Kenus means ‘squid’ in Balinese, and kenus mebase is literally squid cooked in spices. The dish is one of Bali’s seafood delicacies, but less well known outside Bali compared to its more famous exports.
If you search on the internet, kenus mebase is often referred to as Balinese gulai, except without santan (coconut milk), but I have to disagree. Appearance wise, it might look a little bit like gulai (it still looks different to me). But in terms of flavour, the dish tastes completely different.
While gulai is somewhat mild, rich and creamy, kenus mebase – like much of Balinese food – has a rather sharp flavour. The spices used such as chilli, ginger, lemongrass and so on, are typical of Balinese cooking.
The tamarind extract brings out the pungent flavour of the shrimp paste, which is often the case in Balinese cooking. When shrimp paste is cooked with sour agents such as tamarind or lime/lemon, the shrimp paste flavour becomes more prominent. For me, this is what makes it different from Javanese cooking, for example. Though candlenuts are used in this dish — and they do help smoothen the flavour — the dish is far from being creamy or rich like gulai, especially when the Indonesian basil leaves (kemangi) are added.
Medium-sized squid is suitable for this dish. Small squid tends to shrink and disappear when cooked, leaving only the gravy — which is very sad. Don’t forget to remove the ink sac (it’s located in the innards) to avoid the dish turning black. The number of chillies is just a guide, and as usual, feel free to use fewer or add more. The big red chilli will help create a more vibrant color and make the dish look more attractive and appetizing.Print
A seafood delicacy from Bali, kenus mebase is a dish of squid cooked in a thick, spiced gravy consisting of numerous herbs, spices and chillies, such as galangal, Indonesian basil, lemongrass, tamarind and more.
- 750 gr medium sized squid
- Juice from 1 lemon
- 4 bid red chillies
- 5 bird’s eye chillies
- 6 shallots, peeled, chopped
- 3 cloves garlic, peeled chopped
- 3 candlenuts, chopped
- 2 cm ginger, peeled, chopped
- 2 cm turmeric, peeled, chopped
- 1 tsp coriander seeds
- 0.5 tsp roasted shrimp paste
- 1 tbsp tamarind extract
- 1 lemongrass, bruised, cut into pieces
- 2 cm galangal, bruised
- 2 salam leaves
- 1 handful kemangi (Indonesian basil) leaves, remove the stems.
- Salt to taste
- 4 tbsp cooking oil
- 250 ml water
- Clean and remove the ink sac of the squid. Wash thoroughly and rub it with lemon juice. Set aside.
- Blend into a fine paste: big red chillies, bird’s eye chillies, shallots, garlic, candlenut, ginger, turmeric, coriander seeds and roasted shrimp paste.
- Heat the cooking oil in a wok over medium heat, and then sauté the blended spices until fragrant (around 4 minutes).
- Add the bruised galangal, salam leaves and lemongrass. Fry for another 2 minutes.
Add the squid.
Add water, stir all the ingredients.
- Add tamarind extract and salt, and let the soupy mixture boil.
- After it boils, reduce the heat to medium low and simmer it for another 20-25 minutes until the squid is tender and the gravy thickens, but is not dry.
When the squid is done, put in the kemangi leaves and stir for 1 minute.
- Transfer the dish to a serving plate.
- Squid becomes rubbery when it’s not cooked for the right amount of time. To get a ‘right’ squid, we can either cook it very briefly or cook it for a long time until the squid is tender.
- For this recipe, I cooked the squid for around 25 minutes (fairly long), which is enough to fully cook the middle size squid until tender.
Keywords: Herbs, Galangal, Spicy, Kemangi