As you would imagine, chillies play a large role in Balinese cooking. There are three types available on the island, cabe, a large green chilli which is quite hot, the Lombok red chilli (which is the mildest) and the local small fiery chillies - tabia krinyi - similar to birds eye chillies, but hotter! We were told to approach them with caution. On a visit to a temple, bowls full of the tabia krinyi were being prepared - I can't begin to imagine how hot the food would have been! You can tell how hot a chilli is by looking at it - the thinner the skin and the more seeds, the hotter it is. We were also told that the best way to test how hot the chilli is is to rub the sliced chilli on your wrist and see how long it takes to heat up (not something I would recommend).
All this is by way of introduction to the Balinese base spice mix - Bumbu - which is used in most local dishes and uses two types of chilli.
4 large red chillies, deseeded and sliced
4 cloves of garlic, peeled
12 small red shallots, peeled
2 red bird eye chillies, deseeded
4 almonds or 2 Brazil nuts (or 2 candlenuts if you can find them)
a good grate of nutmeg
2 inch piece of ginger, peeled
2 inch piece of galangal, peeled
2 inch piece of fresh turmeric (or 2 tsp powdered turmeric)
2 tsp tamarind puree
2 tsp palm sugar (you can substitute muscovado but palm sugar is seriously yummy and I think slightly addictive! I bought 4 kilos home with me!)
1 tsp roasted shrimp paste
3 tbsp vegetable or coconut oil
2 sticks lemon grass (crushed slightly with the handle of a knife to release the flavours)
I should add that this recipe originally contained Kencur root (part of the ginger family and similar to galangal) but I have been told that this is not available outside Bali as it does not transport well and also Salem leaf which is added with the lemon grass at the end of the recipe. We debated on our course whether you could substitute a bay leaf but all agreed that this would not be right. We also thought (probably much to the horror of any locals) that the salem leaf did not have much scent so would not really be missed if omitted.
Add all the ingredients (save for the oil, lemon grass and water) to a large pestle and mortar and pound to a fine paste. The Balinese do this using an ulekan - a large lump of lava rock carved into a bowl with a second smaller stone that you hold in your hand and rock backwards and forwards. There is an art to using it properly which takes practice - practice that I will sadly never get as my luggage allowance didn't allow for large lumps of lava rock!
When you have a fine paste, add the oil to a small saucepan and heat the paste gently for a few minutes. Add the lemon grass and the water and simmer the Bumbu until the water has evaporated and you have a thick paste again. This will take approximately 10 minutes. Remove the lemon grass stick.
This quantity will make enough for one or two dishes. You may wish to double up the recipe and make extra for freezing. You can keep it in the fridge for up to two weeks under oil (vegetable not olive oil) as you would pesto or freeze it in ice cube trays (where it will keep for a good two months).
This paste is really versatile and can be used as the base for any curry dish. If you want it hotter, leave the chilli seeds in! The hotel swirled this spice paste through their bread rolls before baking them to give a delicious curry chilli bread - something I will definitely be making. This paste will be used in the recipes I will be posting this week.
Reaching the final of Masterchef 2007 was a rollercoaster of emotion, with huge highs and lows, but I loved every minute and learnt a huge amount. I owe a great deal to John and Gregg who had faith in my ability when I did not believe in myself. Since competing on the programme my life has changed considerably. I now write cookery columns for two magazines, give cookery demonstrations and am just working on my 13th cook book - unlucky number for some but not for me!!! I love all forms of country cooking, using seasonal and locally sourced produce. This blog is to enable me to share with you a few of my recipes and baking ideas. Enjoy Hannah xxxx