Saturday Kitchen: Destination Bali

Mt Agung from Bali Asli

I think my husband dreads those occasions where Bali is drawn out of the Saturday Kitchen Destination Decision bowl – he (and our daughter) know that for the next however many days all they’ll be hearing from me is about how I want to go back to Bali.

We have, however, neither the time nor the finances to get there for at least the next 12 months, so Balinese food cooked at home is about as close as we’ll be getting to the taste of Bali. Although I am thinking of another novel set there…#watchthisspace

I also harbour a (not so) secret ambition to attend Ubud Writers Festival as a speaker. Speaking of which, does anyone know how I’d go about doing that?

Anyways, it’s also a good opportunity to try something different from one of my Balinese cookbooks.

Balinese food is about more than a touristy nasi goreng – although a nasi goreng made with a good spice base is very good indeed. Nor is it spicy – although it is spiced. That’s one of the biggest myths about Balinese food – that it’s hot and spicy. While it’s chock full of distinctive flavour – ginger, garlic, lemongrass, galangal, chilli, belacan* – most dishes are, in themselves, not hot. The heat usually comes from the sambal that’s served on the side so that you can add the heat that you want. 

At the heart of most Balinese meals is the rice, with meat being more of a side serve than the main event, and vegetable salads – although not salads as we’d know them to be; with the exception of the occasional cucumber, the Balinese don’t eat raw vegetables. Veggies are well-cooked, usually steamed, cooled to room temperature and then mixed with grated coconut, spice mixes or sambals, and served with the rice and whatever protein is offered. (The pics below were taken at Jatiluwih rice terraces.)

I love these salads, known collectively as Sayur Urab (which quite literally translates to mixed vegetables) – so much that I’ve included them in both novels I’ve set in Bali: Baby, It’s You and Big Girls Don’t Cry. You can find a recipe here, but seriously, any mix of veggies works.

You’ll see heaps of varieties of these salads all over the island, but the best example I’ve had has been at Bali Asli over on the east side of the island. The pics below are the views from the table.

Over there the food is prepared from produce sourced either from the garden, the markets or the sea that day; and cooked using traditional techniques – mainly because the power supply is a tad dodgy. There’s no hum of electricity, just the gentle tinkling of water and the rhythmic chime of the gamelan. Everything is served in the style of the Megibung (how much do I love that word?) – where side dishes (many of which are plant-based) for all to share are arranged around a central pillar of rice. Each time we’ve visited it’s been slightly different.

Okay, to this week’s Saturday Kitchen. On the menu was Nasi Campur – mixed rice – the individual version of Megibung. Similar to the Malaysian version Nasi Lemak, it’s a mound of steamed rice surrounded by small portions of a meat dish, some vegetables, perhaps egg or satay, sambal. There’s no rhyme or reason to it – and it differs from place to place. On ours was:

Pesan Ayam – Diced Chicken in Banana Leaf – we couldn’t get any banana leaves so I parcelled it up in little squares of baking parchment instead and steamed it in the bamboo steamer.

Nyanyat Celeng – Pork Braised in Coconut Milk. See the recipe below.

Lawar Buncis – Bean Lawar – beans with a spicy coconut milk dressing, and eggs with a fiery tomato and chilli sambal.

It sounds like a lot of cooking – and I suppose that it was – but at the base of each of the savoury dishes is the same Base Genep – a multi-layered spice paste. It’s sometimes known as Bumbu, Bumbu Bali or Base GedeThe one I make is here. I make up a big lot at a time and freeze what I don’t need immediately into 100g lots that are the perfect size for Nasi Goreng.

To finish there was home-made coconut ice cream (the recipe is in the link) with mango and little smashed up meringues – mainly because I got a bucket of 8 mangoes for $9 and the ice-cream took 6 egg yolks so while I froze 3 of the egg-whites I needed to do something with the other 3.

No photos – mainly because we eat in the evening and the lighting is poor. You do, however, get a recipe.

Pork Braised in Coconut Milk

What you’ll need

  • 800g (or thereabouts) pork shoulder or neck, diced into 3cm cubes
  • 2 tablespoons coconut oil
  • 200g Base Genep
  • 2 stalks of lemongrass – smashed with the back of a knife to soften them
  • 1 litre chicken stock
  • salam leaves – substitute with bay leaves
  • 250ml coconut cream
  • 1 tablespoon crushed coriander seeds
  • 1 tablespoon crushed black peppercorns
  • Salt to taste

What you do with it

  • Heat the oil in a deep sided fry pan or stewing pot. Add the spice paste and saute for a couple of minutes.
  • Add the pork, lemongrass, leaves, coriander and pepper and saute until the meat is coloured on all sides.
  • Pour in enough stock to cover the meat, bring it to the boil and then let it simmer (uncovered) for about an hour, adding extra stock as the liquid evaporates.
  • Add the coconut cream and bring it back to the boil. Reduce the heat and simmer until the meat is tender and the sauce thickened – perhaps another 30 minutes? This isn’t an exact science.
  • Season to taste.

As with many braised dishes, this is best cooked in advance and reheated.

*You can find notes on ingredients in this post.

Author: Jo

I write, I bake, I chase sunrises.

10 thoughts

  1. Yum yum, I love Balinese food, time to get my recipe books out. I particularly like steamed beans and carrots served mixed with base gede and coconut 😋

  2. I am so hungry after reading this! Incidentally, I once went to a cooking class in Bali at a restaurant called Bumbu Bali, now I know how the restaurant got his name. That pork recipe has my mouth watering 🙂

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