Thursday, 8 August 2013

Sayur Lodeh – A veg curry, but better


I'm back, brown and bruised from my adventures in Switzerland. I'm surprised we made it back alive; but yes we found our way through the forests, slipped and climbed our way up the rocky mountains, and did a bit of dangerous flying (with a hot paragliding instructor, of course). There wasn't much eating worth talking about to be honest (which is a first for me), but we managed to find wild berries (so good) and stinging nettle (not good), and an old cheesemaker in the mountains of Rigi Kulm, so there was a bit of lovely cheese and foraged nibbles amidst the bread/chocolate/overpriced food.

It's nice to be back. I've missed rice (#asian) and my messy bed (#notsoasian). And after all that crazy heat, (I can't believe I'm saying this) it's nice to be back in a grey chilly London where the sun has had enough of its summer fun and gone back into hiding. I've always loved this awkward period in between the end of summer and early fall, when the weather starts turning chilly, just enough for you to maybe throw on a cardigan, but still warm enough for you to prance around in shorts if you like. On the food-front, it's probably the best time ever – there is still enough sun for a Sunday barbecue, but you can also get away with a weeknight curry; you've still got the delicate green leaves going, but also all the vibrant late-summer reds yellows and purples, and a little bit of the earthy young sweet roots and cabbages.

So I made sayur lodeh.

I guess you could call sayur lodeh a mixed vegetable curry, but it is so much more than that. For one, this is not a random combination of the sorry bits of vegetables sitting in your fridge; it may seem random but each element is there for a reason – like a Kandinsky (sort of, maybe. I know it's a bad analogy shut up). The cabbage and carrots sweeten the broth, the green beans give bite and texture, the aubergines act as a sponge for soaking up all the lovely gravy (which then gets squirted all over the insides of your mouth later). It's so weird and amazing that all these vegetables for a traditional curry from home are in season right now. The rest of the ingredients are typical Southeast Asian kitchen staples; don't be put off by the long list, this is freaking easy to make and when made, gives you at least a couple of Curry Nights in.

SAYUR LODEH
Serves 4 to 6

Ingredients
For the rempah
10 dried chilies
100g shallots
3 candlenuts
3 cloves of garlic
1" knob of ginger
1" knob of galangal
1 cm piece of belacan
1 tbsp of dried shrimps
1 tbsp turmeric
2 stalks of lemongrass
2 tbsp groundnut/coconut oil

For the curry
250 ml coconut milk
water/ stock
2 kaffir lime leaves
salt and sugar, to taste

The vegetables
2 large handfuls green beans
4 new carrots
quarter of a white cabbage
1 Asian eggplant

Optional, to finish (If you're Malay don't kill me)       
tofu puffs
pressed rice cakes (lontong)
shit-hot sambal
coriander leaves

Method
1. Prepare the vegetables, rinsing and chopping them. There is no need for geometric accuracy, but the beans should be about finger-length, and the rest, roughly similar chunks, so that they cook in about the same time.
2. For the rempah, first open your windows. Toast the belacan until dry and powdery and (arguably) aromatic. Soak the dried chilies and dried shrimp in warm water for 10 min, then drain, reserving the shrimp-soaking liquid.  Pound/ blend all the ingredients till you get a fine paste. Fry the rempah till the oil separates.
3. Add the coconut milk and kaffir lime leaves, and enough stock/water (including the shrimp-soaking liquid) to cover. Bring everything to a boil, add the vegetables and let simmer till cooked and very tender, but not mushy. Add more stock/water if necessary to get your desired consistency; I like mine slightly thicker. Taste and check for seasoning.
4. Add the tofu puffs and lontong, if you’re using, and the sambal, if you’re a spice fiend. Finish with chopped coriander leaves for some greenery.


For those used to the fiery pungent spices of your local Indian, the gentle mild flavours of this dish might seem kind of wimpish for a curry. I like to think of it instead as a rich vegetable stew, simmered with fragrant herbs and spices and laced with sweet, creamy coconut milk. This – with a big big bowl of rice (oh yes I've missed you) – and a brainless chick flick was the perfect night in before all the grown-up (ah, work) craziness starts again.

Note: though CHOCKED full of vegetables, this is not a vegetarian curry- there's shrimp and shrimp paste, hence why so delicious.

41 comments:

  1. This is just my kind of curry (I'm kind of wimpish when it comes to spices.) With some of my favourite vegetables too! So much good stuff around at the moment. Love the Kandinsky reference. :) Glad you enjoyed Switzerland. I was there a couple of years ago and saw loads of paragliders (minus the hot instructors) up in the mountains. I kept my feet on the ground. ;) We found some really good food in Lausanne but it was way pricey!

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    1. This is definitely for the wimps (hehehe)

      Thanks for the kind consolation about the Kandinsky reference- it was not one of my best moments. I couldn't think of what to write/ draw. Oh well.

      Yes switzerland was so gorgeous- the air was just so clean and everything I saw (I'm not talkign about the paragliding instructor here..) was so beautiful it took my breath away. I didn't even care that the food was not that great/ expensive (which is saying a lot for me!)

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  2. In the words of Liz Lemon: I want to go to there...

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  3. Oh, and I'm making another vat load of 'Shu Han's Nonya Achar' tomorrow in preparation for our NDP BBQ on Saturday! Majulah Singapura and all that! X

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    1. HURRAHHHHH. Damn I would turn up at your doorstep in an instant if I could. Happy National Day! Majulah SIngapura!

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  4. looks delicious can't beat home cooking

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    1. Indeed- especially after a long trip, all you want to do is to just to get into the kitchen and get some rice in your tummy!

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  5. Beautiful curry! I know the ingredient list is long but so it is with most Asian dishes. I love the layers of flavours from the aromatics to the spices and then the final creamy layer with the coconut milk. Have a super weekend. Take Care, BAM

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    1. Thank you!! It is one thing about Southeast Asian curries that seem to put most people off- but really if you look at it, it's completely simple to make and the ingredients add so much depth and intensity of flavours to an otherwise normal curry. You have a good one too :) x

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  6. Oh wow that sounds so delicious, Shu Han! I being very skiddish when it comes to fiery pungent spices, I am sure I will love this (can I skip the chilies pleeeeze? Will it ruin it if I do?) I want to make this soon while all the veggies are in season.
    And besides this awesome recipe, I just love this post. It seems to be quintessentially you. Your description of your trip, of London and this transitional season. Even your syntax (I want to use "hence why" in a post as effortlessly as you!) And I laughed at all the jokes too :-) xoxo welcome back!

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    1. Thanks Helene! Yes this is definitely one for the wimps ;) Even with the chillies! Try it with you'll realise it's hardly spicy at all because of all that coconut milk! It's definitely perfect for the season!

      Thank so so so much Helene, that means a lot coming from you, because I've always admired your way of writing- so sincere and always so evocative! I think I use brackets too much (hah) but glad you enjoyed my hokes (the kandinsky one was bad though, really bad). xx

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  7. so beautiful and so delicious... I need to hunt down some of those ingredients but then i'm good to go... can I make it totally veggie by leaving out the shrimps or will this effect the taste too much... oh god I can't wait to make it! x

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    1. Thanks so much Dom! A trip to Chinatown should do it- and you probably could leave out the shrimps and it will still be delicious but it won't be sayur lodeh and I'm guessing not as delicious. Please please do make it anyhow- I want to see it ! :) x

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  8. It sounds (and looks!) fantastic, Shuhan. I haven't found belacan yet alas... but as soon as I do I will prepare lots of your amazing recipes.
    PS I hope next time you will come a bit closer to the French-speaking part of Switzerland ;-)

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    1. Charles and i were talking about you when we met in Paris! He was saying it's about time you came over to paris to visit too ;) I would love to meet you one day too- lets's hope I go back; it's such a beautiful country!

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  9. Absolutely brilliant! I love sayur lodeh... My mom cooked a big pot of it a couple of days ago, and we had it with lontong among other things... so good.
    Yours looks fantastic. Beautiful photos too.

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    1. Thank you! Ah! So jealous- with proper lontong as well! Can't beat mum's cooking. I would love a big pot of mum's anything.

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  10. Hi Shu Han,

    The shrimp and shrimp paste are essential to complete a true Singaporean-style sayur lodeh. The vegetarian version is never the same.

    Brown and bruised in Switzerland... Sounds like you have been tenderize and marinated - LOL!

    Zoe

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    1. Exactly! I have tried makng it full vegetarian before and it just wasn't as kick-ass amazing- still delicious though.

      Haha pretty much. Ready to be thrown onto the bbq ;)

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  11. Hi Shu Han! How adventurous! Climbing mountains is not for this old lady :D And how lovely you cooked sayur lodeh. I know it as sayur lemak and I don't know why my mum did not cook it often. Maybe because of the santan? I guess I should cook it pretty soon, eh? To eat with lots of sambal belacan :)

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    1. Haha believe me there were many many times I thought to myself "wtf am I doing?!" I am hardly as brave as you think I am- just foolish, more like ;)

      I have some friends who call it sayur lemak too- which makes sense as its definitley very lemak. Yes! Extra sambal! Go do it now!

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  12. Oh, i love egg plant in curry, simply irresistable!

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    1. Yes it's like a sponge to soak up all those lovely curry juices! Yum!

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  13. Hi Shu Han, this is one of my favorite curry dish. Very appetizing and need extra rice too. Yours look inviting! :)

    Have a wonderful week ahead,regards.

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  14. Welcome back! I love eggplant and green beans in curry, usually I'd use pumpkin too for sweetness, I will try with carrot and cabbage next time! But my bf can't stand shrimp paste so I have to stick to vego version...hehe

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    1. Hi Kelly! I love pumpkin in curries, but not for sayur lodeh haha, for that I'm pretty sacred when it comes to what vegetables I use ;)

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  15. Glad you're back safe and well - paragliding... screw that. I'll keep my feet firmly planted on the ground! Did your father go too?

    Fantastic looking curry Shuhan - I noticed you recommended Sambal as a topper... I haven't yet tried it yet, but I really want to use your gift... in your opinion, what is the most important thing I should try *first*, using sambal?

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    1. Sorry for the really late reply, I keep missing comments!
      Ha! My dad left after Paris. I think he would have a heart attack paragliding.. or doing those crazy rock climbing we did.

      Yes sambal is a wonderful topper for thus. But I think the first think you should try is a really simple sambal eggplant. It's on my blog- just do a search! The authentic way would be to fry it in lots of oil, but you can grill them and then do a final stirfry with the sambal. So have you used it yet??

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  16. This sounds delicious. It sounds like you are happy to be back from a nice trip.

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  17. I was about making a curry this week, too, yet in a much simpler way than yours since i'm desperately lacking time to make rempah and all that ! But by the way do you think the small round green thai eggplants would do, in a curry ? Thanks for sharing anyway ! Look forward to reading from you again :)

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    1. A curry made with a rempah has much more depth than one simply just made by frying spices together, but of course not judging, I often make the second sort because I have no time either ha! The small round thai eggplants are delicious in curry! But taste really different from the normal eggplant so I would say treat it like a different veg altogether! Thanks helena, can't wait for your english version of the perilla drink to be out!

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  18. What a nice curry! Loads of flavor in this, and I love flavor and spice. This looks perfect for me! It'll be awhile before we have chilly weather, but it'll be turning soon enough, and this will be wonderful.

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    1. I don't know what it is with the weather! On saturday it was positively freezing, but today has been nice hot and sunny. Oh well! I hope you get to make this soon on your side of the pond :)

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  19. Wow, it sounds like you had quite an adventure!
    I love this time of year, too. All the best things about Summer (mainly harvesting!) with the cool breeze. Perfect :)

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    1. QUITE an adventure – must have almost died a few times there.

      This is one of the best times of the year for eating :) I get so excited when I go to the market and see the stalls overflowing with produce!

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  20. Gah stop, you're making me unreasonable—I'm not supposed to miss London when I'm in NYC! "Veg curry" usually sounds lackluster, but that rempah is anything but! I want to try candlenuts more than anything now that I've heard their name... and the Kandinsky metaphor made me snicker ;) Gotta try some of your Kandinsky curry soon.

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  21. YOU have read my mind! Exactly what I feel like this time. Been craving for this for a while now! Definitely what I am going to make soon. See you Saturday?

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    1. DO IT! :)

      Saturday was so much fun! The lemon tart was gorgeous! LOVE the photos you took!

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  22. "First, open your windows..." HAHAHHA... You very funny lah Shu Han. I love this recipe and have bookmarked this as I'd love to make this one day too! It's freezing here in Melbourne these days and I really need recipes like these to warm me up. Plus, happy to make big batch of this so I can keep in the freezer too... YEOW!

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