Cradle of Flavor: Home Cooking from the Spice Islands of Indonesia, Singapore and Malaysia by James Oseland

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Notes about this book

  • Eat Your Books

    2007 James Beard Award Winner, International Association of Culinary Professionals Award Winner

  • TrishaCP on July 01, 2013

    I think the foods of Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore (all covered in this book) are some of the most delicious in the world, and this book has been essential in helping me understand the flavors and ingredients that make up this fabulous cuisine. The front section covers a list of standard ingredients- many of them require some effort to find (especially the daun salam and the asam gelugor), but in many cases the most hard-to-find ingredients are optional. This is also a veg friendly cookbook- including a section on tofu and tempeh dishes, and many other dishes can be made vegetarian by the simple omission of dried shrimp paste. (In on-line postings about his book, Oseland has recommended doubling up on aromatics if you omit the shrimp paste.)

  • erin g on September 11, 2010

    The author has written excellent instructions for his recipes, including instructions on how the dish will look and smell at key points in its preparation. He offers thoughtful suggestions for substitutions, as well, and these points make it an excellent choice if you're looking to learn a new cuisine.

Notes about Recipes in this book

  • Sweet-sour cucumber and carrot pickle with turmeric (Acar kuning)

    • erin g on September 11, 2010

      Elevates a bowl of rice to a meal.

    • TrishaCP on May 03, 2012

      This may be my favorite recipe in the book- and I end up making this whenever I cook from this book. The combination of savory, sweet, and hot, with the crispness of the vegetables, is to die for, and this inevitably becomes a side dish, rather than a condiment, on my plate. It takes more time to make than the Javanese pickle recipe, but is well worth it.

  • Javanese cucumber and carrot pickle (Acar timun)

    • TrishaCP on May 03, 2012

      If you don't have time to make the sweet and sour turmeric pickles from this book, this pickle will work. However, that's the main advantage in my opinion; the other pickle recipe is much more complex and wonderful.

    • smtucker on March 18, 2012

      Love this pickle. A go to item.

    • mirage on June 26, 2010

      Excellent w/Satay

  • South Indian-style eggplant pickle (Acar terung)

    • minerva on July 17, 2013

      The eggplant soaked up too much oil for my taste, but otherwise wonderful. Next time I might try grilling or baking the eggplant before marinating.

  • Chicken satay (Sate ayam)

    • thekitchenchronicles on November 03, 2014

      http://www.thekitchenchronicles.com/2014/02/06/chicken-satay/

  • Shrimp satay

    • TrishaCP on May 03, 2012

      A really nice grilled shrimp recipe- easy once the marinade has been made. (But the marinade, which includes a highly spiced flavoring paste, does take some time.) Also, even though I didn't use one, I think this satay does benefit from a sauce- the peanut sauce from the book would be way too overpowering but the sweet soy sauce and lime sauce would work well.

    • minerva on July 17, 2013

      I've added pieces of bell pepper between shrimp with success. I like broiling the recipe, since the flavorful marinade sticks better. Done this way, it is good without a dipping sauce.

  • Chopped vegetable salad with coconut and lime leaf dressing (Urap)

    • minerva on January 18, 2014

      This is a great side salad with an otherwise meat-heavy meal, such as satay.

  • Fried sweet plantains (Pisang goreng)

    • lkgrover on March 08, 2020

      A terrific snack, or a side dish to accompany a spicy Southeast Asian meal.

  • Lemongrass-scented coconut rice (Nasi uduk)

    • twoyolks on June 21, 2014

      The lemongrass adds a nice herbal tone that compliments the rice nicely.

  • Celebration yellow rice (Nasi kuning)

    • minerva on March 04, 2014

      I really love this, one of my favorite recipes. So fragrant.

  • Spiced Nyonya rice (Nasi kemuli)

    • minerva on November 13, 2014

      I just mixed the cooked chicken into the rice out of practicality, and it was fine. Nice flavor.

  • Javanese fried rice (Nasi goreng)

    • minerva on June 12, 2013

      Delicious! Making with all the toppings is recommended.

    • twoyolks on April 17, 2015

      This ended up being too sweet for my taste. I would use less palm sugar and soy sauce in the future.

  • Stir-fried Chinese egg noodles with shrimp and Asian greens (Mee goreng tauceo)

    • twoyolks on March 22, 2016

      There was nothing particularly bad about it, just that the flavor was rather bland. The soy sauce flavor was completely missing and the soy bean paste was mild.

  • Penang-style stir-fried kuey teow noodles (Char kuey teow)

    • meggan on June 08, 2017

      Easy peasy. I used pre-made chili paste instead of making my own which makes this a much quicker recipe.

    • minerva on April 07, 2013

      I used kecap manis. I also made the soy sauce, lime, and chile dipping sauce to go with the noodles. I think the dip really livened up the flavor. I added kale (because I had it) and fried tofu (to add more protein).

  • Stir-fried Asian greens with garlic and chiles (Tumis sayur)

    • minerva on March 04, 2014

      Goes with everything.

    • Emily Hope on November 19, 2010

      Simple but good.

    • TrishaCP on May 03, 2012

      A really simple and delicious recipe that goes well with just about anything else in this book.

    • lkgrover on March 03, 2020

      Good, simple side dish. I used bok choy.

  • Stir-fried water spinach, Nyonya style (Kangkung belacan)

    • minerva on July 17, 2013

      Nice variation on the standard greens I make. I used Chinese non-spicy bean paste, I'm not sure if that is the same as the sweet bean paste the recipe calls for.

  • Green beans with coconut milk (Sambal goreng buncis)

    • Tommelise on September 20, 2011

      I had expected much more flavor from an indonesian recipe. We love green beans, but this was quite ordinary. We will look for at better recipe with green beans and coconut

    • mirage on June 26, 2010

      Still tasted like green beans but terrific sauce!

  • Potato rendang (Rendang kentang)

    • TrishaCP on May 03, 2012

      I made this for a dinner party with vegetarian guests because I wanted everyone to be able to try rendang, since it is such a classic dish in Malaysian/Indonesian cooking. It was pretty spectacular- I used fresh fingerling potatoes from the farmer's market, and they held their shape well against the long slow cook. (I doubled the recipe since it takes so long to make rendang, and found the cooking times essentially doubled too- no real problem, since in making rendang, it is about cooking down the coconut milk, not adhering to strict time guidelines.) I served this with the eggplant curry from the book, and sauteed baby bok choy with garlic. Will definitely be making this again.

    • metacritic on April 30, 2020

      As this was cooking, I tasted and was quite nervous. The flavors seemed sharp and unbalanced (too hot even though I used the minimum number of recommended chilies and almost bitter). Used to Thai cooking, I wanted to add a pinch of sugar or a tsp of palm sugar. I even looked up other recipes for the same dish to see if they called for something sweet. They didn't, so I resisted, and cooked the dish until the coconut milk was evaporated and the potatoes browned lightly, as called for. In that process something magical happened, resulting in one of the best potato dishes I've ever made. This will be a dish that goes into the rotation. (An additional note, this was made during Covid/physcial distancing, which meant I had to substitute ginger powder for fresh ginger and Italian basil for lemon basil or Thai basil, which didn't seem to do any real harm to the dish.)

  • Fern curry with shrimp (Gulai paku)

    • amraub on May 03, 2012

      I had high expectations for this recipe given how much I enjoy some of the other recipes from this book. This one just seems to be missing something and the broth was a bit thin for my taste. Part of the problem might've been my shrimp. The only uncooked shrimp my grocery store had were already peeled and the shrimp ended up seeming overcooked by the time the fiddleheads were done. If I were to make again, I would likely try omitting the 1/2 cup of water to help with the thinness of the broth issue.

  • Asiah's eggplant curry (Kari terung)

    • erin g on August 01, 2010

      The only eggplant curry recipe I need.

    • TrishaCP on May 03, 2012

      A lovely soupy eggplant curry with coconut milk. Its richness is cut by sourish notes of tamarind.

    • Barb_N on August 22, 2018

      I enjoyed this eggplant curry but did not taste the tamarind through the coconut. I used a liquidy ‘paste’ in indiviual packs- perhaps a different type or just larger amount.

  • Spice-braised tuna (Ikan bumbu rujak)

    • minerva on March 04, 2014

      This was too sweet/sour, not enough spicy. Furthermore, this technique is a very difficult way if you want tuna that is still pink. If I try this again, I will remove tuna from pan right after searing in paste, make the sauce, and return to the pan right at the end.

  • Pan-seared tamarind tuna (Tuna goreng)

    • urmami on October 09, 2016

      This was so disappointing. The flavors just aren't a match (even though it seems like they should be! Do any molecular gastronomists care to explain?) and with only three ingredients that lack of chemistry is very apparent. The gastronomic equivalent of a date that's highly anticipated but ultimately so awkward and devoid of spark you don't even bother ordering a second round. In case you're wondering, yes I did use exactly the type of tuna filet specified - fatty and dark colored - along with very fresh tamarind paste, and a good amount of salt. Tamarind is just too earthy and even though it's plenty tart, the dish needed more acid, or just a different kind of acid, to perk it back up. I rescued by dousing in a little sweet chili sauce - everything can be redeemed with sweet chili sauce, stirring together with some rice and pickled chilies, and squeezing some lime juice over all of it. But man, what a waste of exquisite tuna :(

    • mirage on June 26, 2010

      Kind of sweet.

  • Grilled whole fish with lemon basil and chiles (Pepes ikan)

    • TrishaCP on January 04, 2015

      We changed this around quite a bit due to needing to use what was on hand, so I won't rate the recipe but I can say it is flexible and delicious in spite of our tweaks. We had no lemon basil or pandan so used kaffir lime leaves and greatly reduced the number of chiles. We also used grouper fillets rather than the whole fish since we were only cooking for two. I look forward to trying this recipe as written in the future!

    • minerva on July 17, 2013

      We served this at a dinner party and it was very impressive. I couldn't find candlenuts or pandan. I substituted macadamia for the candlenuts and left out the pandan, putting some kaffir lime leaves in the cavity instead.

  • The soto king's chicken soup (Soto ayam lamongan)

    • PinchOfSalt on September 20, 2014

      Not a weekday recipe - a fair amount of work with multiple components and stages. My first attempt tasted great but the broth seemed a bit gritty. Maybe I did not grind the flavoring paste finely enough (used my Vitamix and it did look smooth).

  • Chicken rendang with cinnamon and star anise (Rendang ayam)

    • TrishaCP on January 14, 2012

      I used all dark meat chicken for my first try of this recipe, as I was unsure if the white meat would dry out. Should have listened to Oseland- the dark meat was succulent but with all of the coconut milk I feel confident about trying the white meat next time.

  • Nyonya-style spiced fried chicken (Inche kabin)

    • mirage on June 26, 2010

      dipping sauce p. 125

  • Javanese grilled chicken (Ayam panggang Jawa)

    • twoyolks on June 21, 2014

      I'm not completely convinced that the initial poaching of the chicken actually adds any flavor to it (in fact, it may remove some of the flavor from the chicken). However, the marinade is really very good. I'd consider using it on a kabob that has more surface area for it to adhere to. It also reheats very well.

  • Grilled coconut chicken with lemon basil (Ayam panggang Sulawesi)

    • twoyolks on August 15, 2017

      This was a lot of work but didn't really add much extra flavor to the chicken. The flavor was only surface deep.

    • sir_ken_g on July 13, 2015

      This was good and not difficult. Used boneless thigh which grilled very fast.

  • Beef rendang (Rendang daging sapi)

    • Emily Hope on November 19, 2010

      Made with some water buffalo we had in the freezer. This was quite good, if time-consuming. However, I didn't find the leftovers appealing, I'm not sure why... C would make again. I think it would help to use regular beef and not buffalo, which has very little fat and was chewy (though not nearly as chewy as we'd feared). Served with the sauteed bok choy recipe from the same book and rice.

    • ashallen on October 12, 2019

      I was really excited about this recipe, but it didn't turn out as well as I'd hoped, possibly because I deviated from the instructions in a few ways. Great concept, though - it'd be good to try again. I like braised beef dishes to have very tender beef and fully dissolved/rendered membrane and fat bits, but that didn't happen with this dish. I cooked it in a 300F oven for 4 hours vs. simmering on the stovetop for 2-3 hours as specified in the recipe - perhaps that was a no-no. Beef was still kind of chewy. Maybe it was the grass-fed beef I used. Or maybe the recipe isn't geared towards achieving that particular texture. Flavors were OK - I think they would have been better if I'd been able to get makrut lime leaves (store was out) and/or if I'd included the optional duan salam leaves and fresh galangal. I also subbed raw cashews for the candlenuts. Freezing didn't help with texture or flavor so I think the remaining leftovers are headed for a Thai-style fried rice!

  • Spiced braised Nyonya pork (Seh bak)

    • TrishaCP on April 07, 2013

      I definitely recommend making this a day or two before you plan to serve it. This lets the flavors meld as well as making it easier to remove the fat.

  • Malaccan beef and vegetable stew (Semur daging lembu)

    • TrishaCP on July 12, 2017

      This was a delicious twist on a beef stew. I made this in advance, using kecap manis as my dark soy sauce. My meat needed an additional hour beyond the recommended cooking time to become tender, but it could have been because I was using cheaper stew meat. I ignored the instructions about separately cooking peas (I used edamame) and red onions and just added them to the stew. I cooked the potatoes day of eating, and again ignored the instructions to fry them- instead I pan fried in a non-stick skillet using minimal oil. It was still good.

  • Javanese spiced oxtail stew (Sop buntut)

    • minerva on November 13, 2014

      Good but somewhat bland without a generous amount of Javanese sambal.

  • Garlic-marinated tempeh (Tempe goreng)

    • mcvl on June 19, 2018

      Easy and good, flavored up with red-wine vinegar, soy sauce, grated ginger, and MSG, paired with some chopped veg (lacinato kale, in this instance).

  • Tempeh sambal with lemon basil (Sambal tempe)

    • minerva on March 04, 2014

      This is very good with pre-fried tofu instead of garlic-fried tempeh if short on time.

  • Caramelized tempeh with chiles (Tempe kering)

    • minerva on September 12, 2013

      Dish is very tasty, but rather sweet. Next time, I will try to minimize the sweetness of the side dishes.

  • Tofu and summer vegetables in coconut milk (Sayur lodeh)

    • TrishaCP on September 06, 2013

      At least for me, other than green beans (which I didn't have on hand anyway), I don't really think of carrots and cabbage as summer vegetables. Nonetheless, I really enjoyed this dish- the flavor is quite rich, with a nice kick from dried chiles. The flavors definitely deepen over time and it does taste better at room temperature, so make in advance if you can.

  • Indonesian spice cake (Spekkuk)

    • jjankows on May 27, 2020

      This was really good, though I did miss the layers of a traditional spekkuk/spekkoek. Definitely had the right flavor though and I would make again.

  • Plantains with coconut milk and palm sugar (Kolak or Pengat pisang)

    • mcvl on March 03, 2014

      Nice, not special.

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  • ISBN 10 0393054772
  • ISBN 13 9780393054774
  • Published Nov 14 2006
  • Format Hardcover
  • Page Count 384
  • Language English
  • Countries United States
  • Publisher WW Norton & Co
  • Imprint WW Norton & Co

Publishers Text

2007 IACP Award Winner!

2007 Beard Award Winner!

Just when you thought you knew everything about Asian food, along comes James Oseland's Cradle of Flavor. Oseland has spent two decades exploring the foods of the Spice Islands. Few can introduce us to the birthplace of spice as he does. He brings us the Nyonya dishes of Singapore and Malaysia, the fiery specialties of West Sumatra, and the spicy-aromatic stews of Java. Oseland culled his recipes from twenty years of intimate contact with home cooks and diverse markets. He presents them here in easily made, accessible recipes, perfect for today's home cook. Included is a helpful glossary (illustrated in color in one of the picture sections) of all the ingredients you need to make the dishes and where and how to buy them. With Cradle of Flavor, fans of Javanese Satay, Singaporean Stir-Fried Noodles, and Indonesian curries can finally make them in their own kitchen.



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