At the base of any great Balinese dish is a good Basa Gede, or Bumbu Bali.
Translated literally, Basa means spice or Bumbu, and Gede means Big.
And that’s exactly what it does- adds big flavours.
We used this one as the base for everything that we cooked at Bumi Bali:
We used it in the Sayur Urab
We used it in the Opor Ayam (Chicken Curry)
We used it in the Bali Sate Lilit
We didn’t use it in the Godoh, or Fried Banana with Palm Syrup
Anyways, the ingredients list is huge, but this keeps for a few weeks in the fridge and a couple of months in the freezer, so it’s worth making a batch, and popping it away in individual portion sizes of, say, 100g…or thereabouts. I’ve tried to use bought pastes in my nasi goreng or chicken curry, but it just doesn’t taste the same.
Besides, there’s not a lot that’s more therapeutic than popping on some loud music, pouring a glass of wine, and smashing down pastes in a mortar and pestle. Just saying.
I’ve seen a few recipes that are specifically for beef, chicken,vegetables, whatever, but this one is a good all purpose bumbu. It’s sometimes known as Base Genep.
A general rule of thumb is that you need around 25g bumbu for each 100g of protein, but don’t get too hung up on that. When we made the chicken curry, Nyoman (our teacher) just dolloped on a spoonful that looked to be the same size as one of the four chicken thighs already on the plate. Too easy.
When it comes to a vegetarian dish, or a nasi goreng, use less, adding little by little to taste.
What you need
25 shallots, peeled and chopped
8 cloves of garlic, peeled and chopped
7 large red chillis, seeded and chopped
10cm galangal, peeled and chopped
10cm turmeric, peeled and chopped
5cm fresh ginger, peeled and chopped
1 tablespoon coriander seeds
½ teasp black peppercorns
½ teasp white peppercorns
1 pinch freshly grated nutmeg
1 pinch cumin seeds
¼ teasp sesame seeds
2 teasp belacan or shrimp paste. If you’re vegan, you can substitute oyster or mushroom sauce
1 stalk lemongrass. Smashed with the back of a knife until it’s pliable, and tied into a knot
2 salam leaves(or bay or curry leaf)
150ml coconut oil
What you do with it
- Depending on what sort of day you’ve had, and how much time you have, pound all the ingredients (except the lemongrass, salam and the oil) in a pestle and mortar…or use a blender. Add water as required to moisten. As an aside, making spice mixes by hand is amazing therapy. Don’t worry too much if it seems too watery- this will cook off.
- Heat the oil in a wok or heavy pan and add the leaves and the lemongrass and cook for a minute or so.
- Add the spice mix and cook over a high heat, stirring frequently, until the excess water has evaporated and the mix is a rich golden brown colour.
- Cool before using.
Notes on the ingredients
Shallots: Those tiny reddish onions. They are milder than normal onions, are a bugger to peel and chop, but an absolute must have in Indonesian cooking.
Candlenuts: Here in Australia, it can be tough to source candlenuts. We have a few good Asian grocers around us that we source ours from, but if you have problems getting them, or simply can’t be faffed looking for them, macadamias are a good substitute from a texture viewpoint- although, to me, the taste is more like a cross between a macadamia and brazil.
Galangal: One thing we can’t get here is a differentiation between greater and lesser galangal. You see, not all galangals are the same. Both look like ginger root, but are very different in taste. Lesser galangal appears more like young ginger and has a more concentrated flavour. Sometimes the galangal we buy is technically lesser galangal, sometimes it’s very obviously greater galangal. Either way, it’s sold simply as galangal.
Most Balinese recipes will use both, but I’ve just simplified it to galangal. If you really can’t find it, substitute ginger, but it is worth seeking out.
Turmeric: fresh turmeric can be difficult to source, but I keep some in the freezer now. Another root spice, it looks also a little like ginger in shape, but is bright orange inside. It’s the turmeric that gives the final dish it’s amazing colour. When peeling it, if you don’t wear gloves, it will also give your fingers an amazing colour- as if you’ve been smoking three packs a day for the last fifty years! It has incredible health benefits too, so please make the effort to find the fresh stuff. If you must, substitute with 2 tablespoons turmeric powder.
Belacan: is a foul smelling shrimp paste that is absolutely essential in Indonesian cooking. It’s made from fermented shrimp and…you don’t really want to know. We buy it in our local supermarket in pre-roasted sealed portions. Trust me, there’s no personal glory involved in roasting your own.
Salam Leaves: You won’t find these, so don’t bother driving around town looking for them. Having said that, if you find a greengrocer in Sydney selling them, I’d love to know! Substitute with bay or curry leaves.
Coconut Oil:Coconut Oil has many health benefits (which I won’t go into here), but it also allows frying at a high heat. Any other vegetable oil (other than olive) is a good substitute.