Traditionally made with beef, this spicy and aromatic dish is arguably the most famous beef dish in Malaysia and Indonesia. Rendang is a special kind of curry in which a main ingredient is slowly cooked in a rich and spicy lemongrass and coconut sauce until the meat is tender and the sauce is substantially reduced. It’s not, however, one of those dishes that you can whip up in minutes. It’s definitely worth the effort but a Rendang curry takes hours to make. I make two versions of this dish. My quick veggie version saves time but still highlights the classic aromatic ingredients with flavours of lemongrass, ginger, galangal, coconut and chilli. The vegetables beautifully absorb the spice infused coconut sauce. The second option using chicken as it really seems to work and makes for a slightly lighter version than beef.
This luscious dish, adapted from a recipe in Georgina Hayden’s book Stirring Slowly. Recipes to restore & revive (Square Peg, 2016), is traditionally eaten with sticky rice cooked in a bamboo segment. I have it with roasted buckwheat. Let’s just say buckwheat is as important to the Polish people as lemang is to the Malay people!
- 2cm piece of ginger
- 2cm piece of galangal or 1 teaspoon galangal paste (use more ginger if you can’t get galangal)
- 3 garlic cloves, peeled
- 2 teaspoons dried chilli flakes
- 1 onion or 3, 4 shallots, roughly chopped
- 1 teaspoon turmeric
- 2 sticks of lemongrass
- 1 star anise
- 400ml can of coconut milk
- 4 ideally fresh kaffir lime leaves
- zest of one lime
- 1 teaspoon or slightly more of palm sugar or soft light brown sugar
- 60g unsweetened desiccated coconut, toasted
- 1 cinnamon stick
- vegetable oil
For the vegetable version:
- 1 medium size sweet potato (around 220g), cut into cubes
- 140g shiitake mushrooms
- 100g baby sweetcorn
- 100g baby courgettes
- handful of cashews
There are lots of variations to the vegetables you can do with this dish….just about any vegetable works.
For the meat version:
- 550g skinless chicken thighs
To make the curry paste, place the roughly chopped ginger, onion, 3 garlic cloves, galangal, turmeric and chillies into a food processor. Add a splash of water and blend to form a smooth purée. Bash the lemongrass stalks gently with the back of a knife to release the oils. Heat a glug of vegetable oil in a large pan and spoon in the spice paste, together with the star anise, lemongrass and cinnamon and reduce the heat a little. Gently sauteé for several minutes until the paste darkens and is highly aromatic. Stir often so it doesn’t burn. Add the coconut milk, kaffir lime leaves, the zest, palm sugar and a good pinch of salt and pepper and gently bring to the boil. Gradually start adding vegetables, starting from the ones that need the longest cooking time (sweet potatoes). After 10 minutes add the mushrooms and let it gently simmer for a few more minutes. Meanwhile, if you don’t already have toasted coconut flakes, toast them in a dry pan. They should be a lovely brown colour when ready. Spin the flakes in a food processor until they are a fine consistency and add to the pan, followed by the baby sweetcorn and courgettes. Let the curry cook for a few more minutes until the vegetables are ready. Season to taste with more salt and freshly ground black pepper. Spoon the curry into serving dishes, pick out the kaffir lime leaves, cinnamon stick and lemongrass and serve immediately.
For the meat option, after sauteéing the paste for several minutes add the chicken to the pan and stir to ensure the chicken is coated in the paste and spices. Add the coconut milk, kaffir lime leaves, the zest, palm sugar and a good pinch of salt and pepper. Bring to a boil. Cover the pan and gently simmer for around 40 minutes. Stir the chicken regularly as the sauce reduces. Add the toasted coconut flake powder when the chicken is ready. You now want to cook it over a medium-high heat and uncovered for approximately 30 more minutes until the meat is meltingly tender and the sauce is very thick, glossy and rich. Garnish with coriander or holy basil and serve with either buckwheat or grain of your choice and steamed greens.
This dish is even better when made a day ahead!