Melbourne Food and Wine Festival – Balinese “Market Tour to Plate” Cooking Class

Turmeric galangal spiced king prawns with betel leaves and nasi goreng - Balinese 'Market Tour to Plate', Spice Bazaar

I’m probably one of the few remaining Aussies that has yet to visit Bali. It’s a place that I’m hoping I’ll get to experience in the future but in the meantime, the Balinese “Market Tour to Plate” cooking class which was part of the recent Melbourne Food and Wine Festival programme, gave me the opportunity to indulge in Balinese cuisine without physically leaving the city limits.

The event had been originally designed to meet at the Footscray market, to walk through the myriad of stalls and shops to familiarise ourselves with the key ingredients and produce used in Balinese cooking. However as luck would have it, a deluge of torrential rain was forecast during the time we were to walk from the market towards the Spice Bazaar Cooking School in nearby Seddon. So the day started a little later than previously scheduled, in the warmth of the cooking school, where we were greeted with a glass of Wood Park Prosecco upon arrival.

Our hosts, Pat and Jill, introduced the menu and proceedings for the day whilst we enjoyed sampling some traditional Balinese snacks of rice crackers, accompanied with satay sauce, spicy sambal olek and sambal hijau, and delicious, warm corn fritters served straight from the stove top.

Ingeniously, Pat and Jill recreated the semblance of a market by carefully curating the spices, herbs, vegetables and ingredients typically found in the cuisine and in the selected recipes that we would be attempting to recreate during the class.

The first dish to be prepared was the Lamb Rendang (Rendang Daging) which naturally needed the longest time to cook. Cooking in teams of four to five, we set about the task of preparing all the individual ingredients in order to create one of the first spice pastes of the day.

Lamb Rendang spice paste - Balinese 'Market Tour to Plate', Spice Bazaar
Lamb Rendang spice paste – Balinese ‘Market Tour to Plate’, Spice Bazaar

Once the paste had been processed with the aid of a blender and quickly heated in a pan, it was time to add the coconut milk and meat and leave the dish to slowly cook for the next few hours.

With the lamb slowly simmering on the stove, the next order of business was to create another type of spice paste for the Balinese spiced pork dish (Be Celeng Base Manis). Creating a simple paste of shallots, garlic, ginger and oil, the colourful paste slowly transformed into a thicker and darker colour once the pork, kecap manis (sweet soy sauce) and soy sauce was added to the pot.

This dish also required two to three hours of cooking time on a gentle simmer, allowing us to leave the pork to develop further and turn our hand to another recipe.

Having completed the preparation of the meat dishes in the banquet, it was time to concentrate on cooking the fish and seafood components of our meal. The next recipe also involved creating another spice paste, but as it was intended as a marinade for the prawns, there were four times as many ingredients than the previous dish. With everyone contributing to the blender with the fresh roots and rhizomes typically found in Asian cuisine, we got to work on slicing quantities of turmeric, galangal, ginger, lemongrass, garlic, shallots and chillies before adding the dry spices.

Once the paste had been processed, it required a longer cooking time than its predecessors in order to thicken and soften before being added to the prawns. While the paste was developing, we had an impromptu lesson in removing the entrails and outer shell of the prawns before threading them onto skewers and immersing them in delicious paste so as to let them marinate before our scheduled lunch.

And so we progressed onto the last but not least main dish of the day, Kaffir Lime Ginger Snapper cooked in banana leaf (Pepes Ikan). In order to prepare the dish, Pat demonstrated how to transform a rigid banana leaf into a flexible sealing agent, simply by placing it over a naked flame to release its fibres. By preparing another paste to act as marinade, each team got to work in preparing their banana leaves and fish fillings, ready to create a series of parcels for cooking. The beauty of these versatile fish parcels is that they could be either steamed, baked or barbecued as desired.

As the saying goes, “many hands make light work” and rather than individually preparing all the accompanying dishes and sauces for our banquet, the tasks of preparing the mango salsa and mango coulis, the fried Tempeh with sweet soy sauce (Tempe Kering Teri) and the green papaya salad were allocated amongst the three teams to prepare in readiness for lunch.

With the heavy rain beating against the windows and the tempting aromas of succulent lamb, pork and prawns filling our nostrils, there was one last dish to prepare before sitting down to a delicious five-course banquet – which was none other than the ubiquitous Indonesian dish of Nasi Goreng. Aside from finely chopping shallots and garlic to mix with the cooked rice, the complicated aspect of this dish was creating a thin omelette in a wok over high heat, and then dice and fold through the rice mixture.

As the time approached 3pm, everyone was well and truly ready to start plating up their dishes, commencing with the Turmeric galangal spiced king prawns served on top of fresh betel leaves and accompanied by the just-prepared Nasi Goreng. Naturally there were a lot of murmurs of appreciation as the beautifully presented prawns and nasi goreng made its way to each guest.

The beauty of this special event was being able to enjoy our prepared dishes with matched wines produced by Wood Park Wines, from the north-east Victorian wine region. The selected wine match for this particular dish was the ‘Monument Lane’ Roussanne (2015) from the King Valley. Roussanne is a French white varietal from the Northern Rhone area that few winemakers in both the Rutherglen and Alpine wine districts have been growing for the past decade. With aromas of green melon and fresh citrus on the nose, the creamy, soft texture of this wine was a welcome reward for our cooking endeavours and an excellent match for the oven baked prawns and crispy elements of the rice.

No sooner had the first glass of wine been depleted, Pat arrived at the table ready to pour the selected wine for the next dish which as ‘The Kilnhouses’ Semillon (2014) from the township of Porepunkah in the Alpine Valley. With a crisp, fruit driven character, the honeyed sweetness and creamy texture complemented the fruity sweetness and thicker texture of the mango coulis and soft fish. This dish was also visually spectacular in its colourful array and the added novelty of eating straight off a banana leaf gave it a sense of Balinese authenticity.

My heart leapt with joy as the selected wine changed from white to red when Pat started to pour the ‘Myrrhee’ Merlot (2013). Carefully matured in French Oak barriques over a twelve month period, this beautifully intense coloured purple-red wine, had rich dark fruit characteristics and a fine, medium-bodied tannic structure. The silky, smooth wine cut nicely through the soft-textured spiced pork and crispy, crunchy tempeh accompaniment. This dish was delightful with its rich, spiced gravy; melt-in-your-mouth pork; and soft bok choy and turmeric rice.

Balinese spiced pork, wilted bok choy and crispy tempeh - Balinese 'Market Tour to Plate', Spice Bazaar
Balinese spiced pork, wilted bok choy and crispy tempeh – Balinese ‘Market Tour to Plate’, Spice Bazaar

Believe it or not, there is still another dish to be served as Pat pours a unique offering of ‘Reserve’ Zinfandel (2013) from the King Valley wine region. Zinfandel (or ‘Zin’ as it is more affectionately known) is a red grape varietal that is commonly grown in North America although it is starting to gain some traction in Australia. In warmer climates, this grape exhibits blackberry, star anise and peppery characters although in cooler climates (much like North-East Victoria) the wine displays rich red fruit flavours of cherry and raspberry with hints of spice. What was interesting about this wine was its rich, syrup-like consistency, similar to that of a  fortified wine. The multi-faceted and complex wine was a perfect foil for the spiced and meaty flavours of the slow cooked Lamb Rendang. Accompanied with steamed rice and a flavourful green papaya salad, this dish was my highlight for the afternoon. The flavours and textures in the salad were a total revelation, from the inclusion of roasted peanuts and crispy shallots, to the finely shredded, fresh fruit which instantly became a match made in heaven with the rich lamb and full bodied wine.

After consuming four beautiful dishes over the course of an hour, a few people were starting to flag, unaware that the final dessert dish of Black sticky rice with palm sugar and salted cream (Burbur Injun) was also just about to be served. It makes sense that a fortified dessert wine of “Rutherglen” Muscat should be selected as a match with such an elegant dessert. With luscious aromas of raisins, dried figs and candied peel (think rich Christmas pudding), the syrupy, sweet texture of the wine matched the creaminess of the rice pudding and the thick coconut cream. I’m very much looking forward to attempting to cook this dessert for my next dinner party.

Black sticky rice with palm sugar and salted cream - Balinese 'Market Tour to Plate', Spice Bazaar
Black sticky rice with palm sugar and salted cream – Balinese ‘Market Tour to Plate’, Spice Bazaar

And just like that the party was over, with everyone fully sated from the numerous but delicious Balinese dishes consumed over the course of an afternoon. This class was an excellent way to gain an unique insight into a lesser-known cuisine and to also enjoy a select offering of some excellent wines from a regional boutique wine producer. Truth be told, this event has more than piqued my interest in exploring Bali as a potential culinary destination and I’m looking forward to perhaps discovering more of what this place to offer on one of Pat and Jill’s specialty food tours to the area.

New Fresh Style Tapas Menu – Spice Bazaar, Seddon

I absolutely love cooking and happily refer to myself as a “one-handed cook”; the knife in my right hand and a glass of wine in the other. Lately I have been reminiscing about my Year 7 Home Economics class. In terms of cooking and learning new culinary skills, I was fearless. I remember making my own choux pastry, Chelsea buns from scratch, brioche and all kinds of dough concoctions, then coming home and wreaking havoc in Mum’s kitchen, trying hard to recreate all the things I had learned.

About four and half years ago, I signed up for a Tapas cooking class at Spice Bazaar, as a way to prepare myself for an upcoming trip to Spain. Since that first day, I’ve had a lot of fun cooking different cuisines and learning new techniques under Jill and Patrick’s expert tutelage, with the added bonus of making new friends as we all prepare the ingredients and recreate the recipes together. My friend Adrian posted some beautiful pictures on Facebook from the new Fresh Style Tapas class that he went along to on his birthday, and after I had recovered from the severe case of food envy, I enrolled as soon as I could.

The new menu that Jill has devised for the Fresh Style Tapas class includes Gazpacho shots, a lighter style Tortilla made with zucchini, Jerez style Garlic Prawns, crispy grilled chicken marinated with harissa, lime and garlic, Spanish meatballs served with a traditional almond sauce, Moorish lamb skewers, accompanied by sautéed garlic mushrooms and roasted pumpkin cubes with a honey dressing, followed by a delicious White Chocolate Mousse topped with passionfruit jelly to finish.

There were a total of eight participants in the Fresh Style Tapas class, so after we made our introductions, donned on our aprons, it was literally time to sharpen the knives and start preparing our dishes. Due to the length of time needed to ensure that our dessert would be ready in time, we got to work on melting the chocolate and preparing the ingredients for our mousse. Although I profess a deep love for chocolate mousse, I’ve never actually made one myself and Jill’s recipe is very easy and simple to make. After whipping together a yoghurt, cream and chocolate mixture and spooning it into small glass containers, we made a jelly using gelatine powder and passionfruit juice which once cooled, covered the mousse. Once that step was completed, the mousse went into the fridge to set.

Cooking in two teams of four, whilst I finished off the dessert, the other team members got to work on preparing for the other dishes to be eaten during our entrée course. Instead of a potato based tortilla, Jill has come up with a light and healthier alternative using zucchini, similar to a frittata. Together we chopped our way through the list of ingredients and as one person cooked on the stove, there was an opportunity to start preparing the harissa, lime and garlic marinade required for the chicken dish to be eaten during the main course.

More chopping, grating, zesting, measuring and spice throwing to create the marinade and allow the flavours to infuse through the chicken, then we repeated a similar process for the Moorish lamb skewers using a blend of Chermoula, Sweet Paprika and Smoked Paprika mixed together with oil, garlic, chilli, herbs and lemon juice to marinate the lamb. One of the things I love about cooking in the Spice Bazaar kitchen as opposed to cooking at home, is that all the ingredients, cooking implements and utensils are right in front of me, and then I get to put all the dirty dishes and knives into the sink where they get magically washed and put away by Cheryl, the kitchen assistant. It makes cooking a breeze and not at all like Year 7 Home Eco when you had to clean up after yourself while the teacher was yelling at you to hurry up!

With the tortilla warming in the oven, its time to create a classic Spanish gazpacho soup to be served as a shooter. After blanching the tomatoes, and preparing the other ingredients, we tested our trigger skills on the blender and prepared the soup with a little of oil drizzled in to create a silky, smooth texture. Once the mixture is strained over a bowl, the soup is served in small glasses and garnished with some finely chopped cucumber. Whilst the finishing touches are applied to both the tortilla and gazpacho, its almost time to plate up for entrée, as one of our teammates is slaving over the hot grill and cooking the Moorish lamb skewers to order.

Cooking is thirsty work and another thing I love about Spice Bazaar is the opportunity to take a breather and enjoy what you have just created over a nice glass of wine, expertly matched to the dishes on the menu. The gazpacho was lovely with a creamy texture with the cucumber giving a light, fresh finish on the palate. I enjoyed the lighter style tortilla which looked stunning when served in the colourful tapas crockery. The chermoula in the lamb skewers provided a touch of heat to our dishes but was lovely and rich to taste. With the plate of skewers in front of you, it’s hard to resist at one but you need to be mindful of the next wave of dishes to be made and enjoyed for the main course.

After half an hour or so of grazing, chatting and drinking, it’s time to get up, wash the hands again and start preparing the rest of the menu. While someone strong starts carving up the pumpkin into bite size cubes, there is the opportunity to start preparing the balsamic and honey dressing or start chopping the ingredients for the sautéed garlic mushrooms and start finely dicing more gloves of garlic for the Jerez style prawn dish.

One of the highlights of the menu, is the exotic sounding Spanish meatballs served with a traditional almond sauce. The meatballs are made with pork mince, chopped garlic, onion and parsley, seasoned and mixed with egg. While the meatballs were being formed, I rolled them in flour and started on creating the almond sauce, which involved gently frying almonds and bread in a frypan, adding wine and stock, before processing the mixture in the blender or food processor. A word of warning – make sure you do this in a glass vessel as the mixture is very hot and the quantity expands. Once puréed into a creamy, smooth and frothy mixture, the almond sauce is poured over the cooked meatballs and placed in the oven to finish.

Feeling a little bit like a short order cook, I got to work on grilling the marinated chicken fillets over high heat on the stove, while my other cooking companions cooked the prawns and started assembling the pumpkin and mushroom dishes. Many hands make light work and it all seems very easy when you have three or four extra pairs of hands helping prepare the ingredients for when they are required. Whenever I enjoy a cooking class or lesson, I find the best thing to do is practice the recipes at home within a week or two so that you don’t forget the sequence of ingredients and techniques that have been learnt, and that you actually have a go at the steps that someone else might have completed for you during the day.

Three and a half hours seem to disappear very quickly when you are having fun! With the chicken looking crispy and cooked to perfection, and all the main course dishes and garnishes prepared and resembling the same quality as Masterchef, its time to kick back, throw off the aprons and enjoy the rest of meal with another glass of wine.

Finished with lemon juice and chopped parsley, the flavours and texture of the pork meatballs cooked with the almond were astounding and its very easy to prepare when you know how. The prawns were fresh and lightly cooked with a Spanish sherry vinegar, cayenne pepper and garlic. The pumpkin dish was beautiful and the roasted flavours with dried rosemary and a thick, rich honey glaze is delicious on its own or can be enjoyed with the meat dishes. I’m not a fan of mushrooms at any hour of the day so I didn’t go near that dish!

My favourite dish of the day was the harissa, lime and garlic marinated chicken which again is easy to create. The chicken thigh meat was light and juicy and the harissa and lime flavours really work well together, especially when grilled on the barbecue. And just when I thought that I couldn’t possibly eat another thing, the pièce de résistance was served. Once your spoon cuts through the passionfruit jelly and you savour the slighty sweet white and fluffy chocolate mousse, it really is game over.

Another fantastic four hours spent learning new recipes, making new friends and over indulging in fabulous tasting food that I had helped to prepare, and so it was time to say good-bye to everyone, roll home and plan the next dinner party.

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