you could also grill or griddle on a high heat. When searing hot, brush your grill with a little oil and cook your sate over a direct heat (keeping the sticks away from the coals). Turn until browned on all sides and cooked through.
- Spritz the lime juice over the sate and douse with the warm peanut sauce.
- Fry the peanuts to bring out their toasty flavour. Heat the oil in a wok or frying pan over a high heat. When shimmering, add the nuts and stir-fry for a minute. Reduce the heat to medium and continue to fry, stirring often, for about 5 minutes, until the nuts are deep golden brown. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towel.
- Tip the nuts into a food processor (keep the skins on) with the garlic, shrimp paste, palm sugar, and a good pinch of salt. Blitz to a sandy rubble, then scrape the sides and process for another minute. Continue scraping and blitzing for a few minutes at a time until you have a smooth purée (it should get there, with some perseverance).
- Transfer the peanut butter to a saucepan, add the kecap manis and a small glassful of water. Cook over a medium-high heat, stirring often, until you have. a sauce that is dark and slightly sticky. Thin with more water if it gets too thick- you want it to thickly coat the sate but be just pourable. Leave to cool and taste for seasoning, adjusting the saltiness and sweetness if you like. A final spritz of lime juice will brighten the flavours.