fine food - Janet DeNeefe

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Janet DeNeefe, the founder and director of the annual Ubud Writers & Readers Festival, is a Melbourne-born artist, author, and restaurateur who has lived in Bali for nearly three decades. Her memoir Fragrant Rice charts her love affair with Balinese food, culture, and traditions. Her latest book is Bali: Food of My Island Home.


Janet began the Ubud Writers & Readers Festival as a healing project in response to the first Bali bombing, with the aim of bringing Indonesian and international writers together ?on a world stage. She is also the owner of Casa Luna, Indus, and Bar Luna restaurants in Ubud.


Balinese Beef Rendang

Meat in Bali is always cooked with a pile of fresh spices that tenderise, preserve, uplift, and nurture. It’s also about aiding digestion; and a dash of tamarind, a few sprightly gingers, and lemongrass will always help that process.

This recipe is a Balinese version of rendang and spotlights the acclaimed trio of galangal, turmeric, and ginger that constantly features in Indonesian cooking. It has all the virtues of a slow-cooked stew; comforting, full of flavour, tender, and deeply aromatic. It is also a joy to cook as the aroma that floats around the house while the curry is simmering in the pot is glorious


Serves 4

  • 8 red shallots, roughly chopped
  • 8 garlic cloves
  • 6 long red chillies, seeded and roughly chopped
  • 4 tablespoons chopped galangal
  • 2 tablespoons turmeric
  • 2 tablespoons chopped ginger
  • 6 candlenuts
  • ½ teaspoon cumin seeds
  • 3 tablespoons oil
  • 2 lemongrass stalks, bruised and tied in knots
  • 3 kaffir lime leaves
  • 3 salam leaves
  • 500ml coconut milk
  • 250ml water
  • 500g beef topside cut into ?bite-size chunks
  • 1 tablespoon wet tamarind pulp dissolved in 3 tablespoons of water and strained
  • 2 tablespoons grated palm sugar fried shallots to garnish


Pound the spice paste ingredients in a mortar until smooth or blitz in a food processor, adding a splash of water to get the mixture moving if needed. Heat the oil in a wok over medium heat, and fry the spice paste for 30 seconds. Add the lemongrass, lime leaves, and salam leaves and toss around for another 30 seconds, until glossy and fragrant. Pour in the coconut milk and water, and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer and continue cooking for another minute, then add the sliced beef, tamarind, and palm sugar. Simmer for 2 hours, topping up with a little water if necessary, until the meat is tender and the sauce is thick and has reduced to a thick gravy. Serve with steamed rice, topped with fried shallots.


Betutu Bebek Smoked Duck

The sweet perfume and flavour of freshly made coconut oil is the key to a delicious smoked duck.

  • 1x 1kg duck
  • 1 tablespoon sea salt
  • 3 teaspoons shrimp paste
  • 1 tablespoon tamarind
  • ½ cup coconut oil
  • 5 salam leavescoconut tree bark or terracotta pot
  • 2½ cups water

Serves 4

  • 8 small shallots
  • 12 cloves of garlic
  • 1 teaspoon whole black pepper
  • ½ teaspoon whole white pepper
  • 1 tablespoon ground coriander  
  • ½  teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
  • 2 teaspoons sesame seeds
  • 5 large mild red chillies, seeds removed
  • 3 bird’s eye chillies (optional)
  • 6 candlenuts
  • 2 tablespoons fresh ginger
  • 1½ tablespoons fresh turmeric
  • 4 tablespoons fresh galangal
  • 1 tablespoon fresh kencur, if available
  • 3 teaspoons tamarind soaked in water
  • 1 tablespoon palm sugar


Place the duck in a large bowl. Rub with half the salt, shrimp paste, tamarind and 2 tbsp of the oil to break the bones and soften the meat, for approximately 3 mins. Set aside. Place the spices in the container of a food processor and blend to a smooth paste. Put the ground spices in the bowl. Now mix by hand with ½ of the remaining oil, the remaining salt and the kecap manis (soy sauce) to taste. When it is thoroughly mixed, add all the oil. Push a tablespoon of the spices down the duck’s throat. Add the salam leaves to the remaining spices in the bowl and push into the duck’s cavity. Rub the skin with a thin layer of spices. At this point, the duck is wrapped in coconut tree bark. You can use local tree bark, an oven bag or a terracotta pot. Wipe the tree bark with a clean cloth and place a sprig of staghorn on top. Place the duck on top of this. Place another sprig of staghorn on top of the seasoned duck. Tie up one end of the tree bark securely with bamboo twine. Pour the water into the package and tie up the other end. Alternatively, place the duck and half the water in an oven bag or in a terracotta pot. The smoked duck is now cooked under a terracotta lid, surrounded by rice husks and burning coconut fibre. It takes at least 8 hours to cook, and the slow cooking process yields wonderfully aromatic, delicious, tender meat. Alternatively, place in a preheated oven set at 180°C and cook for 1½ hours or until cooked, or set the oven to 120°C and cook for 4 hours. The duck can also be cooked in a pressure cooker.

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