My sister used to make a magic lemon meringue pie when we were teenagers: the perfect balance of tart lemon curd, buttery pastry and billowing meringue that she whisked to an impressive height. This firmly entrenched food memory – one i’ll remember on my death bed, i’m sure (thanks Sister Darling) – meant Janet De Neefe’s lime-papaya meringue pie, in her new cookbook Bali: Food of my Island Home, had a lot to live up to. I wasn’t disappointed.
I first stumbled across De Neefe’s work in 2003, when – ahead of a trip to Bali – I read her memoir Fragrant Rice, in which the Australian-born cook explained how she fell in love with the island paradise and a Balinese man, and went on to run successful restaurants and a cooking school in Ubud in the foothills of Bali’s volcanic mountain range. During that trip I sought out, and participated in, one of De Neefe’s cooking classes and ate at her café. Her cookbook brought those memories flooding back.
De Neefe’s cookbook neatly packages her 30-year food history with the island nation. She shares the recipes and knowledge of Indonesian cuisine that she has accumulated over the years. She discusses the country’s culture and traditions at the beginning of each chapter which lends the book a narrative feel. Likewise, each recipe begins with an explanation of its origin, or importance, or ingredients – something that makes it more than just words on a page. Mark Roper’s photography is stunning, encapsulating the Balinese culture, people, and of course the country’s spice-loaded food.
A whole chicken braised in spices was supposed to be shredded after cooking, but it practically fell off the bone. The recipe – which included a small mountain of red chilli – resulted in subtly spiced chicken flesh that was slightly yellow in colour from fresh turmeric. It yielded several litres of broth, much of which I ended up freezing. I’ll poach chicken in it for a quick after-work meal. A friend, who made the recipe before me, added coconut cream to his leftover broth, which he served with chicken in a variation on De Neefe’s theme.
Chilli beef noodles were heavy on chilli and hearty due to the inclusion of Chinese cooking wine and seeded mustard. There was a lovely soupy slurpiness to them due to the incorporation of the wine and several sauces. Leftovers were boxed up for lunch the next day.
The lime-papaya meringue pie was a huge success: the red papaya flesh gave the curd a wonderful orange hue that didn’t taste as tart as the traditional lemon variation. My meringue deflated a little post-cooking but that was down to my novice egg white whipping abilities. In the twitter sphere later that day @Bridget_Cooks tweeted on how to make the perfect meringue. Perhaps De Neefe could have included some foolproof tips with her recipe.
De Neefe’s savoury dishes include lots of kaffir lime leaves, chillies, lemongrass, ginger, galangal, and garlic. They require plenty of pounding, blitzing and fine chopping. But the results are worthwhile. I’ve already bookmarked the pages for pork belly with Balinese spices, spiced roasted duck, and coconut panacotta – I’m looking forward to putting those recipes to the test.
If I could change anything about the book it would be its size. It found it unnecessarily big (on the tall side) making it a little impractical on the kitchen bench. There’s a lot white space on the recipe pages, which indicates it could have been condensed in size. But with its glossy cover and beautiful photography it’s certainly an attractive inclusion to any recipe collection. It may be some years since I visited Bali, but De Neefe has re-stirred memories and a taste for meringue pie.
Bali: The Food of my Island Home
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