Thursday, July 29, 2010

Bali: The End or the Beginning

So I have reached the end of the Bali blogs. As you can tell, it was a terrific trip, full of fun and adventures, many of which I have now written up.  It was also deeply restful, especially so because, after the first few posts, I decided not to blog and instead to enjoy the experience fully, without getting near a computer. It was the right decision. We walked, sat by the pool, looked at the ocean and read good books. We went to a Balinese healer for some body work and to a Balinese holy man for some spiritual guidance. We enjoyed our time with Ben and Stephanie so much. We loved doing all the things I've now shared with you. And yes, to say it one more time, the food, oh the food, was just superb.

Just in case you're wondering, we stayed at two small boutique hotels that were just wonderful and very reasonably priced. We would highly recommend them. Alila Ubud is in the central part of the country; Alila Manggis is on the southeastern coast.

You can read the Bali posts any way you like, top down or bottom up. If you do the bottom up, which will give you a better sense of the trip's narrative flow, move yourself down to June 26 and read backwards to the top.

In many of these posts, I've kept the photographs small because there were so many I wanted to include. On most computers, you can click on the photos to make them bigger if you want to check out the details.

One last picture. Ahhhhh.

July 6, 2010 Manggis, Bali: Cooking Class at the Organic Garden

The cooking class was held in an open-air room with a thatched roof. Everyone in the class had a workstation with a burner, ulekan grinding stone, a packet of recipes, and small dishes of ingredients. We were glad to be in a covered space because mid-way through the class the heavens opened and it poured down rain. We were quite snug. Did I mention that I was the lone American in the group? Eight Australians and me.

Chef Santika opened the class with explanations of the ingredients we would be using for our lunch: the various kinds of rice and beans and the vegetables that would comprise Bumbu Bali.

Pak Sugita built a fire in the stove over which several of our dishes would cook.

We were set.

We started the class by making Bumbu Bali. Most of the ingredients are pictured here. Check my Bumbu Bali blog posted on July 29 and dated July 2 for lots of information about this useful paste, used to create so many Balinese dishes. Once it was simmering, we proceeded to prepare our lunch, carefully walked through the process by Santika.

Sate lilit babi, Pork Sate on Lemongrass. This version of sate is made with ground pork and mixed with fried shallots, garlic, Bumbu Bali, coconut milk and lime juice. The mixture is wrapped around the end of a stalk of lemongrass and is grilled. There is a special method which Santika demonstrated to make sure the meat stays on the stalk. Soooo good and so much fun to eat.

Tum ayam, Spiced Chicken Parcels. Ever-useful banana leaves are used to wrap up the mixture of chopped chicken coconut, Bumbu Bali, coconut milk, shallots, lemon basil, and lime juice. We put the little packets in the basket of a steamer which was sitting on the fire place. A great mixture. I could imagine making little packets out of aluminum foil—given the fact that banana leaves are not readily available. Why didn't I take a picture of what was inside?

Lawar don tabie bun, Bali Pepper Leaf with Grated Coconut and Red Beans. Spinach, bean sprouts or snow peas could be substituted for the Bali pepper leaves which are not readily available outside Bali. The greens are blanched, cooled, and mixed with grated coconut, fried chiles, shallots, and garlic, lime juice, and cooked red or black beans.

Tumis jepang, Stir-fried Choko (what we would call Chayote). Sliced chayote, red chiles, and garlic are sautéed in coconut oil. Stock, fish sauce, and oyster sauce are added and when everything is cooked, some sweet potato leaves or spinach are stirred in just before serving.

Nasi goreng, Balinese Fried Red Rice. This was the very same recipe we cooked in the first class except that this time we used cooked red rice. You can see how we left the coconut bowls resting gently over the mounds of rice to keep the bugs away while we finished preparing the lunch.

We had two sweets which the chef’s two assistants provided for us:
Urab sele, Sweet Potato Salad with Grated Coconut. It really wasn’t a salad in our sense of the word. It was several slices of boiled sweet potatoes, sprinkled with grated coconut and drizzled with palm sugar.
Lak lak, Tiny Rice Cakes. They were cooked in terracotta over the fire and served with fresh coconut and palm sugar.

It was a fantastic lunch, perhaps even better than the first cooking class lunch.

July 6, 2010 Manggis, Bali: The Organic Garden

I signed up for a second cooking class on our last full day in Bali. Ben and Stephanie had taken off on July 5th to adventure on their own, with plans to go to Lombok, a mostly-Muslim island a few hours away by boat, and then onto one of Lombok’s tiny off shore islands called Gili Air.

Our teacher, as with the previous class, was the executive chef of the hotel, Nyoman Santika. This time, rather than being taught at the hotel, the class was given on the site of the hotel’s small organic garden, a beautiful plot of land not far from the hotel.

My eight cooking mates were all Australian, six of them from one family. We were a very congenial group.

We were met at the entrance to the garden by the head gardener, Pak Sugita, whose spirit of welcome permeates the place. He showed us around his garden which grows lots of the roots used in Bumbu Bali as well as Kemangi (lemon basil) and purple basil, pandan (a leaf that is used as a flavoring in sweet dishes), mint, eggplant, corn, peppers, peanuts and a cinnamon tree. Thankfully there were many painted signs saying what was growing. The hotel uses as much as the garden can produce and has aspirations to increase the size of the property as it becomes available.

 Because it is adjacent to rice fields which receive significant doses of chemicals during the growing season, there is always danger that some of the water which floods these paddies will seep into the ground water and affect the organic garden. There is not much that Pak or the hotel can do until the awareness of the benefits of “organic” becomes more prevalent.

Luxuriating in the Tropical Fruits of Bali

The array of fruits in a tropical paradise is truly astonishing. I tried as many as I could and photographed most of them. Let me run them down for you.

Banana flowers. I saw them growing and was able to try them in a dish called Pusah bin mesantan, Banana Flowers with Fresh Coconut Milk and Balinese Spice. I found them in Berkeley at the Berkeley Bowl just in case I get a hankering for them.

Durian, the so-called stinky fruit, isn’t allowed in most public places. However, the ones that I spotted in Bali were at a roadside store comparable to a 7-Eleven. So go figure. There was no distinctive odor to them. They seem to have strong advocates—but most people say that it is an acquired taste. Perhaps more accurately an acquired smell.

Jackfruit is a very starchy fruit and can be used both cooked and uncooked. In salad form I had Lawar bebek which is Young Papaya and Jackfruit with Shredded Duck. We made Kare tahu dan tempe, Curry of Tofu and Soybean Cake in the first cooking class and included jackfruit which we had purchased earlier in the market.

Mangosteens are housed in a purplish shell which needs to be cracked open to reveal a soft garlic clove-shaped fruit with the texture of a lichee and a similar flavor. They are just delicious to eat out of hand, as Stephanie will attest.

Passion fruit, on the right side of the plate, looks a lot like a greenish orange on the outside. But once you break it open, it is quite different indeed. Filled mostly with black seeds held together with a mucous-like substance, they are far more tasty than they seem at first glance and are well worth a try. The hotel spa gave us small glasses of passion fruit sorbet following massages our last day in Bali. It was perfect.

A red pineapple was growing at the side of the water channel on our trek through the rice paddies. I would never have expected to see a pineapple growing in that location, much less a red one. But there you are.

Snake fruit in the lower left hand corner of the plate has a brownish mottled crackly skin which is easily peeled. You can  barely see it in the photo so you'll have to trust me that you can tell immediately why it is called a snake fruit. The lobed fruit sections inside are sweet with a texture somewhat akin to an apple.

Small pink water apples appeared on the grounds of our hotel one morning after a windy storm moved through during the night. Made, our guide from the Ubud hotel, had explained that they were the fruit of choice for kids when he was growing up, but once Washington State apples started being imported, the kids spurned the water apples for the imports.

Watermelons, cantaloupes, papayas, bananas, and regular golden pineapples are all readily available and were served to us every morning for breakfast, along with the more exotic fare. Mangos grow in Bali but were out of season so we didn’t see a one. This bowl of fruit was our dessert the last night---along with coconut milk ice cream.

Balinese Cooking Equipment: Old and New

As you might imagine, there is a combination of the traditional and the new in Balinese cook ware. Metal cooking pots and woks combine with more traditional pottery cooking vessels. Most families used to cook over a wood-burning stove of some sort—as they have all over the world. And gradually kitchens have become equipped with gas/propane or other kinds of burners.

These are pieces of equipment I saw used in Bali. How common the pottery pieces are in more modern settings is hard for me to know. Of course they are the ones I covet.

Ulekan, the Balinese mortar and pestle, used to grind up the ingredients for Bumbu Bali. An Australian chef told me that he carried an extremely weighty ulekan in his back pack onto the plane home. He said that it was hard to look casual walking onto the plane.

Cutting board and knife. The cutting board is a cross section of a tree trunk. You see the stain of the fresh turmeric on the board.

Wok. Such a useful cooking pan.

Metal cooking pot for simmering Bumbu Bali or any of the curry dishes we prepared.
Steamer. The bottom part of the steamer is generally made of metal. The steamer basket is woven. The lid placed over the basket is often pottery.

Banana leaves are incredibly useful wrappers of food to be steamed.

Pottery. I wanted so much to bring some of these pottery pieces home with me. But I would have had to spend a lot of time locating the shops that sell them and then getting them shipped. I decided against it and hoped against hope that I could find an importer who was bringing them into the US. No such luck. I will make do, of course, with what I have.

A shallow pan for roasting coffee beans over a fire.

New in the market, but can you imagine me carrying these home on the plane?

Round pottery dish with indentations for rice cakes which are served with freshly grated coconut and drizzled with palm sugar syrup.

July 2, 2010 Manggis, Bali: Bumbu Bali

As I mentioned in the cooking class blog, Bumbu Bali is the spice mix that defines Balinese cooking and gives it the richness and complexity that has captured my imagination and my taste buds. And it is so fun to say. It sounds like Boom Boom Bali and I couldn’t keep myself from saying it over and over, like an incantation. Boom Boom Bali. Boom Boom Bali.

You may be saying to yourself, "I would never in a thousand years make this." I must admit that I am still weighing the time considerations against the flavors which I love. What I find fascinating is that on the island of Bali, and probably many other islands in Indonesia, women are getting up every day and putting this together for themselves and their families. Of course the ingredients are readily at hand for them, but still I am in awe of the work involved and the sophistication and elegance of the result.

The ingredients include:

Ginger, galengal, and fresh turmeric (clockwise from upper left). I have found these three at Ranch 99 in Richmond or Berkeley Bowl.

Kencur, also known as aromatic ginger or lesser galengal, in a basket at the market. I haven't been able to find this in the US. I have substituted a little more ginger and more galengal.
Hot red chiles come in several different forms. The smaller ones, sometimes known as bird's eye chiles, are incredibly hot. I use slightly larger ones, like jalapenos, which are still plenty hot but not impossible. I often reduce the number I include until I know how hot they are.
Tamarind can be found in lump form like this or often in small jars as tamarind paste. It can be found in stores selling Indian foodstuffs. It has a wonderful tart flavor.
Palm sugar in Bali comes in these cakes. I've only been able to find it in a jar in the US.
Shrimp paste is used quite sparingly in Balinese food. It has a very strong flavor and an even stronger smell. In the US it comes very well wrapped---for good reason.
Candlenuts, shown here on the lower right, are very much like macadamia nuts. Whole nutmegs are in the middle of the plate. The shell needs to be removed to get to the nut which can be grated and is far superior to anything you can find in ground form. Peanuts and green, black, and red beans encircle the nutmegs.

Dried salam leaves and garlic are at the top of this picture. A lemongrass stalk is on the left. The stalk with a bud on the end is a ginger flower, not used in Bumbu Bali. Galengal, kencur, and fresh turmeric are the roots. Several kinds of peppers. And tucked in the middle are small Bali limes and perhaps a shallot or two.

Traditionally most of these ingredients would be ground together on a daily basis in an ulekan, a mortar and pestle made from lava stone, readily available in this volcano-rich country. Apparently some Balinese women, feeling pressed for time, have resorted to blenders to speed up the process. But clearly this method is frowned upon by our chef. I must admit that both times I have made it (before the trip and after the trip), I have used a blender and my less sophisticated Balinese palette thought the result was just fine—splendid even.

The paste is heated in oil over a fire, water is added, and it is simmered along with crushed lemongrass and salam leaves until it is much reduced. Once it has cooled, it is ready to use.