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Malaysian mutton (or beef) rendang

Rendang is a dish with a long history, it originated in West Sumatra within the Minang community in the 8th century. However, the dish can be traced back to traders from India who arrived with curry. The Indian curry was adapted to include Indonesian spices and herbs including lemongrass, kaffir lime leaf and asam kandis, a souring fruit of the mangosteen family. From Indonesia, the dish was taken to Malaysia and is now a staple there as well. Rendang has been voted as a "must-try" dish from around the world for its unique flavour.

The word rendang originated from the word merandang or randang, which means “slowly” as this describes how the dish is cooked. Some chefs cook the dish over a low flame for as long as 6-7 hours The process slowly brings the aromatics from the spices together and the meat is fork-tender. I have eaten this dish with varying consistencies, from dry to wet curry. However, they all have a common flavour profile and a lovely brown-red colour. You always know that rendang is being made because your kitchen, house and even garden will fill with the fragrance, do not be surprised to see a neighbour at your door with a plate.

This rendang was my third iteration of this famed dish and probably the one I liked the best. The curry is aromatic, the spices come together beautifully. The extra effort you take to make the caramelized coconut makes all the difference to the sweetness and texture of the dish. The rendang is sweet initially, followed by a complex spice profile and it finished with a medium lingering heat that is addictive. I will admit, the coconut makes this dish rich, but occasionally this is a dish I crave.

Mandy Yin is a London-based lawyer who started her foray into the world of food with the Sambal Shiok restaurant. Sambal Shiok translates to "shockingly good sambal", and this book follows these steps with excellent recipes. The recipes swing from traditional to contemporary while maintaining wonderful flavours. This is a lovely cookbook for those who want to venture into the complex world of Malay cooking.

For more recipes from this cookbook, click here.


For the spice paste:

2 1-inch pieces of galangal (preferred) or ginger

1 teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons chilli powder

3 onions, chopped

3-4 garlic cloves

2 1-inch pieces of lemongrass

15-20 dried red chillies, stemmed, or to taste

3-4 kaffir lime leaves

3-4 tablespoons water

For the caramel coconut:

1 can coconut cream

1/2 cup water

For the curry:

2 tablespoons oil

1 1-inch piece cinnamon stick

1 petal star anise

3-4 green cardamom pods, lightly bruised

5 cloves

3 tablespoons palm jaggery or brown sugar

2 tablespoons tamarind paste

1 cup of coconut milk

2 cups after or stock

Salt, to taste

2 lb mutton or beef. cubed into 1-inch pieces

2 teaspoons desiccated coconut

Cilantro, minced, for garnish

Start by blitzing all the ingredients for the spice paste into a smooth purèe using as little water as possible. The purèe needs to be very smooth. Set aside.

Heat the oil in a large pot, one large enough for all the ingredients. Add the cinnamon stick, star anise, cardamom pods, and cloves and sautè for 30 seconds on a low flame till the cardamom turns a pale golden. Add the spice paste, scraping out every last drop with your fingers, and fry on medium-low heat for 20 minutes. The water will evaporate and the paste will thicken and fry in the oils turning a lovely brown-red. You know that you are done when your kitchen has a lovely aroma and the oils are beginning to form small bubbles on the sides.

Add the tamarind, and sugar and mix in cooking for 1 minute. Add the coconut milk, stock and salt (remember there was salt in the spice paste too), and mix well to get a smooth curry. Add the meat and bring it to a boil. Simmer with the lid sealed, stirring occasionally for 1 hour.

While the meat is cooking, pour out the coconut cream into a small pan and cook over low heat till the coconut cream evaporates and turns to a paste. Cook further till it is completely dry and the oil emerges from the paste and fry the coconut to a light golden. Towards the later stages, you will have to continually stir the mix to prevent it from burning. This is a slow process, but be patient, it is the magic of the flavour of the curry. Cool with golden and add the water and purèe to a smooth sauce. Set aside.

Check the pot simmering with meat and add some water if needed. Simmer for an additional 45 minutes, stirring occasionally. At this point, you will see that the oils have started to emerge and pool on top of the curry.

Add the caramelised coconut and bring it back to a boil. Simmer for an additional 30 minutes with the lid sealed tightly. The curry should be quite thick, the oils should be floating on the surface and the curry should have a robust red colour. taste for salt, spice, tartness and sweetness. Adjust as needed.

Toast the desiccated coconut on a dry frying pan for about a minute till golden. Remove and cool down.

To serve, heat the curry and garnish with the toasted coconut and cilantro. Serve with rice or Malaysian parathas.

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