Indonesian Satay

When I am asked whether or not my parents are good cooks, they generally seem unsurprised with my enthusiastic answer, because of my love for food, that they’re are amazing cooks.



Image 11-11-14 at 7.09 PMHowever, they are surprised at how I enthusiastically describe their Spanish and Indonesian signature dishes given the very evident English-Dutch inheritance in their bloodlines. As a child I probably couldn’t have explained why my Dad is such a wonderful Indonesian cook, as I never thought to question it. But it meant that I was lucky enough to grow up with an appreciation for spices and different flavour combinations, which meant I knew about ingredients like Sambal and Tamarind; invaluable once I discovered my love for cooking. Over the years I have pieced together the story from things my Dutch family and Dad have told me.

Indonesia, or the Dutch East Indies as it was known then, came under Dutch rule in 1800. This led to the establishment of trading links between Indonesia and the Netherlands; most of which still exist today. Prior to World War II, my Oma (grandmother in Dutch, that’s the only word I know,) and my eldest aunt, lived in Indonesia where they developed their love for Indonesian food. Throughout them living there, the locals taught my Oma the basics of their cuisine, so when she and my aunt returned to the Netherlands in 1945 they returned with a new set of skills which they shared with their friends back home.

The family recipe that I’ll share with you was passed down from Oma to my uncle, my aunts and my father. As I’ve grown up my Dad has tested me, gradually increasing the spiciness of the food he makes. Even my boarding school friend who comes from Indonesia approved of the recipes, high praise indeed, and has taken to buying Indonesian spices for my Dad when she returns home, instead of me.

Indonesian is never a quickly made meal, allow me to warn you. However, this recipe can be made up faster if you omit the peanut sauce. When my Dad gets it into his head to cook, he’s stuck in the kitchen from the early hours of the day, taking up the whole space and roping in every person in to help, no matter how unwilling. He has no qualms about turning my friends into kitchen slaves when preparing a supposedly simple ‘rice table’ for dinner, paying them with enticing spoonfuls of strange substances they have never heard of. For me, food is family. At his 60th last year, there was the previously unheard of experience of four of my Dutch relatives arguing in the kitchen as to who knew the recipes best, who would cook them best, and who would do my them justice.

When I was about 14 years old, I asked Dad to teach me to cook Indonesian. My Dad just handed me a recipe and his spice box, no directions were given. As someone who knows how to cook, this wouldn’t be an issue if the recipes weren’t in Dutch, or even if he actually knew how to translate certain ingredients when questioned, rather than simply shrugging, ‘I don’t know, it’s just dijnten.

The only recipe I’ve managed to translate is his recipe of satay. It may be bold, it may be over-confident, but I have it in good knowledge and with many opinions that this is the best satay many have ever tried.


Satay Marinade:

  • 100g per person of pork with some fat, or chicken thighs
  • 1 finely chopped red onion
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1/2 tsp of Sambal (now available in Tescos!)
  • 2 to 3 cloves of garlic, minced
  • Some soy sauce (my Dad says too much ruins it, so be careful! You want this to come under the level of the meat but still cover it)
  • 1 tsp ground coriander
  • 1/2 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp of tamarind (now available in Tescos too!) alternatively use a squeeze of lemon juice and 1 tsp of golden syrup
  • 1 tsp javanese sugar (substitute with palm sugar or dark brown sugar)
  1. Soak wooden skewers in water
  2. Mix together the marinade
  3. Cut the meat into 2 cm cubes, the smaller pieces mean they will cook quicker and not dry out
  4. Stir the meat into the marinade and leave in the fridge for around half a day
  5. Put around 5 pieces of meat on each skewer, ensure that they aren’t touching
  6. Cook ideally on a grill, under the grill of your oven or alternatively, in on a griddle pan on the hob

Peanut Sauce:

This is a very difficult recipe to give because everyone’s perfect peanut sauce is personal; my mum likes hers very smooth, my dad likes it with a crunch, I like mine sour and my sister will eat it in any form.


  • 225g of raw peanuts, unsalted
  • Warm water
  • 1 tub of peanut butter

Onion Paste

  • 1 red chilli (optional)
  • 1 cm fresh ginger (optional)
  • 1 red onion
  • 2 cloves of garlic

Spices and Seasonings etc.

  • 2-4 tsp of sambal
  • 1/2 tsp of shrimp paste (available from Tescos)
  • 1 tsp ground coriander
  • 1/2 tsp ground cumin (the ratio of coriander:cumin is essentially 2:1 in Indonesian cooking)
  • 1 tbsp soy sauce
  • 1 tbsp fish sauce
  • 1 tsp javanese sugar (substitute with palm sugar or dark brown sugar)
  • 1-2 tbsp tamarind paste
  • 1 Lemon
  • Dried bay leaves (optional)
  1. Grind your peanuts using a blender to a fine powder, the finer you grind them the smoother the sauce.
  2. Blend the red onion, garlic and optional chilli and ginger together to a paste.
  3. Heat up around a tbsp of vegetable oil and add the dry spices and gently fry on a low heat for around a minute, being careful not to burn them.
  4. Throw in the ground onion mix and sambal. Fry gently for a minute or two, until the sharpness of the raw onion and garlic has gone.
  5. Add the peanuts, soy sauce, fish sauce, javanese sugar and tamarind paste. Stir.
  6. Now add warm water slowly to make a thick sauce, you want it to cover the back of a spoon instead of run off it and it should be able to hold its shape.
  7. Stir in peanut butter, I usually would do around 1/4-1/2 small tub. The more western your taste buds the more you’ll probably like.
  8. Next is the taste testing! You need to balance the sourness, spiciness, sweetness and saltiness.

Should it be more sour? Add more tamarind

Should it be more spicy? Add sambal, carefully

Should it be sweeter? Add tamarind paste

Should it be saltier? Add fish sauce (or if you have to, salt)

  1. Now leave it to simmer for around 20 minutes, with a bay leaf. Be careful to not let it burn or     become too thick, if need be add more water.
  2. Season with some lemon juice.
  3. Serve the sauce with the satay, and gado-gado (this is crispy steamed vegetables – green beans, ribboned cabbage (be careful to fully cook this), carrots, bean sprouts and courgettes).

  4. Enjoy!


Banner Photo courtesy of Pinterest