Indonesian beef rendang is one of my all-time favourite dishes. It’s a to-die-for dry beef curry cooked in coconut milk and plenty of Southeast Asian spices, until the curry is dry and caramelised. I’ve always had a soft spot for its complex flavour that’s spicy, sweet and savoury with a hint of citrusy kaffir lime.
You got to hand it to the Minangkabau ethnic group of West Sumatra in Indonesia for creating this fabulous dish. Rendang is cooked for hours upon hours and is one of the most famous Indonesian meat dishes out there. Beef rendang is the most popular version, but you can also make it with liver, chicken, mutton etc. The flavour of rendang is unforgettable, so it’s little wonder that rendang has also become very popular with Malay cooking in Malaysia and Singapore. Just like turkey for Thanksgiving and ham for Christmas, rendang is a festive food popular during Hari Raya (that’s the Malay term for the Islamic Eid al-Fitr holiday). And thankfully, you can also get it outside of holidays at eating houses like Pondok Buyung.
I’m pescetarian now and haven’t had beef rendang in a while (1.5 years to be exact) and I’ll readily admit that I miss it. So I created the next best option to fill the void in my tummy, improvising a vegetarian/vegan tempeh rendang.
But first let’s take a step back and quickly talk about how to prepare beef rendang. To prepare for long hours of cooking, you choose chuck or shin with some fat in it to prevent the meat from going tough and dry when done. Marinate the chunks of beef in the spices then lightly fry them till they are browned and sealed. Add coconut milk and other spices and boil it with the meat till the coconut milk evaporates and reduces. As the coconut milk evaporates, the colour of the mixture darkens. You add in the dried coconut and turn up the heat to fry the meat in its own oil. Voila! You have a mouthwatering dry beef curry waiting for you to enjoy. And all that took was approximately 4 hours of your day.
It’s a little different for tempeh rendang. I didn’t want my tempeh to get too soggy so I fried all the spices and boiled the coconut milk with the spices until the mixture reduced. Only then did I add the tempeh and fry off the rest of the liquid as usual.
You’ll need these ingredients
- 2 cakes of tempeh (500g)
- 2 stalks of lemongrass
- 4 large kaffir lime leaves
- 2 cups coconut milk
- 1 tsp coriander powder
- 1 tsp gula melaka
- 2/3 cup dessicated coconut
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 1 lime
For the rempah
- 4 shallots
- 1 inch galangal
- 1 inch ginger
- 1 inch turmeric
- 4 dried chillis
- 6 cloves of garlic
1. In a food processor or mortar and pestle, process all rempah ingredients until you get a rough paste. You’ll be cooking this for a long time, so it doesn’t have to be smooth as silk.
2. Chop off all but the lowest third of the lemongrass stalks and bruise them with the back of a knife.
3. Heat some oil in a large heavy pot and fry the rempah and coriander powder for about 5 mins. Add bruised lemongrass stalks, kaffir lime leaves and continue frying briefly for about 3 minutes.
4. Add coconut milk and cinnamon stick and simmer on medium heat.
5. Meanwhile, cut tempeh into approximately 1 inch cubes. Sear tempeh in a pan until the surfaces are golden-brown.
6. When the liquid has reduced to about a quarter of the original amount, add in the tempeh chunks and dessicated coconut to simmer.
7. Just when the liquid has almost evaporated, add in the palm sugar.
8. Turn up the heat to fry the tempeh until it’s dry and caramelised.
9. Splash the juice of 1 lime over the tempeh.