Recipe: Balinese Spice Paste, and a Balinese Green Bean Salad | Lawar Ayam

Balinese Spice Paste

Almost every Australian goes to Bali at some stage in their life. Not all fall in love with the food – I was told that it was very boring – but I did fall in love with it – I still love it and its diversity.

This is a basic Balinese spice paste that goes well with vegetable dishes that are sautéed with coconut and spices. I enclose a recipe below this one, so that you can see how to use it.

You will need a good Asian grocer to find kencur (sometimes known as lesser galgangal), galangal, salam leaf and candle nuts, or often these can be bought online . Sometimes my greengrocer will have galangal, but not always. Salam leaf is sometimes referred to as Balinese Bayleaf. Don’t substitute sweet laurel bay leaf if you don’t have it or can’t find it. You could use Indian Bay leaf (teja patta), but the taste will be different, or add a kafir lime leaf and a couple of curry leaves.

This is a good source of explaining Balinese ingredients.

An Ulikan is a grinder made from volcanic rock. You use it quite differently to a Chinese mortar and pestle. They are hard to find in Australia, and the art of using it even more difficult. But worth the effort indeed. Use a mortar and pestle or food processor if you don’t have one.

Feel free to browse other recipes from our Retro Recipes series. You might also like our Balinese recipes here and here.

Vegetarian Balinese Spice Paste

Use in dishes, such as Green Bean  Salad: Lawar Ayam

4 Tblspn peanut or canola oil 7 shallots, peeled and sliced 2.5 cm kencur root, peeled and chopped
26 cloves garlic 4 cm Laos (galangal), peeled and chopped 10 candle nuts
12 cm fresh turmeric, peeled and chopped 4 Tblspn palm sugar or jaggery 2 stalks lemon grass bruised
2 salam leaves 10 birdseye chillies, finely sliced

Put shallots, garlic, kencur, candlenuts, turmeric and palm sugar into a spice grinder or blender and grind coarsely, or use a Ulikan to grind by hand to a paste. Heat oil and fry all ingredients until very hot, stirring frequently, until the paste changes to a golden colour. Cool before using.


How to Use Balinese Spice Paste

Lawar Ayam

3 cups green beans
1/2 cup grated coconut, use frozen if you can get it. Otherwise, finely grated dried coconut is Ok.
2 shallots
2 cloves garlic
1 – 3 red Thai chilies, or leave chillies out as the spice paste is also hot
1 – 1.5 Tblspn Balinese Spice Paste
1 Tblspn coconut oil
1/4 tsp black pepper
1/2 tsp salt
Large squeeze lime juice


Cut the beans into 1cm pieces. Blanch them in boiling water for 2 – 3 minutes and then drain and put into a bowl of cold water to retain the colour and stop them cooking further.

Toast coconut in a pan over medium-low heat until lightly browned.

Using your spice grinder or food processor, mince the garlic, shallots and chillies (if using).

Heat the coconut oil in a pan over medium heat and add the minced shallots, garlic, and chilies. Saute them for 4-5 minutes, until lightly coloured.

Add the spice paste and stir it through. Cook for a couple of minutes. Add the pepper and salt and stir through.

Remove from the heat and stir in the coconut and lime juice.

Add the green beans and mix them through.  Serve as part of a meal.



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  1. I’m a sucker for pastes, including Balinese. I haven’t heard of Salam leaf before – what does it taste / smell like?


    1. Ganga108 says:

      Me too! Salam is the Balinese, or Indonesian bay leaf. Have a look at this post for some details.


      1. I see I got confused! I’ll certainly look out for it


      2. Ganga108 says:

        Try your Asian grocer, or you can substitute a couple of individual curry leaves and a kaffir lime leaf, if you can get them.


      3. Those I can get fairly easily and keep them in the freezer ready to use


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