Why buy it?
Any love affair with a country begins with a single dish. For Janet De Neefe, it was the humble nasi campur – freshly steamed rice topped with small helpings of various delicious things, like braised tempeh, smoked spiced sardines, wok-fried water spinach with sliced chillies – not forgetting the fried sambal, "Which I simply can’t live without," she stresses. In 1974, De Neefe first set foot upon Bali as a high school student and it so made an impression that she returned a decade later, met her future husband and stayed a while. Indefinitely, in fact. She is the founder of two restaurants in Ubud – Casa Luna and Indus – as well as the Casa Luna Cooking School.
Like a celebratory feast laid before you, Bali: The Food Of My Island Home is big and beautiful, and every dish will call your name. De Neefe’s choice of recipes and snippets of her charmed life feel like a friend guiding you on a food journey you never knew you wished to take. There are no-frills Balinese dishes, such as chargrilled squid, slow-cooked beef rendang, and seasonal greens with roasted coconut. Sweets wise, puddings made with coconut, rice and palm sugar are king, so save room for dessert.
If you embrace this book as you should, your local Asian grocer will soon know your name. Some recipes, for curries, sambals and those involving sauces from scratch, are time-consuming, though once you’ve mastered one, the method becomes second nature. There’s also an impressive glossary, in which we learn that candlenuts (called for in many spice pastes) can be substituted with ground almonds (1 teaspoon for every two candlenuts).
Should you soon find yourself in Bali, having left home for a fiery new island love, you’ll certainly know who to blame.
Some of the recipes aren’t quick. There is pounding involved, but there’s joy to be found in the effort. Plus, the resulting dishes are your plane ticket to a land of abundant smells, colours and tastes. Aspirational home cooks will be pleasantly challenged, though never defeated.
Spiced roasted duck.
Most surprising dish
Baked fish with pepper and makrut lime crust.
'Every Balinese wife knows that hot steamed rice and a delicious sambal are keys to marital bliss."
Lovers of island cuisine, fresh herbs and seafood; chilli fiends and those who relish in whipping out their mortar and pestle. Those unaccustomed to the distinctly Asian aromas of galangal, turmeric, makrut lime and ginger? Your palate is about to be rocked.
Cook the book
Bali: The Food of My Island Home by Janet de Neefe (Plum/Pan Macmillan Australia, $59.99, pbk).