I love flying in to Singapore. It’s a wonderful foodie destination and you can happily eat your way around a fusion of the cuisines of Indonesia, Malaysia, India and China. So you can imagine how cheated I felt on my last visit, when I was nursing the tail end of the worst bout of food poisoning I’d ever experienced. You know, the one where you get the blinding headaches in the middle of the night, where no amount of Paracetamol and icepacks to soothe your fevered brow make any difference whatsoever?
Happily on this recent visit I was fighting fit. Only, the snag was that this time there was no stopover and we had to fly straight through. So much for catching up with friends or getting out amongst the hawker markets – we barely had time to do more than grab a shower and a cup of coffee as we changed planes.
So I did the next best thing. I found this recipe for Rendang in The Straits Times and we made it as a team effort when we got home, in my desperate attempt to bring a little of the heat and spice of South East Asia to cheer up the rain-sodden British winter we have returned to.
Rendang originated in West Sumatra, Indonesia, from a ceremonial dish that took all day to cook, to produce what is almost a dry paste. Malaysia and Singapore make a version that to my mind is just as good, takes half the time and the dish has a lot more sauce, which you can mop up with rice.
You don’t have to use meat to make Rendang. Even if Renang purists don’t agree, you can make it with tofu, prawns or chicken but adjust the cooking times accordingly.
Incidentally, this recipe takes no prisoners on the chilli front. If you can’t stand too much heat, then use the mildest chillies you can find. I’m convinced that hot chillies, like chocolate are the culinary equivalent of happy pills. And on a New Year’s Day, when even these most seasoned of walkers have decided to give the great outdoors the flick and go instead to see The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, you need all the happiness you can get.
100 g chilli paste (I used Mexican chipotle paste)
6 cloves garlic
3 cm ginger
1 heaped tsp ground turmeric
3 cm galangal
2 heaped tbs ground coriander
2 heaped tbs ground cumin
2 tbs toasted grated coconut (ground into a paste)
4 tbs oil
2 stalks lemongrass, sliced into 5cm pieces with stems smashed
1 cinnamon stick
3 star anise
1 kg beef, cut into chunks
200ml coconut milk
2sp tamarind pulp, soaked in warm water
3 kaffir lime leaves
salt to taste
1 tsp sugar
Process the first nine ingredients in a blender until they form a fine paste.
Heat oil in a large wok or saucepan and fry the lemongrass, cinnamon stick, star anise and cloves for 30 seconds.
Add the paste and fry for up to 10 minutes until fragrant and the oil separates from the paste.
Add beef and stir over high heat until evenly browned.
Pour in coconut milk and stir well. Cook for 10 minutes until the coconut milk has reduced.(Incidentally, don’t be tempted to use low fat – it’s disgusting and the dish will be watery and horrible).
Add the water, stir and bring back to a simmer.
Add tamarind juice and lime leaves.
Cover and simmer until meat is tender but not falling apart. This will take up to 3 hours.
(You could, at this stage transfer the contents to a slow cooker and use that instead, but don’t ask me how they work, I’m scared of them. My niece’s one exploded when she was out at work and she had to fish out bits of glass from the home cooked dinner that by then was probably smeared half way up the walls….)
You have to stir this every now and again as otherwise it will stick to the bottom.
Turn heat off and add salt and sugar just before serving with hot rice.
Serves four to five