RECIPE OF THE WEEK: The Complete Spice Mix (Base Genep)

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Base genep is a multi-layered spice paste that appears in many Balinese dishes, from elaborate ceremonial foods to everyday fare. It contains all the spices that are precious to the Balinese, and virtually every ingredient is armed with healing properties.

I admit, the list is a bit daunting, but put on some groovy music, pour yourself a glass of wine and plough forth with a smile on your face. You’ll see the paste is not difficult to make – on the contrary, it is even therapeutic and uplifting (cooking is as much about feeding the soul as it is about filling the tummy).

Grind the candlenuts, peppercorns, coriander seeds, cloves and sesame seeds to a powder in a large mortar. Add the remaining ingredients and pound to a smooth paste. (Alternatively, you can blitz the dry ingredients in a coffee grinder, then transfer to a blender or food processor, add the remaining ingredients and blitz to a paste, adding a splash of water to get the mixture moving if needed.) The base genep should be fragrant, peppery and golden yellow. Spoon into a jar, cover with a thin film of oil and store in the refrigerator, where it will keep for at least a week.

Makes ¾ cup

2 candlenuts
4 garlic cloves
3 teaspoons chopped kencur (or 1 tablespoon galangal
and 1 teaspoon coriander seeds)
1 tablespoon chopped fresh turmeric
3 tablespoons vegetable oil

candlenuts

These waxy, cream-coloured nuts from the candlenut or candleberry tree are not unlike macadamia nuts in appearance and texture, although their flavour is somewhat milder. They are a classic Indonesian ingredient in spice pastes and sauces, used to thicken and give texture and add a light nutty flavour. Candlenuts need to be cooked before being eaten as they are toxic if consumed raw, having a powerful laxative effect. If unavailable, substitute 1 teaspoon of ground almonds for every 2 candlenuts in a recipe.

kencur

Kencur is a slender, brown, finger-shaped rhizome from a plant whose Latin name is kaempferia galanga
– it also goes by the names of resurrection lily, sand ginger and aromatic ginger. Its aroma and flavour is redolent of sweet, musky camphor. If you are unable to find it, I have specified a mixture of galangal and coriander seeds as an approximation of the flavour. Dried kencur unfortunately bears little resemblance to fresh kencur.

turmeric, fresh

This small orange rhizome tinges many Indonesian dishes yellow and adds a distinct earthy flavour not unlike mustard. It is prized for its healing properties and is used in herbal tonics. Fresh turmeric is far superior to its powdered counterpart and yields a more vital, cleaner taste. It is available alongside ginger and galangal at many Asian grocers.

Coconut Rice Recipes

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Coconut Red Rice (Nasi Merah Mesanten)

This is based on a Sri Lankan milk rice that I tasted in Galle a few years ago. It is not unlike Nasi Uduk (page 78) except for the obvious difference of the grain and the fact that it is set to cool in a dish and served cut into diamonds. Red rice is wonderfully nutty and chewy and the addition of coconut milk adds a lovely creamy touch. Like brown rice, red rice is brimming with goodness and is perfect to serve to your vegetarian friends. This is especially delicious with soupy stews and creamy curries.

2 cups red rice, soaked for 30 minutes
2 pandan leaves, tied together in a loose knot
3 salam leaves
400 ml coconut milk, plus 3 tablespoons extra sea salt

Strain the rice and put it into a large heavy-based saucepan with the pandan and salam leaves. Cover with 5 cm of water. Bring
to the boil and cook uncovered for around 40 minutes, or until the rice is soft and most of the water is absorbed or evaporated. Add more water if the rice dries out before it is cooked.

Add the coconut milk and salt to taste and bring the rice to the boil again. Simmer for 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and tip the rice into a square dish, pressing it into the corners. Cover with a layer of plastic wrap and place a weight on top. Set the rice aside for 1 hour.

Remove the weight and cut the rice into diamonds. Spread
3 tablespoons of coconut milk over the top of the rice to stop
it from drying out, and cover again with plastic wrap until ready
to serve.

Serves 6–8

Nasi Sela (Sweet Potato and Rice)

This is a simple alternative to serving plain steamed rice. The idea is that the sweet potato provides interest to the rice but doesn’t completely steal the show.

To older Balinese folk, nasi sela actually indicates tough times as sweet potato has always been used to stretch out precious rice when it has been either too expensive or hard to get hold of. But even so, many people have a certain fondness for the dish, and we often serve it in our household. It’s especially popular with Fresh Sambal (page 22) for a simple meal.

100 g (or 1 small) sweet potato
2 cups long grain white rice
3 salam leaves

Peel and chop the sweet potato into small pieces roughly twice the size of the raw grains of rice. Put in a bowl and cover with water to prevent browning.

To cook the rice the traditional way, by steaming, soak the
rice for 30 minutes, then strain and place in a steamer with
the salam leaves. Make a funnel or hole in the middle of the rice to allow steam to escape and steam for 30 minutes. Strain the sweet potato and stir it into the rice, make another funnel, and steam for a further 20–30 minutes, or until the rice is cooked
and fluffy.

Alternatively, put the rice and salam leaves in a large heavy-based saucepan. Rest a finger on top of the rice and add fresh water to just over the first joint of your finger. Bring to the boil. Cook uncovered for 3 minutes, then strain the sweet potato and stir it into the boiling rice. Cook for another 2 minutes, or until only a little water remains and the surface of the rice is covered with tiny holes. Cover the rice with a tight-fitting lid and lower the heat to the barest minimum. Cook without removing the lid for another 15 minutes. Turn off the heat and leave for 5 minutes before serving.

You can also cook the rice in a rice cooker, adding a little less water (just to the first joint of your finger). If the rice cooker permits, take the lid off after 5 minutes and stir in the sweet potato. Otherwise, boil the sweet potato separately and add
it to the rice when the rice is just cooked.

> Serves 6–8

Coconut Rice (Nasi Uduk)

Hailing from Java, nasi uduk is an aromatic and luscious rice that is normally dished up with your choice of fried chicken, liver, tempeh or tofu, and a modest serve of peanut sauce. I first tasted it several years ago at a warung (food stall) aptly named Nasi Uduk on Jalan Teuku Umar in Denpasar – which is fast becoming a culinary goldmine for sampling the glory of Indonesian food from Manado to Sumatra. My first mouthful was a euphoric experience to say the least. I was intrigued and enraptured all at once and ploughed through about four serves of the rice in one sitting. It was served in small triangular banana-leaf parcels, adding to the perfection. Sadly, the increased cost of banana leaves has seen an end to this beautiful presentation, but the flavour of the rice is still just as glorious.

500 g white long-grain rice
200 ml coconut milk
700 ml water
1 teaspoon sea salt
2 salam leaves
2 kaffir lime leaves
1 pandan leaf, tied in a loose knot
2 lemongrass stalks, bruised and tied together in a loose knot

Put all the ingredients in a wide heavy-based saucepan. Stir thoroughly and set aside for 20 minutes.

Cover the pan with a tight-fitting lid and bring to the boil, then turn the heat down as low as possible. Cook for 30–40 minutes (lifting the lid and stirring the rice after the first 20 minutes), or
until the liquid is fully absorbed and the rice is cooked. Don’t venture far near the end of the cooking time as you want to keep an eye on the rice and make sure it doesn’t catch on the bottom. Remove from the heat and set aside until ready to eat.

Alternatively, you can put all the ingredients in a rice cooker.

> Serves 6–10

RECIPE OF THE WEEK: Coconut Pannacottas

Elegant, ivory white and melt in the mouth, this sublime treat is a blend of coconut and pandan – Asia’s classic dessert duo – tinged with the seductive surprise of orange. There is just enough gelatine to make the pannacottas voluptuous and not too firm (but if you live in the tropics as I do, you might need to add more). I love these served with a drizzle of palm-sugar syrup, but I also sometimes serve them topped with a spoonful of Black Rice Pudding (page 208) for a dramatic colour contrast. Either way, it is a dessert you almost have to dress up for!

The pannacottas set overnight so you need to begin this recipe a day ahead.

1½ tablespoons white sugar
3 tablespoons water
310 ml coconut milk
2 pandan leaves, tied together in a loose knot
2 wide strips of orange zest
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 titanium-strength gelatine leaf
400 ml cream
Palm sugar syrup
250 g palm sugar, roughly chopped
250 ml water

Put the white sugar and water in a heavy-based saucepan and heat gently, stirring, until the sugar is dissolved. Add the coconut milk, pandan leaves, orange zest and vanilla and simmer over
low heat for 15 minutes to infuse the flavours into the milk.

Meanwhile, soften the gelatine in a bowl of cold water for 5 minutes. Squeeze the water from the gelatine and add to the hot coconut milk, stirring to dissolve the gelatine.

Pour the cream into a large bowl. Strain the coconut milk onto the cream, removing the pandan leaves and orange zest, and stir to combine.

Lightly oil 6 x 125 ml-capacity dariole moulds, ramekins or elegant glasses. Place them on a tray and fill with the cream mixture. Refrigerate overnight.

To make the palm sugar syrup, put the sugar and water in a heavy-based saucepan. Heat gently, stirring, until the sugar dissolves, then simmer without stirring for around 15 minutes, until roughly reduced by half. When small bubbles appear on the surface, remove from the heat immediately. Strain into a jug and leave to cool.

To serve the pannacottas, run a knife around the insides of the moulds and turn onto plates. (Or if using glasses you can serve them as they are.) Drizzle with a little palm sugar syrup.

> Makes 6

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