Back in the day most folk’s first encounter with Indonesian food was probably via a Rijstaffel in Amsterdam or any Dutch city, an all-you-can eat buffet, at heart a colonial legacy. At its centre would be mounds of cooked rice – the Nasi of Nasi Goreng fame, that now ubiquitous fried rice dish, often featuring chicken or prawns.
Indonesia is the world’s third largest producer of rice and farmer must make offerings of the sacred grain at harvest time to Dewi Sri, the goddess of rice and fertility. This can involve eve trekking to the top of a volcano, of which there are many.
In her fascinating new book, Healthy Vegan Street Food (Ryland Peters & Small, £20) Jackie Kearney makes rice the centrepiece of her own Indonesian/Malaysian-influenced showstopper, but it consists of just three or four plant-based elements and the rice is the more nutritious black variety.
Healthy eating is at the core of the Masterchef legend’s fresh batch of recipes – without sacrificing flavour. As proof let me introduce you, in this exclusive extract, to her recipe for Simple Nasi Campur: Tempeh brittle, purple potato curry and coconut kale stir-fry.
“Indonesia’s answer to India’s thali. This selection plate means ‘mixed rice’, simply a plate of rice with three or four different dishes. It’s a generic term used across Indonesia and Malaysia. Nasi padang is a type of nasi campur, originating from the city of Padang in West Sumatra, where the mixed rice plate was served as a huge banquet alongside multiple curries made with meat, fish and vegetables, plus spicy sambals, peanuts and eggs.
“The Dutch colonialists adored this Minangkabau banqueting, which they called ‘rijstaffel’ or ‘rice-table’. Rijstaffel restaurants are incredibly popular throughout the Netherlands, and a closer foodie experience for most Europeans. Go hungry and be prepared for 15–20 dishes to be laid around the table.
“This recipe is a simplified little taste of nasi campur to make at home. The moreish tempeh brittle recipe uses a significant amount of (unrefined) sugars, so the portion should be a very small part of the whole platter, or give this a miss if you are trying to reduce your sugar intake and simply fry some soy-marinated tempeh instead. The kale stir-fry and simple curry are super-quick to prepare. You could also add other Indonesian elements like loaded cassava fries, manadu ‘woku’ curry or Indonesian corn ‘ribs’, if you want to create a larger rijstaffel.”
250g tempeh; 1 tbsp plus 1 tsp culinary coconut oil, or use good-quality vegetable oil; 1-cm/½ -in thumb of fresh ginger, peeled and finely chopped (about 2 teaspoons), or use 1 tsp ginger paste; 2 tbsp coconut sugar; 1 tbsp date syrup, or use pure maple syrup or unrefined coconut sugar; 3 tbsp soy sauce; large pinch of salt. Baking sheet, lined with parchment. Serves 6.
Preheat the oven to 190°C (375°F) Gas 5. Cut the tempeh into 6 mm/¼ in thick slices, then slice into 1 cm/½ in wide small pieces (the length will be the width of your tempeh block).
Place a wide frying pan over high heat with 1 tbsp of the oil. When the oil is very hot, add the tempeh pieces. Fry for 8–10 minutes until crispy and brown on all sides. Remove and place on paper towels to drain.
In the same pan, add another teaspoon of oil and add the ginger. Turn down heat to low and cook gently for 2 minutes, then add the remaining ingredients (except the tempeh). Bring the mixture to a low simmer until a thick syrup starts to form, then add the tempeh pieces. Mix well to coat all the pieces and fry gently until the liquid is reduced and sticky.
Lay the pieces onto the lined baking sheet and bake in the preheated oven for 10 minutes until crispy and nicely browned. Remove and set aside to cool. The pieces will then become more brittle and crunchy.
COCONUT KALE STIR-FRY
1 tbsp extra-virgin coconut oil, or use culinary coconut oil or good-quality vegetable oil; 7–8 curry leaves; 1 large brown onion, thinly sliced; 3 fat garlic cloves, thinly sliced; ½ tsp ground turmeric; 7.5-10-cm/3-4-in cinnamon stick; 250–300g bunch or 200g bag of kale, thick stems removed and thinly sliced; 75g desiccated unsweetened shredded coconut, soaked in boiling water for 15 minutes; 2 green chillies, chopped; ½-1 tsp salt, to taste; freshly squeezed juice of 1 lime (about ½ tbsp). Serves 6.
Place a wok or large frying pan over high heat. Add the oil and then add the curry leaves, frying for 20–30 seconds. Now add the onion, garlic, turmeric and cinnamon. Turn down the heat to medium–low, and gently stir-fry for 3-4 minutes until the onions are softened and the garlic is golden brown.
Add the kale and turn up the heat to medium–high. Stir-fry for 8-10 minutes until the kale starts to soften, depending on how crunchy you prefer your kale. Drain the desiccated unsweetened shredded coconut and squeeze out any excess water. Add the coconut and chillies to the pan, mix well and cook for 1 minute more.
Season with salt and remove from the heat. Add the lime juice and mix well. Serve immediately.
PURPLE POTATO CURRY
½ tbsp culinary coconut oil, or use good-quality vegetable oil; 1 large brown onion, finely chopped; 2 fat garlic cloves, finely chopped, or use 2 tsp garlic paste; 4-8 small red chillies, to taste; ¼ tsp chilli powder; 1 tsp ground cumin; 1 tbsp ground coriander; 400g can plum tomatoes; 250 g purple potatoes, peeled and cubed, or use new potatoes;
250g firm tofu, cubed (and lightly baked if you prefer); ½-1 tsp salt, to taste. Serves 6.
Place a large frying pan or wok over medium-high heat and add the oil. Add the onion and sauté for 4-5 minutes until translucent. Add the garlic, cook for 1 minute, then add the chillies and ground spices. Add the tomatoes (and juices) plus 3½ tbsp water, then squash the tomatoes to a pulp. Simmer for a few minutes, then remove from the heat.
Using a stick blender, blitz until smooth. Return the pan to high heat and add the potatoes. Place a lid on the pan, turn the heat down to low and simmer the potatoes for 20-25 minutes until soft but not falling apart. Add the tofu pieces. Season with salt and add a little more water if needed. This curry can be reheated when needed.
Cooked black rice; 3–4 tbsp sambal balado; 3-4 tbsp red-skinned peanuts, lightly toasted, or use cashew nuts; freshly chopped coriander; rice crackers.
To serve the nasi campur individually, place some cooked black rice in the centre of a plate (or on a banana leaf if you like). Add a large spoonful of each of the dishes around the outside, plus a spoonful of sambal balado (or hot chilli sambal) and a spoonful of toasted red skinned peanuts. Sprinkle the potato curry with a little fresh coriander and add a few rice crackers, if you like. Indonesian rice crackers are fried, so I prefer to serve with baked Vietnamese-style crackers for a healthier option.
SAMBAL BALADO: This Indonesian chilli and tomato condiment is a cornerstone of Indonesian food. Buy in or follow this recipe, which will make 250ml. 10-12 large dried red chillies, to taste, soaked in boiling water for 15-20 minutes; 2-6 Thai chillies (optional); 1 small red onion, roughly chopped; 3 fat garlic cloves; 1 large tomato, halved and deseeded; ¼ tbsp culinary/unflavoured coconut oil; 2-3 fresh or dried kaffir lime leaves (optional); ½ tsp date syrup (or maple syrup/unrefined coconut sugar); ½-1 tsp salt,, to taste; freshly squeezed juice of one lime;.
Drain the soaked chillies and add to a blender or food processor along with fresh chillies (if using), onion, garlic and tomato. Blitz to a rough pulp, then add to a small pan with the coconut oil. Place over medium heat and bring to a simmer. Add the lime leaves, date syrup and salt, and simmer gently for 10-12 minutes until the liquid reduces. Add the lime juice, mix well and taste. Adjust the seasoning, adding more date syrup or salt, if needed. Store in a sterilised jar and keep in the fridge for up to two weeks.
Healthy Vegan Street Food: Sustainable & healthy plant-based recipes from India to Indonesia by Jackie Kearney (Ryland Peters & Small, £20) Photography by Clare Winfield © Ryland Peters & Small. She has published four previous books with them and the BLOG on her ‘Hungry Gecko’ website is an essential background read.
Check out my recent interview with Jackie.