In My Balinese Kitchen, August 2019

It takes a while to adapt to cooking in Bali, given that the local restaurant and warung food is so alluring and economical. You could think why bother, but in the end, when living in another country for around three months, cooking with local ingredients becomes part of the experience. It involves getting to know what locals pay for things, observing seasonality, enjoying chats with stall holders at the traditional market, buying less more often, and learning ways to cook with unusual ingredients. It is also nice to relax at home, and not feel compelled to go out to eat.

mango and lime smoothie.

We did bring a few items from home, including a large block of Parmigiano Reggiano and a kilo pack of good dried spaghetti. Extra Virgin olive oil is available in Bali, but only Italian brands of dubious source. My 1/2 litre bottle of good Australian olive oil was eliminated from my packing at the last minute in order to lower our overall luggage weight: Mr T had added a second stringed instrument to his list of essential items! Good parmesan cheese is much harder to find in Bali. A quick pasta dish sauced with shallot, garlic, chilli, and fresh tomatoes, liberally sprinkled with parmesan, is a quick and comforting home style meal. We also brought along our Aldi brand copy of a Nutribullet electric blender: its powerful motor churns through tropical fruits in seconds, so useful for an afternoon fruit smoothie, and handy for making pumpkin soup and Jamu.

My market shopping list usually includes the following basic ingredients: red shallots ( bawang merah), garlic ( bawang putih), snake beans, limes, potato, tomatoes, bananas, small pre-made packets of Bumbu Bali, sambals, peanut sauce ( pecel), and a few small cakes ( kua). The large supermarket sells herbs such as basil, oregano and mint, as well as very reasonably priced tempeh, and tofu( tahu). Unfortunately I haven’t found a source of fresh coconut milk, and so rely on small tetra packs for santan ( coconut milk). The ladies at the market sell small rounds of palm sugar for around 20 cents a piece. Palm sugar, gula merah, is extracted from the coconut palm tree: the nectar is boiled and then shaped in small coconut containers. It is organic and very tasty, with hints of caramel, coffee and other minerals not noticeable in regular sugar.

It’s hard to resist home meals using tempeh and tofu. The first picture below features a classic Tempeh Manis. This involves a few preliminary steps but then it comes together quite quickly. The tempeh block is cut into strips then deep fried in neutral oil then drained. A paste is made from shallots, garlic and galangal which is then fried in a little oil. Lemongrass, chilli, daun salam leaves, are then added, followed finally with the kecap manis and palm sugar. The tempeh is returned to the sticky sweet sauce and tossed about. This is one dish you can make in advance.

To cut the sweet stickiness of the tempeh, I also made a quick cucumber and dill pickle, a recipe I found on Moya’s instagram post a few weeks ago.

Another tofu and tempeh dish is a quick stirfry consisting of shallots, garlic, whole chilli, snake beans and pre-fried tempeh and tofu. To bring it together with a tasty sauce, I heated a small block of pecel pedas ( spicy hot peanut sauce) in a little water, then added it to the stir fry. The result is very similar to the Balinese classic dish Tipak Cantok, a local version of gado gado. A few prices are of note here. A block of tempe and tofu costs around 30 cents. A bunch of snake beans around 50 cents. A little block of very tasty PecelРwhy would you make your own peanut sauce when it tastes so good- around 20 cents.

Little blocks of hot and spicy Pecel, peanut sauce.

Sometimes we enjoy a simple light meal of a cheese, tomato and shallot toastie. This is Mr T’s specialty, always served with Sambal ekstra pedas or hot chilli sauce.

Fruit from our friend Wayan is always welcome. The salak (snake fruit) comes from his parents’ farm in Sideman. He often brings large papaya and other lovely tropical fruit, knowing we have a blender.

Yesterday afternoon I decided to make some Jamu, given that fresh turmeric is prolific and cheap. Jamu is a traditional tonic used by the Balinese as a cure all. The recipe involves peeling around 150 grams of fresh turmeric and some ginger, then blending it into a puree with a couple of cups of water. The puree is cooked for 10 minutes or so, which is then sweetened (I added a touch of grated palm sugar). Lime juice is finally added. It is then strained and stored in the fridge for up to a week. I was pretty excited yesterday when making my own Jamu, and didn’t think through the process entirely. Now my manicured painted nails have turned from pink to an odd coral/orange colour, the skin on my palms is still bright yellow, the white kitchen sink stained, and the threadbare tea towel I used for straining the Jamu looks like an abandoned saffron Buddhist robe. I’m imagining my innards stained a psychedelic yellow and look forward to dying some cotton for crocheting with fresh turmeric on my return. The colour on the cloth is sensational.

Jamu in the making, before it went everywhere.

One of the first things we invested in is a 19 litre returnable water container ( around AU$4) which can be refilled for AU$1.80. A nearby store has a swap and go system. I use this water for washing vegetables, cooking and drinking- it lasts for about a week. I am very aware of my plastic consumption while I’m in Bali, and have tucked away all the soft clean plastic to bring back to Australia. Despite the fact that the Australian plastic recycling industry is now in strife, with much of our recycling being added to landfill, the soft stuff is coming home with me: I’m not going to add to Bali’s plastic problem. I take small net bags to the fresh market- the ladies are impressed with these. Like Australia, Bali has banned the single use plastic bag but also like Australia, small plastic bags are still available for fruit and vegetables. Being part of the problem involves being part of the solution.

Cooking and drinking water supply with a very effective pump.

Thanks Sherry for hosting the monthly event, In My Kitchen. You can find other world kitchens on Sherry’s Pickings, or you can join in, a very supportive way to join a blogging group.

Uleg, a very nice size, for grinding spices and pounding sambals.

In My Kitchen, August 2017

I’ve been on the road for a few weeks now, the start of a long journey, and can happily say that I don’t miss my kitchen at all. Yesterday Mr T commented on the length of his fingernails, believing that they grow faster in the tropics. Mine are¬†also long and white, but I suspect they’re flourishing due to the absence of work: my fingers and hands no longer plant, prune, dig, sow, pick, cut, peel, chop, grate, gather, sort, cook, stir, pour, knead, shape, or roll. My cooking and gardening hands are on holiday. Some one else is in the kitchen. This month’s post takes a look inside some Balinese kitchens and the food we have enjoyed along the way.

The staff at Tirta Sari, Pemuteran, are multi skilled. One minute a waitress, next a basket maker. These little banana leaf baskets are used for sauce containers and rice.

One of my favourite kitchens is Tirta Sari Bungalows, in Pemuteran, situated in the far north-west of Bali. I’ve stayed here before and I’m bound to return, just to relax and eat well. The food is traditional, Balinese, well priced and some of the best I’ve eaten in this tropical paradise. Each dish is beautifully presented on wooden plates, covered with banana leaves cut to size. The freshly made sauces, such as Sambal Matah, are served in small hand-made banana leaf baskets. The plates are embellished with flowers and dried ceremonial palm leaves and basket lids. These artistic flourishes connect the traveller to the role played by flowers in Balinese ritual and ceremony. Dining here comes with heightened sense of anticipation: guests are made to feel special.

Staff peeling Bawang Merah and Bawang Putih ( shallots and garlic) for the evening’s fresh sambals. Do you know the legend of Bawang Merah and Bawang Putih?
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Preparing freshly caught Marlin for the grill. Tirta Sari, Pemuteran.

You can tell a good Balinese restaurant by the authenticity of its sauces. Pungent and spicy traditional sauces and sambals are served in more modest warungs, while western styled restaurants serve industrial ketchup, believing that the Western palate cannot handle spiciness.

Preparing the little banana leaf baskets for rice and sauce. Tirta Sari, Pemuteran. Bali

Balinese classic favourites include Nasi Goreng, Mie Goreng, Nasi Campur, Gado Gado, Urab, Pepes Ikan, and Sate. The best Gado Gado I tasted this year came from the kitchens of Lila Pantai.¬†It disappeared before I snapped a photo. The Balinese version of this dish tends to be deconstructed and is often served with a little jug of peanut sauce on the side. A reliable source of Balinese recipes can be found in Janet DeNeefe’s Bali. The Food of My Island Home, a book that I refer to often when back in my own kitchen.

Deconstructed Gado- Gado. The new shop right on the sea near the Banjar at the end of Jalan Kesuma Sari.Sanur, Ubud.
Classic Nasi Goreng with grilled tempe sate sticks on side. Tasty version from Savannah Moon, Jalan Kajeng, Ubud.

I am often amazed by the simplicity of Balinese kitchens. Many a meal is served from a mobile kitchen on the back of a motorbike, or from little yellow and green painted stalls, such as the popular Bakso stands, now seen only in the countryside.

Classic sate with sides for a son-in-law.

Many working Balinese grab some nasi campur for breakfast. Nasi campur is a serve of rice, often in the shape of a cone, surrounded by little portions of other dishes, perhaps some chicken, or tofu, some soupy, bland vegetable curry, a boiled egg or perhaps a corn fritter, all topped with a sprinkling of roasted peanuts and a serve of home-made sambal. Heavenly food. I love the vegetarian version of this dish. In the pasar, or fresh market, this meal is packed up for a traveller for around $1 or so, depending on how many sides you add.

Stall holder makes Nasi Campur. Pasar Sindhu, near Jalan  Pantai Sindhu, Sanur, Bali
Nasi Goreng Seafood.

Every now and then, a traveller needs to lash out and eat Western food. In the past, eating Western cuisine in a Western looking place translated to high prices, bland food, poor quality and slow service. Things have improved, though it’s still much safer to eat in Balinese warungs and restaurants. Modern western cooking relies more on refrigeration, freezing and the pre-preparation of soups, sauces and various components. These ideas are quite foreign to Balinese chefs who prefer to make everything to order. The fish will be freshly caught, or purchased that morning from the Pasar Ikan at Jimbaran: the vegetables will not be pre-chopped, the stocks will be made on the spot. Unless a Western restaurant has an impeccable reputation for cooking and serving foreign food, they are best avoided. The Three Monkeys restaurant in Ubud is one place that gets it right. Mr T ordered a remarkable Italian/Balinese/Melbourne fusion¬†dish- Saffron Tagliatelle with prawns, lemon, chilli and sambal matah. I found my fork sneaking over to his plate for a twirl or two. The tagliatelle was house made, the service was prompt, the level of spice just right. I had snapper and prawn spring rolls which were also sensational.

Heavenly fusion food at Three Monkeys, Ubud.
A new take on Spring rolls. Prawn and Snapper. The Three Monkeys, Ubud. 59K IDR

Another very reliable western style restaurant in Sanur is Massimo’s Ristorante. This year, guests may watch the girls making fresh pasta down the back of the shop. Massimo has also introduced fresh buffalo mozzarella and burrata to the menu, which is now made on the island.

Making green pasta, Massimo’s, Sanur, Bali
Vanilla Stick Lady in The Pasar Sindhu Market.

Many thanks to Sherry for hosting this monthly series. My kitchen posts will be on tour for four months and one of these days, I might get my hands dirty again.

A collection of well used Ulegs outside Janet de Neefe’s cooking school, Honeymoon Guesthouse, Ubud.

Next post. Return to Chiang Mai, Thailand.

Balinese Fish Curry. Tropical Nirvana

Hot balmy nights, evening white wines in a shady garden, a Balinese fish curry, these little pleasures are to be savoured, fleeting moments conjuring food memories of my other ‘spiritual’ home, Bali.

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Indonesian food goes very well with Melbournian summers. Some dishes are simple and economical: others demand some effort, especially this fresh Balinese fish curry, with its long list of ingredients for the paste, involving a market trip to an Asian grocery to source some of the more unusual ingredients. A good home-made curry paste makes all the difference. It really is worth the effort.

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I learnt this classic Balinese fish curry at Janet deNeefe’s Casa Luna cooking school, ¬†which is¬†attached to the Honeymoon guest house in Ubud, Bali. The curry sauce is rich, fragrant and complex and tastes just like Bali on a plate.

Preparing the curry ingredients at the Casa Luna Cooking school, Ubud.
Preparing the curry ingredients at the Casa Luna Cooking school, Ubud.
The paste being ground in the huge Uleg.
The paste being ground in the huge Uleg at Casa Luna, Ubud.

The curry paste.

  • 6 garlic cloves,
  • 1 teaspoon of shrimp paste/belacan/terasi ( toast over a flame before adding)
  • 3 large chilli, seeded. These chillies are not hot but give colour and depth of flavour.
  • 1 tablespoon fresh turmeric ( substitute dried powder if unavailable)
  • 2 teaspoons fresh ginger
  • 3 candlenuts¬†( or use macadamia nuts )
  • 1 teaspoon tamarind
  • 1/4 teaspoon peppercorns. ¬†I prefer white.
  • 2 stalks lemon grass, white section only. Save leaves and stems for adding to Asian stock.
  • 3 shallots, roughly chopped.
  • 1 large tomato
  • 3 small hot chillies
  • 2 tablespoons galangal
  • 1.2 tablespoon kencur ( not available locally)
  • 1 tablespoon coriander seeds
  • 2 teaspoons palm sugar
  • stalk of torch ginger (optional)
  • pinch of nutmeg

Prepare the ingredients by roughly chopping larger items. Put everything into a large Uleg, mortar and pestle or food processor and grind to a smooth paste. I began mine in the uleg  (an Indonesian mortar) but quickly switched to the processor. You may need to add a little oil to blend them in a processor.

Home prepped ingredients in my little uleg
Back home. Prepped ingredients in my little uleg

Other ingredients

  • 400 grams of fresh mackerel in chunks ( 3 cm by 3 cm) ( or any firm fish that is suitable to curry) I used sea bass. NOTE. I would recommend 600-700 gr of chosen fish.
  • 2 tablespoons cooking oil, NOT olive oil.
  • 3 salam leaves ( not available fresh in Melbourne)
  • 1 lemongrass, bruised and tied in a knot,
  • 1 torch ginger shoot bruised ( hard to find in Melbourne)
  • salt to taste
  • 1/2 cup or more of coconut milk
  • 3 kaffir lime leaves
  • 1.12 cups water.

    Cook the curry paste in oil, adding lime leaves and lemon grass.
    Cook the curry paste in oil, adding lime leaves and lemon grass.

After making the curry paste, by mortar or processor, heat a little plain oil in a wok and add paste to the hot oil, along with lemon grass tied in a knot and the lime leaves.  Also add the salam leaves and torch ginger if you happen to have them. Stir around. Next add the chunks of fish, stirring around until they change colour, for a minute or two.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAdd 1 cup of water, simmer gently then add the coconut milk. I use more than the stated 1/2 cup . Just add and taste. 1- 1/2 cups is about right for me. Check seasoning and add salt to taste.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAs I had more sauce and not so much fish, I added a handful of green prawns, unshelled. Cooking them with shells on adds to the depth of flavour, imparting a fragrant tropical bouillabaisse sensation.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHave the rice cooking while making the curry. Balinese tend to use fat rice: Australian medium grain rice is perfect with this dish. Serve the curry in a big bowl with chopped coriander and lime wedges if you are lucky enough to have some.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAGo into the garden, pretend you’re in Bali, and see how much turmeric you can splash about on your napkins. Tropical Nirvana to share for four.¬†

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