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Potato rendang (Rendang kentang)

I had my first rendang in a restaurant in Palo Alto, California, and it was love at first bite. Rendang is a style of cooking that originated in West Sumatra, and versions of rendang can also be seen in other parts of Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore.

The art of rendang lies in the concentration of flavours and the slow cooking of the dish. It all starts with the intense concentration of coconut milk in a thickened sauce over a slow flame. The coconut flavours are concentrated, and the coconut sugars are caramelized in the dish. In addition, the spices are fried and added to the curry, a process that allows the flavours to intensify and the chillies to pop. Traditional rendangs are with meat, beef being the most popular, but versions with chicken and pork are also seen. Occasionally, vegetable rendangs are also seen with potatoes in the case, but also mushrooms and wild ferns.

A rendang has a few characteristics: 1) they are always slow-cooked. 2) the favours are always intense 3) the technique softens chewier meats 4) the main ingredients, meat or vegetable, are deeply flavoured with spices 5) a rendang is a preservative dish, in that the dish can be stored at room temperature for a few days before it spoils. This is because of the layer of oil on top that preserves it.

This is a lovely spiced vegetarian rendang. The baby potatoes are left with their skin on so they do not mash into the curry. They are deeply flavoured, and the sauce is thickened and clings to the potatoes. The cause is spicy and rich from the caramelized coconut, and the flavours explode in a symphony of flavours on your palate. This is a lovely dish indeed.

The Cradle of Flavour is a journey through the spice islands, Singapore, Malaysia, Sumatra, Indonesia and Java. These recipes step away from the ordinary and bring to our tables a wide variety of authentic dishes that pop with flavour. This cookbook has been named one of the best books of that year by allocates by Time Asia, The New York Times, and Good Morning America and went on to win awards from the James Beard Foundation and the International Association of Culinary Professionals. James Oseland has served as the editor of the esteemed Saveur magazine and has dedicated his life to food and journalism, including numerous other books. This book brings a superb collection of recipes, most straightforward, and all of them delicious, to our kitchens and tables.

For more recipes from this cookbook, click here.


For the spice paste:

2-inches lemongrass

4-5 shallots

2-3 cloves garlic

5-6 red chillies (See note)

2-3 red Thai chillies

1-inch fresh turmeric or 1/2 teaspoon dried powder

1-inch fresh ginger

1/4-inch galangal

3 tablespoons peanut oil

4-5 tablespoons water

Note: for a less spicy version, cut down the red chillies and add a red bell pepper

For the curry:

2-3 dried duan salam leaves or 1 bay leaf

3 stems Thai basil + more to garnish, sliced into ribbons

Salt, to taste

2 cups thick coconut milk or 3 cups regular coconut milk

1 lb baby potatoes, scrubbed well

6 cups water

1/2 teaspoon salt

Add the potatoes to a pot with the salt and water. Bring to a boil and simmer for 30-40 minutes till very soft when pierced with a skewer. Drain and set aside.

Add the coconut milk to a pot and bring to a boil. Simmer gently on a very low flame for 45-60 minutes until you have a thick sauce and the oils from the coconut begin to float on the top.

While the coconut is simmering, add the ingredients for the spice paste, except for the oil, to a small blender and blitz until smooth. Add just enough water to allow the paste to slide down the sides of the blender; do not make it too runny.

Heat the oil in a pot and add the paste. Fry the paste on a medium-low flame till it is reddened and the water evaporates. The oils should pool on the surface.

Add the paste to the thickened coconut milk and mix it well. Add the duan or bay leaf, Thai basil and salt. Slice the potatoes in half and add to the curry. Cook for 10 minutes after the curry comes to a slow simmer. Taste for spice and salt and adjust as needed. Simmer till you have a thick curry.

Serve hot with Jasmine rice.

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