Casa Luna Cooking School – Ubud, Bali
On a recent trip to Bali I ate at the most amazing restaurant in Ubud, called Indus. It was highly recommended to me by one of my friends that lives in Bali. The restaurant overlooks the Tjampuhan River and surrounding hills and the food is fantastic. It’s owned by Janet De Neefe, who is an amazing chef, which is one of the reasons I wanted to visit the restaurant. Unfortunately Janet was out of the country during my visit but I told by the staff at the restaurant that she does spend a lot of time in Ubud and even teaches some of the Balinese cooking classes.
I decided to book onto one of the cooking classes to learn more about Indonesian food. One of the things I noticed on my trip was that it’s very rare to see an overweight Indonesian so I was interested to find out more about their cuisine. The class booked onto was ‘New Food as Medicine – a vegetarian hands-on cooking class’ and the wonderful Yude led the team of 3 that taught the class.
I cooked two delicious curries in the class and was also taught about the extraordinary healing properties of some of the spices. Yude was such a fantastic teacher, not only did she give everyone in the class an insight into Balinese cooking but she also provided us with an insight to the culture and values of Balinese families, which I found really interesting.
At the start of the class everyone is seated around a table and served hibiscus tea, while we introduced ourselves. I’d never tried hibiscus tea before, it was really refreshing and Yude gave us a quick demo on how to make it. It is simply made by adding one or two hibiscus flowers to boiling water (depending on how strong you want it), stirring, then removing the flowers to serve. You can have it hot or cold. We never actually tasted the hot version but cold was delicious. You can even grow hibiscus in the UK too. You should plant in February – June and expect flowers July – September.
Before embarking on any cooking we were taught about some of the typical Balinese ingredients and their health benefits. Yude had in front of her a plate containing lots of different spices, some of which we had never seen or even heard of before and she informed us about the nutritional and healing benefits of them all.
This was one of the ingredients I had never heard of before. It looks very similar to a macadamia nut and is used in Balinese cooking to thicken sauces. It is rich in protein, fats and (unfortunately) calories too and is one of the few nuts that cannot be consumed raw. A good substitute for it is macadamias, but you could also use almonds, cashews or Brazil nuts. After the class I went to the famous arts market of Ubud and managed to buy some candle nut to take home.
This is one of the main ingredients in Indonesian curries and is used as a substitute for pepper. Yude informed us that coriander is good for cooling down the body and also settling upset stomachs.
One of my favourite spices and the nutritional benefits of it are abundant too. Nutmeg is used to aid digestion, prevent discolouration of the skin, helps with liver function and to get a good nights sleep. In Indonesian cooking the freshly ground nut is used as oppose to the powdered version we have in the UK, which is supposedly far superior. I did manage to bring some of the nut back with me too and Yude told me about a great nutmeg remedy to enhance sleep. It is a tea made from nutmeg and milk. It’s delicious 🙂
Pepper is used in Indonesia, just like it is here in the UK, to enhance flavour of any food. It also stimulates appetite and cures digestive problems. Black pepper is more aromatic than white and white pepper is the hottest of the two. Long pepper is another type that Yude had to show us. This type of pepper isn’t available in England but is used in Bali. It is much hotter and sweeter than black pepper and is shaped a bit like chilli.
I use sesame seeds in quite a few of my recipes, they are native to India and are high in calcium. Yude informed us that the Balinese use sesame seeds as a thickener in recipes.
Ginger is a delicious root spice that is used quite often in Indonesian herbal remedies to aid digestion, stomach disorders and sore throats. Yude informed me that ginger is great for sea sickness, morning sickness and hangovers too and said that she sometimes uses it to cure headaches. She even demonstrated by placing sliced ginger on her head and said this is what she does to ease the pain. Aromatic ginger (or Kencur as it’s known in Bali) is used in most Indonesian dishes. It is responsible for the distinctive taste of Balinese food and is often combined with garlic, turmeric and candle nut to make a delicious seasoning known as suna cekoh.
Another spice that I use quite often in my recipes. It has anti cancer properties and is particularly good for preventing liver cancer. Turmeric is used in Bali for skin disorders.
This type of lime is smaller than the ones we have here, yet surprisingly much more juicy. I found the flavour slightly more sour.
This was by far my favourite ingredient and another thing I managed to buy from the arts market. The flavour is sublime and tastes just like caramel. Palm sugar is bought in solid form and sliced into thin strips for cooking. It is made by extracting the sap from the flower bud or Aren Palm. It contains iron and vitamin B, is more nutritious than white sugar and is lower in calories too. A good substitute for it in the UK is maple syrup (although I have found it in asian supermarkets). Yude told me I can make my own syrup from palm sugar by simply dissolving it in boiling water for 15 minutes, I tried it out last night and the flavour is delicious. So if you can get hold of it and fancy trying it as an alternative to maple syrup, it’s worth giving it a go.
Cabe and Lombok chillies were used in the recipes at cooking school, however the Balinese favourite chilli is Tabia Krinying which we’re told is incredible spicy. Out of the two chillies we used Cabe was much hotter than Lombok. Yude informed me that generally speaking the smaller the chilli the hotter it is, which was the case with these two options. Chilli is often used in Indonesia as an appetite stimulant. Ripe, red chillies are rich in beta-carotene and vitamin A whilst fresh red and green chillies both contain vitamin C.
Yude taught us a great trick to deseed chills too. If you rub them in your hands then slice them down the middle, the seeds easily fall out, which is much easier than scraping them out.
Balinese onions are similar to shallots but stronger tasting. They are used in traditional medicines in Bali to cool down the body and help heal skin irritations and infections. The Balinese also believe that this small red onion can protect small children from black magic. Yude taught us another trick with onions. She said if you soak the onion in cold water for one hour prior to slicing it stops your eyes from watering when chopping – something I will definitely be giving a go next time.
Pandan leafs are used in Bali instead of vanilla. They are often used to flavour desserts such as rice pudding. Sometimes the Balinese boil the pandan leafs in water to make a refreshing hot drink and even add it to coffee. Pandan is a cooling ingredient that can assist in the treatment of internal inflammations, urine infections, bleeding gums and skin disease.
This is a favourite in Indonesian cooking and is similar (but much milder) to bay leafs.
That is just an overview of some of the interesting things covered in the class. After this we moved onto the cooking which was just fabulous and so insightful. In Bali the kitchens don’t have the usual equipment that some of us take for granted like; food processors, blenders, or even an oven. They make all there recipes on a hob and process all the food by hand (this can take from 30 minutes to an hour in some cases and believe me it’s incredibly difficult – Yude joked that this was the reason she has muscles in one arm and not the other). They use a mortar (granite grinding stone) and pestle with a backwards forwards motion until all the ingredients are blended together into a smooth paste.
Something I found really interesting was the way the rice was cooked. It was placed in a cone shaped bamboo basket on top of a pan of boiling water first to cook before being immersed into the boiling water. This is what makes the rice sticky and actually inspired me to buy my own bamboo rice steamer.
Yude told me how the Balinese women would get up at 5am everyday to go the the market for their groceries. They would then make the families food for the day, before starting their day’s work. Unlike here in the UK, it’s rare for families to eat together in Bali. The women make the food and leave it for the rest of the family to eat whenever they get hungry throughout the day and the food they make is usually small portions of lots of different types of food (a bit similar to tapas style dining except it’s usually all on the same plate). So here is a typical Balinese meal.
My favourite recipe from the day was pumpkin curry. Casa Luna cooking school have kindly let me publish the recipe on the blog. You can find it here. Hope you enjoy!
If you are ever visiting Bali and find yourself in Ubud, I would definitely recommend dining at Indus restaurant and taking a cooking class at the Casa Luna cooking school, you may even be lucky enough to meet Janet herself. If I had more time in Ubud we would have loved to have taken some of the other cooking classes and to dine at Janet’s other restaurant Casa Luna.
Thank you so much to Yude and the team at the Casa Luna cooking school, I had such a fantastic day and ate some amazing food.
Love from Stacey