Gado gado – Indonesian vegetable dish

To celebrate the release of my novel Shifting Reality, which features Indonesians (and Indonesian cooking) in space, here is your very own recipe for gado gado. This recipe is a favourite passed to me through the huge Indonesian cook-ins we used to have in our family. The quantities are very loose because none of this recipe was ever written down. Use your judgement depending on how many people you are cooking for. It’s very flexible. Since the basic recipe is vegetarian, you may like to make another dish. We often have chicken sate, so I include that recipe here.

Chicken sate:
Mix up some curry powder with a tiny bit of tomato sauce, crushed garlic and a good quantity of kecap manis. You can substitute soy sauce, but get the generic (for example Coles) brand, not the rancid Chinese variety. The marinade needs to be dark brown in colour, not yellow or red. Mix in with chicken pieces. Put chicken pieces on bamboo stick. You can start putting those in the grill now.

Vegetables for gado-gado:
Make a colourful mix of whatever vegetables are in season. You want to at least include bean sprouts*, but other good ingredients are green beans, carrot strips, small pieces of cauliflower and white cabbage. Do not include onions. Blanch any of these vegetables you dislike eating raw. Arrange on a plate. Top with cubed tofu and/or peeled and quartered eggs. Decorate with cucumber strips.

The sauce:
This is the secret ingredient. Saute a finely-cut garlic and onion in a bit of oil with a tablespoon of brown sugar (or use palm sugar if you have any). When onions are cooked, add a tablespoon of vinegar. At this time, you can also add a teaspoon of sambal goreng (available in small jars in most supermarkets) and a small piece of trassi udang** if you have any. Add about 3 good-sized tablespoons of peanut butter. Stir well and add 2 tablespoons of kecap manis (or generic brand soy sauce as per above). Now add a bit of water. The mixture will go dark in colour. Keep adding more water and stir. The peanut butter will act as a thickener and will make a smooth peanut-coloured sauce. This will require a fair bit of water, by the way, at least half a cup. If you happen to add too much, you can always add a bit more peanut butter.

Pour the sauce over the vegetables (and optional sate sticks arranged on top).

Serve with plain white rice.

For something different, serve with a bowl of freshly made krupuk emping, which are similar to prawn chips but made from nuts. You can buy krupuk emping in many Asian supermarkets, but you may have to cook it. Anyway, cooking your own prawn chips is so much better than getting the ready-made variety. Just heat some oil in a pan (oil needs to be at least 2cm deep) and toss the chips in a few at a time. Watch them go patooing! and take them out immediately with a slotted spoon. Do not let them turn brown, because they will taste burnt. Leave to cool and drain on a bit of kitchen paper.

* bean sprouts or tauge are essential for a lot of Indonesian cooking. The ones you get in the supermarket are often of deplorable quality, so here’s how to make your own. Buy a packet of green mung beans from any Asian supermarket. You will also need a preferably plastic sieve or colander, and a container with a lid (like a pan) where you can suspend the sieve or colander insie the container and put the lid on for a reasonable seal.
Toss a handful of mung beans in the bottom of the sieve. Rinse. Fill pan with water and suspend the sieve with beans on top so that the beans are submerged. Put on lid. Put in a dark and not too cold place (NOT in the fridge). Leave for a day. Drain water and rinse beans. Now suspend the sieve inside the pan without the water, but keeping the lid on. Put in the same dark cupboard. Rinse beans every day and keep them covered in the sieve inside the pan. The bean sprouts should be ready within a day or two, or three, or… depending on how cold your house is.

** trassi udang is shrimp paste. It can come in various shapes, including powdered in a jar or in a small block similar to a large stock cube. It’s brown, and yes, it pongs. You only use a very small piece. Keep in the frigde.


best pumpkin soup ever

Since I have better things to do than stand in the kitchen, my favourite recipes are all ones that require a minimum of effort.

When I was at Sydney Uni, my PhD supervisor lived on campus and he and his wife used to invite all students to his house on a regular basis. It was there that I first had a wonderful pumpkin soup. I find pumpkin a boring and tasteless vegetable, but this soup has an extra flavour to it. It’s also very easy to make.


A quarter of a large pumpkin, cut into cubes
Two sticks of celery, cut into large pieces
A couple of cloves of garlic, also in large pieces
stock cubes for the amount of water used
thick Greek yoghurt

Put everything except the yoghurt in a pan and cook until vegetables are really soft. Put in blender (or use sieve) to puree the mixture. Add extra water and/or stock cubes if needed. The soup has to be gloppy.
Serve in plates with a large spoonful of yoghurt in the middle.

easy chicken & tomatoes

I have to admit to a partiality to recipes that involve putting something in the oven and forgetting about it for at least an hour. Here is another such recipe. This recipe came from my brother, who adapted it from a recipe in a Jamie Oliver book.

For the number of people you plan to feed, take:
chicken legs
potatoes, unpeeled, cut in quarters
tomatoes, cut in quarters

To season:
Fresh basil
Garlic cloves (at least 4-5) cut in large chunks
Olive oil

Combine and mix all ingredients and arrange in an oven dish big enough for all ingredients to be spread in a single layer. Cook at 180C for an hour and a half.
That’s it!

* The original recipe calls for a red chilli, but I forgot to buy them, and the kids don’t like spicy food all that much, so I made it without. Tastes fine just the same.

green chicken curry

This recipe has become a favourite of ours because it’s so quick and easy to make.


500g chicken fillets (two medium-sized halves)
two tablespoons of green curry paste
can of coconut cream (the lite variety works best because it doesn’t separate)
sprinkle of vegetable oil
large clove of garlic
handful of coriander leaves

Cut chicken in fairly large, even-sized pieces. Fry in oil + green curry paste until the chicken is just white on the outside. Pour in coconut cream, put the lid on the pan and cook until the chicken is done. Add garlic (I prefer it cut in small pieces, not crushed) and chopped-up coriander. Cook a further five minutes.

For some reason we always eat this with broccoli and brown rice.

Recipe: Macaroni with ham and cheese

I’ve been thinking for a while that I should add a recipe category to this blog. Because us writers are all busy people, and we don’t like spending long times in the kitchen making fiddly things. We want receipes that taste great and don’t require a lot of effort and time to make.

If you have such a recipe, feel free to DM me on Twitter and I can add it here.

I’ll start off with a recipe my mother used to make. I have no idea where it came from, and I have never seen a written version of it. The quantities are quite flexible, and depend on how many people you want to feed.

Cook enough macaroni for everyone (I use about 300g).
Grate about 200g of cheddar cheese
Cut 250g of shaved ham into pieces
Put macaroni in dish. Add ham and most of the cheese. Add two tablespoons of tomato sauce (aka ketchup) and pepper. Mix well. Spread remaining cheese on top and sprinkle with breadcrumbs. Bake in oven at 170C for about 20 minutes or until the top is brown.