Back to Bali: Banana Leaf Snapper with Sambal and Coconut Salad – Recipe | Indonesian food and drink

Iit’s five o’clock in the morning. My niang (grandmother) is bent over her raw brick stove with a bamboo pole in her right hand, stoking the freshly lit fire. “It’s better to fill your mind with beautiful thoughts when cooking,” she says.

Maya Kerthyasa prepares ingredients with her niang Anak Agung Rai in Bali

My niang and I have been cooking together for four years now. Our conversations in his kitchen – a traditional open-air pavilion with a wood-fired cooktop – are what brought me back to Bali.

Before that, I had spent most of my life in Australia writing about almost every other cuisine under the sun. On my return trips, I’d head straight for my niang’s cooking – its smoke-tinged rice, delicate broths and flavorful sambals – and wonder why the rest of the foodie world paid so little attention. to Balinese cuisine.

I now understand why. Mon niang’s generation learned and passed on knowledge orally, so the best recipes are rarely recorded on paper, and restaurants rarely have the time and tools to match the depth, complexity and zing of home kitchens. from Bali. Thus, Balinese flavors have flown under the culinary radar, unexplored, for the most part, by chefs, food publications and hungry travelers. These recipes, I hope, will change that.

Sambal matah (raw sambal with lemongrass)

This sambal is similar to a salsa. It is probably Bali’s most beloved condiment and every region, village and household adds its own twist to it. Slice the ingredients as thinly as possible and use your fingers to blend.

Bali's most popular condiment: sambal matah
Bali’s most popular condiment: sambal matah

Makes 250g

150g (about 6) red shallots (Asian)thinly sliced
18 tabasco peppers
thinly sliced
4 stalks of lemongrass
white part only, thinly sliced
6 lime leaves
finely chopped
80ml coconut oil
1 tbsp lime juice
2 teaspoons of shrimp paste
lightly fried
Sea salt
to taste

Using your hands, combine the shallot, chili, lemongrass and lime leaves in a medium bowl.

Heat the coconut oil in a small saucepan over medium heat for three to four minutes and pour it into the mixing bowl.

Allow the mixture to cool slightly and, using your hands, gently press everything together to incorporate the coconut oil into the other ingredients.

Add lime juice and shrimp paste and mix again. Season with salt to taste and you are good to go. Best eaten fresh, not stored.

Urab timun (cucumber salad and burnt coconut)

This cucumber number normally comes out on special occasions. You can reduce or even omit the chiles for less heat if you prefer.

Bright, refreshing and full of contrasting flavors: urab timun
Bright, refreshing and full of contrasting flavors: urab timun

For the salad
220g roasted coconut
finely grated
4 cucumbers
peeled, halved lengthwise and sliced
Sea salt
to taste
4 lime leaves
thinly sliced, to serve
Juice of ½ lime
to serve

For the sambal
4 tablespoons coconut oil
4–5 red shallots (Asian)
thinly sliced
5 garlic cloves
thinly sliced
6 red bird peppers
thinly sliced ​​(optional)
1 teaspoon of shrimp paste
rolled into a ball
Thumbnail-sized piece of small galangal
finely chopped
1 teaspoon of salt

To make the sambal, heat the oil in a small wok over medium heat. Add the shallots and sauté for two minutes, or until they become translucent. Add the garlic and fry, stirring constantly to make sure nothing sticks or burns, for four minutes, or until the garlic and shallots are lightly caramelized.

Add the chili, shrimp paste and baby galangal and cook, stirring, until the shrimp paste is completely dissolved, the chili is wilted and the baby galangal becomes fragrant. Add the salt and mix again, then remove from the heat.

Pour most of the sambal into a bowl, reserving about a handful for seasoning, and mix it with the coconut using your fingers.

Add the cucumber and some of the coconut mixture to a large bowl and mix using your hands. Massage it in well, but be careful not to bruise the cucumber too much, adding more coconut mixture until you’re happy with the cucumber-to-coconut ratio. The cucumber should be well coated but not too soggy.

Season with salt to taste and more sambal for an extra kick, if desired. Garnish with lime leaves and a squeeze of lime juice and enjoy immediately.

Pepes be pasih (grilled spicy snapper in banana leaves)

Pepes be pasih is incredibly popular all over Bali, especially in the coastal areas where you can easily get your hands on fresh seafood. For this recipe, I chose snapper because that’s what we ate growing up. My mom also made this recipe with albacore tuna and octopus, which you should definitely try too. This is one of my favorite ways to cook seafood because the banana leaf locks in all the moisture, the coals give the smoke and the spices add punch, heat and color to the dish. .

Oh, Snap: Grilled Balinese Snapper in Banana Leaves
Oh, Snap: Grilled Balinese Snapper in Banana Leaves

Serves 2

100g of banana leavescut into sheets of 20 × 22 cm
1 teaspoon palm sugar
100g of basic kuning,
Recipe below
300g snapper fillet
cut in two
1 teaspoon sea salt
2 tablespoons coconut oil
2–3 red shallots (Asian)
6 garlic cloves
1 long red pepper
seeded and sliced
2 salam leaves
1 small bilimbi or green tomato
thinly sliced
2 sprigs of carum (lemon basil)
steamed rice
to serve
Urab Timun
to serve above
to serve above

Add the sugar and base kuning to a small mixing bowl and use your hands to massage them together until fully combined.

Season the fish with salt and add it to the base mixture. Transfer the fish to the refrigerator to marinate for 30 minutes.

Heat the oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the shallot and garlic and sauté for three to four minutes, or until translucent, being careful not to let anything stick or burn. Leave to cool, then mix with the chilli. Once cool enough to handle, massage the marinated fish with the shallot mixture.

Preheat a charcoal grill or barbecue.

Place two pieces of banana leaf on top of each other, then a salam leaf in each bundle.  Place the fish on it
Place two pieces of banana leaf on top of each other, then a salam leaf in each bundle. Place the fish on it.

To make a bundle of banana leaves, place two pieces of banana leaf on top of each other, with the top (shiny) side of the bottom leaf facing the bench and the shiny side of the top leaf facing you. The veins of both leaves should face the same direction.

Place a salam leaf in each foil, place the fish on top, then place a slice of bilimbi or green tomato and carum on top.

Fold one side of the sheet over the fish, then the other side in the shape of a letter.  Secure with toothpicks
Fold one side of the sheet over the fish, then the other side in the shape of a letter. Secure with toothpicks

Fold one side of the banana leaf over the fish, following the grain of the leaf.

Fold the other side of the sheet into a letter fold.

Fold the two ends over and secure them with toothpicks or traditional bamboo sticks.

Grill the packets over medium heat for about eight minutes on each side – the banana leaf should be a little charred as the fish cooks inside.

Gently unwrap the package over a bowl to catch all the juices.

Place the meat on a plate, pour the juice over it and serve with steamed rice, a side of urab timun and sambal matah.

Base kuning (yellow spice paste)

The word base (pronounced bah-surr) refers to spices or spice blends. Basic combinations are best made fresh, but you can make them in bulk and store them in the freezer.

The traditional art of working your food by hand adds a rhythmic element to cooking. We also believe it connects the cook and the ingredients on an energetic level, where the dish becomes an offering of love and intention. So skip the food processor (tempting as that may be).

Makes 450g

15 cm of fresh turmericcoarsely chopped
115g small fresh galangal
coarsely chopped
1 cm fresh ginger
coarsely chopped
115g (about 30) garlic cloves
coarsely chopped
1 red shallot (Asian)
coarsely chopped
3 candle nuts
roasted and coarsely chopped
9 tabasco peppers
coarsely chopped
100ml coconut oil
250ml water
2 teaspoons sea salt
1 teaspoon of sugar

Using a large mortar and pestle, mash the turmeric, small galangal, ginger, garlic, shallot, candle nuts and chilies into a paste. Most Asian supermarkets stock candle nuts, and you can buy them online — or substitute them with their relative, the macadamia nut.


Heat the oil in a wok over high heat until it reaches the smoking point. Reduce the heat to medium, add the spice paste and slowly stir in the water for two minutes.

Reduce the heat to low and continue cooking the dough for 45 minutes to an hour, or until all the liquid has evaporated and forms a dark yellow dough.

Add salt and sugar, stir well and cook over low heat for another 10 minutes. Adjust seasoning to taste. It’s ready when it’s deep yellow in color with a crisp aroma and earthy, punchy flavor. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for two to three weeks.

  • This is an edited excerpt from Peacock: Real Balinese Cooking by Maya Kerthyasa and Wayan Kresna Yasa, published by Hardie Grant Books (RRP $50). Photograph by Martin Westlake

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