Sayur lodeh – think of it as a curry and you’ll be disappointed with its gentle flavours; think of it as a thick stew of vegetables in spiced coconut milk and you’ve then got the idea of this comforting Indonesian dish. It’s also been embraced by the Peranakans and Malaysians but strangely, I cannot recall my mother ever cooking it at home. I suspect that the inclusion of so much coconut milk was worrying to her! I love the stuff.
Do not be fooled – this is not a vegetarian dish. Belacan (fermented shrimp paste) and dried shrimps play a big part in the flavouring and it’s imperative that they’re not left out. If you’re having it as a main meal, shrimp or prawns can also be added. I also feel like this shouldn’t be a catch all for any vegetable you might have in your fridge – I’ve used vegetables that work well together; I’m not convinced by the use of peppers, for example. And like most stews, it’ll be good the first day but great on subsequent days. Serve it with plenty of white rice to soak up all that gravy.
serves 3-43 as a main meal with white rice or 6-8 as a side dish.
For the spice paste (rempah)
15-20 small shallots (purple) or 3-5 large ones (brown), peeled and coarsely chopped
3 cloves garlic, peeled and coarsely chopped
1 thick slice ginger, peeled and coarsely chopped
1 thumb sized piece galangal, peeled and coarsely chopped
20 little dried shrimp
5-10 dried large red chillies
1 tbsp chilli paste
1 tsp belacan powder
2 tsps turmeric powder
3 tbsps oil
2 stalks lemongrass, bruised
1/2 small cabbage, cut into chunks
2 Japanese aubergines, cut into chunks
1 large carrot, cut into batons
1 small onion, cut into slices
200g long beans or green beans or a mixture, cut into bite sized pieces
200g firm tofu, cubed/sliced
400ml coconut milk
salt and sugar to taste
First make your spice paste. Soak the dried shrimps and dried chillies in hot water for about 10-15 minutes. The chillies should be soft and the shrimps should have softened. Chop up the chillies (discarding the seeds) and then blend all the ingredients together, adding a bit of water if necessary. If you’re feeling nostalgic, pound them all together in a heavy duty mortar and pestle.
Heat a large pot/wok over medium-low heat and then add the oil to heat through. Add the spice paste and fry slowly until the oil separates again from the mixture. If there is quite a bit of water in the paste, this may not happen, in which case fry for at least 10 minutes.
Add the onion and carrot pieces and fry together for a few minutes. Add the aubergine, green beans, and cabbage and continue frying, stirring continuously. Pour in about 1-2 cups water and the coconut milk (this mixture should cover the vegetables – add more water if required). Toss in the lemongrass and bring the entire mixture to a simmer. Simmer until the vegetables are cooked through – you want them soft but not mushy. Add water to thin the sayur lodeh if desired – I like mine quite thick.
Finally, add the firm tofu and when that has cooked through, add salt and sugar to taste. Stir well and serve with white rice.