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Fish in Banana Leaves (Pepes Ikan)

Pepes is a way to process foodstuffs (usually for fish) with banana leaves to wrap the fish and its marinade. How to make are herbs and spices mashed and added basil leaves, tomatoes, and peppers dibalur / clad with carp that have been cleaned. All then wrapped in banana leaves and pinned with 2 pieces of small bamboo at each end. The bundle is then burned (dipepes) on the fire or embers from charcoal to dry.

• 1 whole fish (snapper, perch or bream), ¾ - 1 kg (1 ½ - 2 lbs)
• 1 tablespoon lime or lemon juice
• ½ teaspoon salt
• 2 banana leaf sheets, each about 25x45 cm, softened in hot water

Spice Paste:
• 1 teaspoon tamarind pulp
• 2 tablespoons warm water
• 2-3 red finger-length chilies
• 1 stalk lemongrass, thick bottom third only, outer layers discarded, inner part sliced
• 5 candlenuts or macadamia nuts, dry roasted until golden
• 1 small ripe tomato
• ½ teaspoon ground turmeric
• ½ teaspoon dried shrimp paste, toasted
• 1 teaspoon salt
• 1 tablespoon palm sugar
• Few sprigs lemon basil (kemanggi), optional

1. Clean and scale the fish, then make 2 to 3 diagonal cuts on each side. Place the fish on a plate and sprinkle both sides with lime juice and salt, rubbing it into the slits with the fingers. Set aside and allow to marinate while preparing the Spice Paste
2. To make the Spice Paste, soak the tamarind pulp in warm water for 5 minutes, then mash well, squeeze and strain to obtain tamarind juice. Grind the chilies, lemongrass and candlenuts in a spice grinder or blender until fine. Add the tomato, turmeric and shrimp paste and grind until smooth. Transfer to a bowl and stir in the tamarind juice, salt, sugar and basil leaves.
3. Place the fish on 2 large overlapping pieces of banana leaf. Smear one third of the Spice Paste over the fish, rubbing some into the cuts. Turn and smear the other side of the fish with one third of the Spice Paste, then smear the remaining paste inside the cavity of the fish. Fold up the banana leaf to enclose the fish and secure with staples or toothpicks.
4. Half fill a wok with water and bring to a boil. Put the fish on a perforated metal dish or wire rack set in the wok well above the level of the water. Cover and steam until the fish is just cooked, about 25 minutes, adding boiling water to the wok every 10 minutes.
5. Place the fish, still in its banana leaf, under a very hot grill and cook 3 to 4 minutes on each side. Serve in the banana leaf.

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