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
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
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 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.
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.