Making Balinese food can be rather confusing for the neophyte. Each dish often requires a long list of complex spices and herbs, some of which we’ve never heard of before. The cooking methods can also be very tedious and time-consuming.
On top of that, Balinese people rarely use exact measurements, and it seems like everyone has their own version of the ingredients and cooking methods. To complicate things further, some Balinese people use their fingers as a measuring tool, and each finger can only be used to measure a specific spice/herb!
That’s probably why Balinese cuisine is so good! People there cook with feeling, rather than with rules and instructions; everything is felt, everything is instinctive. Every dish that comes out of Bali is unique to its cook. In Bali, cooking is truly an art.
Despite all the complexity, learning how to cook Balinese food is very rewarding. Balinese cuisine has a unique, sharp, and complex flavour, and is very different from other regions in Indonesia. It’s worth the experience.
The most common spice paste
To shorten the cooking process, the Balinese have come up with a smart system of classifying and preparing basic spice pastes, which they call base. Prepare the Base in advance, based on the main ingredients to be used. For example: base be siap is for poultry, base be Pasih for fish, base be sampi for beef and base jukut for vegetables. In Bali, you can find these ready-to-use pastes at the market.
Base genep is one of the most important and common spice pastes in Bali. It is basically a ‘complete’ spice mix paste that you can use in many Balinese dishes as a base. Use it for meat, vegetables, fish, etc, and sautee, marinate, grill, or used it in soups and curries.
The traditional way of preparing base genep is to finely mince all the fresh ingredients using a big knife. Two knives make it even finer. Rhizomes and root vegetables are left unpeeled, because Balinese people believe that the outer skin makes for a more aromatic paste and has medicinal benefits.
Pound the dry spices in a mortar and pestle. Finely mince and pound all the ingredients, then combine and saute them in coconut oil. Finally, cool the paste and store it for later use.Print
Balinese cuisine uses many spice pastes, known as base, which are used for cooking elaborate meat or vegetable dishes. This recipe, for base genep, is a common and universal spice paste that can be used for everything.
- 5 cm turmeric, chopped
- 5 cm galangal, chopped
- 4 cm ginger, chopped
- 4 cm lesser galangal, chopped
- 6 cloves garlic, peeled, chopped
- 10 shallots, peeled, chopped
- 4 big red chillies, seed removed, chopped
- 4 bird’s eye chillies (add or reduce the amount according to your preference)
- 5 stalks lemongrass, use only the white parts, finely chopped
- 1 tsp coriander seeds
- 0.5 tsp black peppercorn
- 0.5 tsp white peppercorn
- 3 candlenuts, chopped
- 0.5 tsp grated nutmeg
- 1 tsp roasted shrimp paste
- 2 salam leaves
- Salt to taste
- Pinch of sugar
- 0.5 cup coconut oil
- Using a blender or food processor, blend into a coarse paste the: chopped turmeric, galangal, ginger, lesser galangal, garlic, shallots, big red chillies, bird’s eye chillies and lemongrass (Paste 1).
- Using a grinder, grind the coriander seeds, black and white peppercorns, candlenuts and nutmeg (Paste 2).
- Mix paste 1 and 2 together.
- Heat the coconut oil in a wok over medium high heat.
- Add the blended spices, roasted shrimp paste, salt, sugar and salam leaves.
- Fry for about 5 minutes, then reduce the heat to a low flame, and continue cooking for another 20 minutes or until most of the liquid has evaporated and the spices have turned golden brown.
- Let the spice paste cool and keep in the fridge for later use.
- Base genep can be portioned and stored for a week in the fridge or a month in the freezer.
- To save time and energy, I used a food processor to make the paste, but feel free to do it the traditional way, which will involve mincing the fresh ingredients and pounding the dry spices to get the real Balinese experience.
Keywords: Spicy, Condiments