Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Recipe: Balinese Chicken Satay (Sate Ayam)

'Shining Day Ibu'

Spoken to me by my co-gardener, Komang, as I walked out one Balinese morning - and shining it was.  Ubud, Bali
(Ibu is a term of respect in Indonesian for married /older women and mothers.  I think I preferred it when he referred to me as guru - the word for teacher)

The road to Kaliki with the active volcanoes of Batur and Besakih in the background.

Indonesia has long been a travel destination for my family and many of our friends - and, in particular the beautiful and exotic island of Bali.  We went there for the first time in the 80's and found ourselves in the hills of Ubud staying in the guesthouse of a Balinese prince that overlooked a lush and colourful tropical garden, rice fields, and rushing river where the locals (and us) went to bathe.

I remember that this holy place was surrounded by the beautiful white ginger (Hedychium coronarium) enveloping the bathers in it's heady, spicy fragrance.  I also remember the sign pointing to it for visiting westeners to find their way down to its cool, refreshing waters saying simply 'Holly Sprig' (holy spring - lost in translation?).

Household ceremonial displays for Galungan festival, Ubud, Bali

On that first trip we walked along this track, in the top photo, through the rice fields on our way to the holy mountain of Besakih; we went to a ceremony at the Palace with our Prince, where the royal children performed frog dances and gamelan music on bamboo flutes and xylophones - and we ate a Balinese feast.  Every day we came across roads clogged with gorgeously dressed men and women, carrying enormous head-dresses of lovingly made displays of fruit and sweetmeats, on their way to temple ceremonies,  for it was the festive season of Galungan.

Making satay is traditionally the work of men and eaten at ceremonies, as well as just everyday street food.  I bumped into these chaps - in their ceremonial sarongs and headscarves, just sitting in the middle of the parking lot making satay for the impending cremation ceremony of our Balinese prince's mother.

We saw every kind of artisan and artist at their craft and displaying their wears - basket makers, textile weavers and batik artists, wood carvers, stonemasons, painters, leatherworkers and the incredible everyday skills that everyone possesses for the making of ceremonial offerings (the Balinese are Hindu) And we ate, and ate, and ate.  By the end of our holiday we were well, and truly seduced.

I worked out that I have visited Indonesia about twenty times since then, both for holidays and wonderful working assignments, both our daughters ended up studying at UGM University in Jogyakarta for a year and being fluent in the language, and our travels further afield in Indonesia have taken us to the shores of Lake Meninjau in Sumatra, snorkelling on the Bunaken Islands of northern Sulawesi, climbing to the top of Borobudur in Java to salute the sun, stalking the prehistoric Komodo Dragons on the islands off Flores  and travelling up the Mahakem River in Borneo to the Dyak villages.  How lucky am I?  How fortunate that I went to Bali before there were any luxury hotels and the movie 'Eat, Pray, Love' and before it got loved to death.

Indonesian cuisine is not as well known as other Asian food, but it deserves to up there with the best of them.  I'll give you a quote from one of the top writers about Balinese food - resident Janet de Neefe (ex Melbourne) The Food of my Island Home and Rice.  Janet, and her Balinese husband Ketut, own and run a restaurant (Indus), cafe (Casa Luna) and guest house (Honeymoon) all in Ubud.  Janet was also instrumental in setting up the very successful Ubud Writer's Festival - her next venture is a cooking tour of the Spice Islands off Flores.  If I want to know anything about Indonesian cuisine, I go to her.

"On the table in front of me lies my favourite meal: nasi campur, a serve of freshly steamed rice with small helpings of delicious things.  There is braised tempeh, gently spiced fish, wok-fried water spinach with a scattering of fried chillies, amber-tinged chicken, warm sprouts and green amaranth tossed in peanut sauce, plus fried sambal - which I simply can't live without.  Just a spoonful of each alongside the rice is enough to satisfy the stomach and enliven the tastebuds.
Nasi campur is in fact nothing out of the ordinary, but simply the nourishing daily fare that is prepared in every home, food stalls and markets in every Balinese village. The selection of toppings is determined by the bountiful range of seasonal produce available. Since I moved to Bali I have eaten nasi campur nearly every day and I will never tire of it. It pretty well sums up Indonesia: small islands of food brought together by steamed rice. (Literally translated it means mixed rice)."
Workshop Nasi Campur

In 2004 I found myself teaching the principals or organic gardening to the Balinese - mostly those employed in the gardens of large hotels who were trying to grow some of the food they put on the menu from their own kitchen gardens (Alila Hotel, Ubud, and Alila Mangis, Candi Desa) - I also helped design those gardens and outdoor kitchens for cooking schools..  We fed our students nasi campur for lunch - delicious spicy seasonal tidbits with rice, wrapped in a banana leaf - with any waste going straight into the compost bin. I learned far more on these courses than I ever taught the Indonesians.

Minced chicken satay Balinese style

Most nasi campur will contain satay of some kind and this is a really simple adapted recipe that you can make with any kind of minced meat or fish.  I usually make this when I have dug up a clump of lemon grass and have lots of the best satay sticks you could possibly find (you can also use chopsticks that have been soaked in cold water for a couple of hours to stop them burning).  Lemon grass is fantastic for this job because it doesn't burn and also imparts a subtle flavour to the satay.  You may be familiar with the pieces of meat. charcoal grilled on bamboo skewers, served with peanut sauce on most street markets in Asia - and a particular favourite of Malay cuisine. Well, this recipe is a little different to the Malaysian version and is a Balinese speciality that's really easy to make and particularly tasty, it's made from minced meat or fish rather than pieces - kiddies love them!

500 gm chicken mince (can be pork or chunky white fish)
NOTE: you can use chicken breast and use the food processor to mince it
2 tbs toasted desiccated coconut

Spice Paste:
2 cloves crushed garlic
4 makrut (kaffir) lime leaves finely shredded
1-2 tsp sea salt
2 tsp coriander seeds, ground to powder
2 tsp grated fresh turmeric (or one of powder)
3 long red chillies, roughly chopped

NOTE:  If you can grow a makrut lime (old name kaffir) you can substitute the zest of the fruit for the shredded leaves.
Fruit of the makrut lime

  • Blend the spice paste together in mortar and pestle or food processor and add to chicken mince.
  • Mix together evenly and mould over 'sticks'. 
  • Place in fridge for 30 minutes - will have less chance of falling apart when cooking 
  • Cook on a barbecue hot-plate for about 10 minutes until cooked.  Serve with rice and peanut sauce or spicy sambal. Salamat makan

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Summer in Sydney - and a girl's breakfast!

Surf's up Taj!  Bondi Beach on a perfect day
I missed some of the recent wild weather at home because I was down in Sydney visiting my daughter and little grandson, Taj, who is now one, and Bondi was definitely the spot for us all on such a beautiful summer's day.

A legacy of my life spent mostly outdoors is that in 2004 I was diagnosed with melanoma and spent an anxious year of surgery and treatment.  Consequently, I get regular check-ups with my specialist in Sydney and am happy and relieved, once again, that it does not seem to have returned.  But, it is also a golden opportunity to re-visit some of the places that I love and made Sydney a happy home for me and my family for 35 years. (Yes, I always wear a hat and am covered up).

Bondi Beach (after the cyclone) - Karen and Sue braving the huge seas.

One of the things I always try to do is catch up with my 'Tuesday Morning Girls' at Bondi Beach who have been pounding the beach, ploughing through the surf and then having a coffee at Billie's (Wave Cafe) every Tuesday morning for a very long time.  Karen, Heather, Rose, Gillian, Sue and Helen - some of their friendships go back to childhood over 40 years ago - I'm a recent ring-in of only about 10 years standing.  They walk (and talk) the beach, winter and summer, then have a swim, whatever the weather  (often getting incredulous looks from bemused tourists) - it's just such a fantastic way to start the day and it's one thing I do miss since I moved away.
Coogee Beach Pool

My daughter lives in a great location close to lots of my favourite places to swim and I never go anywhere without my swimmers in my backpack.  A swim always makes me feel better and its great exercise, even when - or should I say especially, when the body is aching or spirits sluggish.

Camp Cove, Watson's Bay
The great thing about Sydney is that there is always somewhere to get in the water no matter what the tide or wind direction.  If a southerly buster is blowing you can go to one of the fabulous protected harbour beaches - like Camp Cove at Watson's Bay.  Perched inside the southerly tip of the Harbour entrance it was named by Captain Arthur Phillip of the First Fleet - because that's where the British fleet first camped in 1788 after their long voyage from England.  Ironically, it was because of it's first inhabitants - the local indigenous peoples from the Cadigal tribe that it stuck out to Captain Phillip  - the headland from where this photo was taken is called Green Point.  And it is very green, and it does stick out because, for centuries, local aboriginal people have been using this spot to feast on the bountiful seafood from the harbour and it's rocky foreshores - those shells and bones, from left-over lunches, have added increased lime to the sandy soil and consequently made it very green.  This is known as a midden and are scattered all around the Australian coastline wherever it's first peoples gathered to eat - most are much smaller than Green Point - but you don't have to dig very far to find their legacy - lots and lots of shells.

View from my room at the Watson's Bay Hotel
And now for a big secret.  One of the best hotels I have ever stayed in is the Watson's Bay Boutique Hotel and, because I couldn't get home due to Cyclone Oswald, I went there for a two day return visit at the end of this trip.  Pure luxury, peace and relaxation with a great buffet breakfast overlooking the Harbour.  Just don't tell anyone!

In 2005 we had sold our business in Sydney and we took a big trip to the UK, France, Greece and Turkey.  I worked out that we had stayed in 32 different rooms in five months - everything from basic pensions to a couple of the top Boutique Hotels of the World.  When we finally got back to Sydney we had booked in at Watson's Bay before we flew home.  My husband and I just looked at each other and said the same thing - in the whole of our trip, this was the best hotel that we had stayed in.

Clovelly Beach

And now to the 'Girl's Breakfast' bit.  After a mountain goat kind of a walk - up and down the hills between Coogee, Clovelly to Bronte - I finally arrived at Bronte Beach and after a swim headed to Marcel's Cafe 'The Ex-Lounge'.  Finding something that I want to eat in a cafe has often been hard - especially around the egg and bacon menus - I neither can, nor want to do that kind of food anymore.  So how about this to satisfy a girl? (I looked around and saw that two other women had ordered this while the guys were tucking into bacon and egg stuff. I'll just throw this in to liven things up - Why do women live longer - discuss?)
Ex-Lounge breakfast, Bronte Beach.  Strawberry bruschetta with fresh ricotta, fresh strawberries and berry coulis on toasted rye bread - yum, yum.  Merci Marcel.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Lulu's Cafe - the Heart of Mullumbimby

I was going to write this last November about my favourite cafe in Mullumbimby - to showcase them before the Mullumbimby Music Festival but, for reasons that will become apparent, it didn't happen.

I have been going to Lulu's Cafe in the Dalley Street arcade for the past seven years.  It's my refuge in the mornings for coffee, something delicious to eat, a read of the paper but, more importantly, a catch up with my community.

Lulu's is like the village square.  Somewhere where the women in traditional villages would go in the morning to buy bread and collect water at the pump - and the guys would go well, just to be guys, have a coffee a yarn and a smoke.  Lulu's is like that - but more -  it has the best vegetarian food in town.  Food made with heart and soul - food made with love that you can taste.

Delicious berry muffins, baked fresh every day

This comes from the dedication of the owners,  Linda Rutledge and Peter McNeilly - a committed couple and chefs who have been at the helm of Lulu's for the past 13 years.  They moved to the area in 1990 from Sydney but our paths probably crossed at Ryde TAFE in the 1980's when they were there studying cooking and I was studying horticulture (hanging out at the cheap hospitality kitchen at Ryde was a way of life for hort. students - we were always starving and poor!)

Peter and Linda, in the kitchen October 2012
Linda and Peter have an ethos that could well be emulated by other restaurants and cafes but unfortunately rarely happens; they recycle as much as possible - composting all the organic waste from the cafe, (they only put out one small wheelie bin per week of waste) and, as much as possible, they buy organic fresh local produce - their flours, beans, eggs, coffee, nuts (and more) are also all organic.
They use local cooks for supplying pakoras/samosas, croissants and cakes and Sol bakers for their organic breads - and they use washable cloth napkins. 

Jerry, the barista doing his best to get everyone's coffee right - not easy!
Linda and Peter have always been very supportive of the local community through local arts, drama, sport and music as well as regularly showcasing local musicians at the cafe on Saturday mornings (in another life Linda would have been an actress/singer and Peter a cricketer - what's the score Pete?). And, everyone is welcome at Lulu's - the lost and found, rich and poor, kiddies and old folk and even the blow-in's who were looking for a bacon and sausage fry-up - there's something on Lulu's menu to satisfy everyone.

Late last year Peter was diagnosed with cancer and they are now faced with a very difficult journey, consequently his quiet demeanour and cheery grin have been absent from Linda's side in Lulu's kitchen for a while now.

The heart of this community was expressed a couple a Saturday's ago when it came together for a fundraising night to say thank you to them both for what they have put in over the years and, in particular, to pay tribute to Peter.  Any night is guaranteed to be fun if local comedian Many Nolan is MC'ing it and it wasn't long before everyone was doubled over with laughter and then up dancing to the many acts that have played over the years at Lulu's.  Being part of a vibrant, loving and welcoming community is at the heart and soul of happiness and, as Mandy said on the night -" it's what Mullumbimby (and Lulu's) is all about and I don't think this would be happening in the suburbs of Sydney?"  Some money was raised for Peter and Linda but just as importantly the community was expressing their gratitude - saying thank you.

Parmesan Crust Tarts with Caramelized Onion, Tomato and Gorgonzola (makes 6) - one of Lulu's lunchtime specials.

For the Pastry:
200 g plain, biodynamic wholemeal flour
100 g unsalted butter
Handful of freshly grated parmesan cheese
Pinch of salt
Splash of cold water

For the Filling:
1 cup caramelized onion (Lulu's uses their own recipe - ask Linda?)
6 cherry tomatoes
150 g gorgonzola cheese

1.  Rub flour and butter together to achieve breadcrumb like consistency.
NOTE: Pastry can be made in food processor
2.  Mix in parmesan and salt
3.  Add a splash of water to moisten.
4.  Mix until pastry forms a ball - don't overwork
5.  Rest in the refrigerator for half an hour.
6.  Roll our walnut sized pieces on a floured board -  into rounds large enough for tartlet mould.
7.  Bake in moderate oven (180oC) for 10-15 minutes until golden
8.  Fill with a teaspoon of caramelized onion, a single cherry tomato (halved) and a generous chunk of gorgonzola.
9.  Heat under a grill until cheese has melted.
Serve with a simple rocket and shaved parmesan salad tossed in a little oil and balsamic vinegar
NOTE: You can put any savoury filling in these tart cases.  I have also had them at Lulu's grilled with fresh fig and goats cheese - delicious.

(I tried to chat Peter up once but he was on to me - he knew I just wanted his muffin recipe!)
Sunday May 27th 2013
Vale Peter McNeilly 1956-2013.  Peter's innings came to an end on Sunday May 13th.  A tribute to Peter was written by Brian Mollett and published in Byron Shire Echo on May 21st 2013.

August 12th 2013.  Linda has started a wonderful initiative at Lu'Lu's - following on from the Italian model of 'suspended coffees'.  Patrons at Lu'lu's can forward buy a coffee, juice or vegie burger in advance for those in the community who can't afford one themselves.

(Also see Linda's top tips on Preserving Lemons)