Comfort food, Malaysian style

There’s a lot that I miss about Malaysia. Family, friends and the local cuisine rank at the top of this list. When it comes to food, I miss being able to enjoy a ‘teh tarik’ (literal translation: pulled tea) and roti canai (a buttery flat bread) at the neighbourhood mamak (an indian muslim restaurant or stall). I miss sitting at an open air restaurant or stall anytime of the year, day or night, enjoying simple meals – banana leaf rice (indian styled rice, curries, meat or fish and veggies served on a banana leaf), char kuey teow (chinese styled fried flat noodles) or nasi lemak (malay styled rice cooked in coconut milk and served with sambal, anchovies, peanuts, eggs and rendang – spiced meat). These are always had in the  boisterous company of family or friends.

So, on days when I miss family, friends and the comforts  of home most, I cook up a meal that will take me back. Rendang is one of my favourites. It can typically be had with nasi lemak, as noted above, or with plain white rice and veggies. It’s also a dish that is traditionally served during Hari Raya (Ramadhan) feasts.  Cooking a meal like this always lifts my spirits.

I got this recipe from a friend a few years ago – at a time when I was feeling particularly homesick. I’ve made it a few times since and tweaked it a little. It’s delicious and easy to make, but be ready to spend a few hours in the kitchen.

Beef Rendang

Beef Rendang

You can use chicken of beef for this, but I’ve always made it with beef.

Ingredients (You will be able to find  most of these ingredients at any well stocked Asian grocery store.)

  • 2lbs beef, cut into small cubes. Stewing beef works well. (I found out the hard way that expensive cuts, like  sirloin, don’t work as well).
  • Cinnamon stick (2 inch piece), cloves, cardamom
  • A handful of shallots
  • 5-6 dried chilies
  • 2 stalks lemongrass (about 4 inches from the root)
  • Ginger (about the size of your thumb), chopped roughly
  • Galangal (thumb sized), chopped roughly
  • Tamarind juice
  • 2 tsp tumeric powder
  • 3/4 cup light coconut milk
  • Oil
  • 1/4 tsp sugar (I use brown sugar)
  • Salt to taste
  • 2 – 3 heaped tbs grated coconut for the kerisik
  • Lime leaves, finely chopped.

Preparation Method:

  1. Spices prepped for beef rendang

    Prep, from top left: shallots, lemongrass, ginger and galangal , blended into a paste; lemongrass, chilli paste, kerisik, lime leaves, cinnamon, cloves and cardamom.

    Marinate beef  with the turmeric and set aside for a while.

  2. Blend chillies, shallots, lemongrass, ginger and galangal into a paste.
  3. In a large wok or pan, heat 1-2 tablespoons of oil. Once the oil is hot, add cinnamon, cloves and cardamon;  heat until fragrant and allow the cardamom seeds to pop.
  4. Add in the blended ingredients and sauté. If you find the mixture getting too dry, add some thick coconut milk or coconut cream (instead of more oil).
  5. Once the oil starts to separate add in the beef and mix well to coat the meat with the spices.
  6. Add in tamarind juice.
  7. Cover and let cook for 10-15 minutes.
  8. After about 15 minutes, turn down the heat to low/medium. Add light coconut milk and let simmer until the meat is tender and cooked through. This could take about 45 minutes to an hour. Be sure to keep stirring occasionally.
  9. By this time, most of the liquid will have evaporated and you’ll be left with a dryish dish – don’t allow it get too dry though.
  10. Add sugar and salt to taste.
  11. Add in kerisik and mix well. (To make the kerisik, fry the grated coconut in a pan until it’s golden brown.)
  12. Finally, add the lime leaves and turn off the heat. Serve with rice.
Enjoying beef rendang with rice

Rendang is served!


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