Thursday, July 05, 2007

Balinese cooking class

Anna’s recent post about the Casa Luna Cooking School in Ubud has given me a gentle shove to finally getting around to chronicling my recent experience.

I’d hoped to have been able to book in for the market tour as well as cooking class but it was a busy week and there were no vacancies. If you are planning to go to Bali in the Southern winter, you can book in advance via the net – so you don’t miss out.

At least we got our first equal class choice – Monday’s journey through Balinese vegetarian and seafood dishes. The delightful Yode, filled in for Janet who was ironically in Melbourne taking the same cooking courses.

While we waited for the class to begin we were fed large, just fried crackers and a lovely hibiscus cordial. Quickly the class swelled in size – a fair few from Australia, a whole wedding anniversary party from LA and a sweet young British gal straight from her job at Buckingham Palace.

The 4 hour class covers the flavours of Balinese cooking, some grinding of spices and assembling of dishes - even better at the end of the class you get to eat it all . The balance of sweet, salt, hot and sour is honoured in each dish. Interestingly I met a number of Balinese who weren’t keen on fiery food and though chilli features as a mainstay of local cooking it’s comparatively subtle compared to other Asian cuisines, such as Thai.

As we made our way through base herbs, Yode gave many medicinal asides – root ginger on the forehead can ease a headache, turmeric root a catch all antiseptic (her own abrasions from a recent motorbike accident bore the yellow dye of the plant), ginger and lemongrass tea the preferred medicine for ‘Bali belly’. My favourite was her tip for a mosquito repellent – get a bundle of fresh lemongrass stalks and sit in a vase beside your bed.

headache be gone! Bali style

Fragrant seeds are used in a base spice mixture (wangen) – cloves, coriander, nutmeg, black pepper, long pepper and thickened with candle nuts and sesame seeds. We were warned of the hapless tourist who bought what he thought was macadamia nuts from the Ubud market and ended up sick and sorry for a number of days. He’d been sold candle nut (kemiri), which is toxic when eaten raw.

a bundle of spices - tumeric, sweet mild local garlic, candle nuts, lemongrass, shrimp paste, corriandar seeds, chilli...

Roots and shoots from the ginger family are abundant in the base begungkilan. Fresh ginger, galangal, lemongrass and turmeric are readily available in Melbourne, but what they refer to as ‘aromatic ginger’ or ‘white turmeric’ (kencur) – a distinctive Balinese flavouring is harder to source. The torch ginger, from the pink flowered plant another illusive taste.

Sour flavours come via my old favourite kaffir lime leaves, shredded finely and used abundantly. Also large amounts of tamarind, a plant I have only tentatively experimented with before.

The salt is largely the locally produced sea salt from west Bali, but also roasted shrimp paste and kecap asin. The sweet flavour is from kecap manis (sweet soy) and local palm sugar (often used as a syrup)

While we got introduced to the basics, a support crew grated coconut for fresh milk, sliced, diced and cooked the rice.

To start with, 2 versions of Rujak, a sweet and sour salad were prepared – with and without liberal doses of shrimp paste and chilli. Like all dishes the spices are ground in the local version of a mortar and pestle – a large flat volcanic stone mortar, less bowl like than the version I use at home. The fruit (and vegetables) used in rujak can be almost anything you like except watermelon that is reputed to make you feel ill in this combination. Ours included pineapple, apple, cucumber and carrot. The sauce featured a lot of tamarind, palm sugar and sea salt. Though I’m not a fan of ‘sweet and sour’ the spicier version had quite a kick and made a great starter or snack.


We made 2 vegetable dishes we’d had a number of times in our travels. The Kangkung pelecing is iron rich source of greens in a tomato sambal. I often see Kangkung (sometimes called water spinach) at Asian grocers but almost any Asian green, spinach or even silverbeet would make a tasty side dish. Acar is a very simple salad made from julienned carrot and cucumber tossed with white vinegar, salt, sugar and shallots.

kangkung pelecing


We were lucky enough to make both a fish curry and fish in banana leaves. The curry (mackerel mesanten) featured pretty much every spice covered in the class, fried off then the fish is added. Interestingly the dish is cooked in water, with just a little fresh coconut milk added at the last minute of cooking. The steamed fish in banana leaves (pepesan ikan) was my favourite – traditionally the parcels of fish and spice in banana leaves are fried over hot coals, but in class they were steamed and still delicious.

our Balinese feast

Unfortunately, we aren’t allowed to reproduce the recipes – but I’ll give my own versions with home sourced ingredients when I tackle them in my own kitchen.

To finish I ate a dessert that is only rivalled by my mum’s chocolate mousse, but has to be much healthier. Black rice is soaked then cooked for hours, with some sticky white rice. The grains are then boiled with vanilla beans, palm sugar and a pandan leaf. On serving a splash of freshly made coconut milk is added, just a dash makes it creamy and luxuriant. It was hard to not grab seconds.

All this was washed down with sweet brem, a fermented rice drink. Much lower in alcohol that the turbo charged other arak (consume enough of that and you can become permanently blind – I kid you not), even with lashings of lime juice it’s a bit too cloying for my tastes. The aftertaste is yeasty, a cross between rice and bread.

This was a great way to spend the morning followed by a most sumptuous lunch of the food we’d marginally helped to prepare. A must for any foodie who’s heading to Bali. It was even better than the food we ate at the Casa Luna Restaurant or maybe that was just the herbal magic spun through sharing the of joy of cooking.

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Blogger Wendy said...

Great post and beautiful pictures. Especially of the spices. :)

8:05 pm  
Blogger Another Outspoken Female said...

Thanks - if only we could capture the aromas too :)

9:10 am  

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