One of my New Year’s resolutions is to cook more Indonesian food. OK, you’re right, it’s the only New Year’s resolution I actually wholeheartedly intend to stick to.
I ended up home alone under a duvet with the cold from hell for company for the latter part of the Christmas holidays. Bar Humbug. Bored with all the happy clappy people on TV celebrating the arrival of yet another year, I ended up leafing through some of my Dutch cookbooks of old.
This led to the rediscovery of the “Big Indonesian Cookbook” by Elizabeth (“Beb”) Vuyk, the doyenne of Indonesian cooking in the Netherlands. Suddenly I got my appetite back and couldn’t wait to get back into the kitchen.
Beb was an award winning journalist and novelist who wrote but one cookbook. But that one cookbook from 1973 is widely regarded as the “bible” of Indonesian recipes in the Netherlands. it’s currently in its 46th print edition. “I live off my cookbook, but I live for my literary oeuvre”, she once said.
If you google Dutch language Indonesian recipes, you’ll find her recipes often referred to and even revered to this very day. There’s a an impressive site out there that is recreating every single recipe in her book. Pisang Susu is written in both English and Dutch, if you fancy a browse.
This recipe is my version of the classic Indonesian Soto Ayam (Soto = soup, ayam or ajam = chicken). It’s is not a January-diet recipe. Cos I don’t do diets. But it is low-fat and has everything I do believe in: delicious fresh nutritious food, cooked from scratch, covering all the food groups, with lots of healthy protein and vegetables and brimming with aromatic herbs and spices.
The Indonesians don’t serve soup as a starter, so soup-like dishes such as this are intended to be eaten as a main course. So be generous with all the garnishes.
Soto Ayam is often served IKEA style: self-assembly at the table, everyone helping themselves to the garnishes and then ladling over the hot spiced broth. Vary the garnishes as you wish, but the hard-boiled eggs and beansprouts are pretty much mandatory if you want to stay authentic.
The chicken is equally mandatory, unless you want to make this dish vegetarian. In which case, use a good vegetable broth, leave out the chicken and shrimp paste (you’ll need some salt then though as none is used when using the salty shrimp paste), then add extra eggs, vegetables and garnishes. Hold the eggs too for a vegan version.
Indonesian Soto Ayam (serves 4 GF LC DF RSF)
For the Boemboe (Indonesian spice paste)
1 small onion or 2 shallots, finely chopped
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp turmeric
1 tsp trassi (Asian dried shrimp paste also known as belachan)
3 garlic cloves
a thumb of fresh ginger
2 tsp sambal (Indonesian chilli pastes, oelek, brandal or badjak) or 1 fresh chilli, seeds in or out to taste
3 candle nuts (Kemirie), replace with macademia nuts or cashew nuts if you can’t find candle nuts
For the Soto (Indonesian broth)
1/2 tbsp coconut oil
2 l good chicken stock, preferably home made from 1 chicken with Indonesian aromats such as ginger, lemongrass, garlic and lime leaves or a peeled lemon
1 fresh lemongrass, outer leaf removed and bruised
1-2 kafir lime leaves, slightly torn
2 bay leaves, slightly torn
1 tsp whole black peppercorns
For the Sambal (optional – you can leave this out or just use sambal from a jar as is, but this would be spicier):
1 tsp coconut oil
2 tbsp sambal oelek (Indonesian chilli paste) or 3-4 fresh red chillies, seeds in or out, very finely chopped
1/4 small onion or 1/2 shallot
1 tsp grated candle nuts, macademia nuts or cashew nuts
1 tbsp coconut palm sugar
1-2 tbsp fresh lemon juice
1/2 tsp trassi (Asian shrimp paste)
For the garnishes: all or any combination of the following:
500 gr shredded cooked chicken from the soup chicken , else from (leftover) chicken breasts, leg or thighs
1/2 leek, thinly sliced
1 red chilli, finely chopped or sliced, seeds in or out
4 spring onions, finely sliced
150 gr beansprouts, blanched for 1 minute and refreshed with cold water
1/2 Chinese cabbage, finely shredded. Optional: boiling water poured over and refreshed with cold water
1-2 good handfuls of thin strips or small cubes of (oven-) fried potato
1-2 good handfuls of cooked rice vermicelli noodles, glass noodles or bean thread noodles (I used black bean ones)
1-2 good handfuls of cooked rice or cubes of sticky rice (Lontong)
4 hard-boiled eggs, halved
150 gr green beans, just cooked with some bite remaining
Optional to serve: prawn crackers (Kroepoek) and crispy fried onion bits
The Boemboe: Blend everything except the onions in a blender or mini food processor to a paste.
The Soto: Heat the coconut oil in a large pan or wok over medium-high heat. Sauté the boemboe until fragrant. Add the onion and sauté until translucent.
Add the remaining soto ingredients except the stock and sauté for a minute or so.
Add a little bit of stock to loosen the boemboe. Then add the rest of the stock.
I like to cool the stock at this stage and chill overnight to let the flavours develop, especially if I haven’t used home-made stock. The next day I gently reheat the stock on a low heat, without letting it boil again. This is entirely optional though.
Sieve the stock and reheat before serving.
The sambal (if using): Heat the coconut oil in a pan over medium heat and gently fry the onion until translucent and just starting to brown at the edges. Add everything else except the lemon juice. Gently cook through on medium, then add lemon juice to taste and cook for another minute or so. Transfer to a small bowl to cool.
The garnishes: Put all the garnishes in separate bowls ready for serving. The hot stock will reheat them, but you may wish to blast the ones you like warm for a minute in the microwave if you’re unsure.
To serve: Either place a little of every garnish into a large bowl per person and ladle on the hot broth, or serve this family style, with the hot broth on the table surrounded by bowls of all the garnishes for everyone to help themselves to whatever they like.
Serve the sambal, prawn crackers and crispy onions (if using) on the side.