Blog - Curry Twist

Lamb Rendang In Kuala Lumpur

Kuala Lumpur is a city that has been transformed in a relatively short time, evolving in a few decades from a sleepy outpost of the British Empire to one of the modern world's great cities. Today you can find traces of this metamorphosis everywhere, with gleaming skyscrapers towering over old colonial buildings and bustling street markets next to huge shopping malls. The population is equally diverse, with Malay, Chinese and Indian communities dispersed throughout the city.
This makes Kuala Lumpur a food-lover's paradise: the breakfast buffet at our hotel not only had eggs and bacon, but also Chinese noodles, Malay satay skewers and South Indian curries. Our biggest problem was deciding where to start from! All these cuisines not only coexist but also influence each other, creating flavours that are unique to the city. My absolute favourite dish was chickpeas cooked in a spicy coconut milk sauce, poured over freshly steamed idlis (rice cakes). I have never come across this combination before and it was heaven!

Kuala Lumpur's ultimate street food destination is Jalan Alor, a long winding street filled with food vendors selling their wares from pushcarts, the back of motorcycles, and makeshift stalls. It is best visited at night when pavements are lined with happy diners seated around tables, surrounded by food of every description, with that indefinable aroma from innumerable charcoal grills filling the air.

Walking down this street, dodging cars and throngs of passers by, weaving your way through the tables and food stalls that are everywhere, you begin to wonder whether anyone cooks at home. And with food this good, exciting and cheap, why would they even bother!

One of our favourite ways to get out of the fierce day time heat was to duck into the myriad food courts that dot Kuala Lumpur. They are a wonderful, inexpensive way of exploring the staggering variety of food on offer. Some of these food courts or hawker centers are charmingly laid out under spreading trees, offering a green oasis in the middle of the city, while others are in shopping malls or office buildings.

Petaling Street or Chinatown is a lively, bustling shopper's paradise with a fascinating night market. This is where you will find brand name knock offs for almost every item imaginable as well as street food that is hard to find in most restaurants.

In between bouts of bargaining and shopping you can revive yourself with dishes such as salted roast duck, deep fried sweet potato balls, grilled beef jerky, meat buns, roasted chestnuts, fruit juices and iced tea!

Just around the corner from Petaling Street is the famous Old China Cafe. Housed in the guildhall of a defunct laundrymen's association, this cafe retains all its glorious original furnishings, exudes old world charm and serves fantastic Nyonya food.
Having heard so much about this little cafe, we resisted the heady aromas of street food vendors around us and went here for dinner. It is reputed to have the best Beef Rendang in town and we were not disappointed!

Rendang is a spicy meat preparation popular in Indonesia and Malaysia. The meat is cooked for a long time with coconut milk, spices and other ingredients such as shallots, lemongrass and galangal. The process of cooking progresses from sauteing to simmering to frying as the liquid evaporates and the meat absorbs the wonderful flavours, caramelizes as it becomes spice crusted and literally falls apart in your mouth. This is an age old preservation cooking technique for hot climates in the days before refrigeration.

We first came across Rendang a few years ago in an Amsterdam restaurant. Beef rendang was part of our Rijstafel menu and the chef himself came out to warn us that no one had ever managed to finish an entire bowl of it in his restaurant. While we scoffed at this, assuring him that as Indians we had an innate ability to handle spicy food, we couldn't finish it either. It was just too hot!
Even though we couldn't eat too much of it the first time, we loved it's complex, spicy flavours and often sought it during our travels. We discovered (much to our relief) that rendang doesn't have to be searingly hot and it is possible to finish an entire bowl of it!

Lamb rendang is easy and satisfying to make at home. Although the cooking process requires a bit of time and patience, tantalizing aromas fill up the house and whet the appetite! I like to leave a bit of sauce clinging to the meat so that it is nice to eat with rice. In most restaurants though, the sauce is cooked off till only the oils remain and the meat is cooked in this till it is a rich brown colour and falling apart tender. If you wish to do that, simply uncover the skillet and cook for an additional 15-20 min till the desired result is achieved. If you want a hotter dish, add more cayenne pepper to taste!

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I love adding baby potatoes to my lamb rendang. They absorb and thicken the sauce and become very flavourful. Serve with plain rice or Nasi Biryani as is traditional in Kuala Lumpur.

Lamb Rendang

1 cup roughly chopped red onion

4 cloves garlic

1 inch piece ginger or galangal

6 macadamia nuts

2 fresh hot red chilies, optional

1 inch piece fresh turmeric, optional

1 tsp each: ground coriander, sugar

1/2 tsp each: cayenne pepper, turmeric, paprika, tamarind paste

1/4 tsp each, ground spices: cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg, fennel

Salt to taste

2 tbsp olive oil

2 each, whole spices: cloves, cardamom, star anise, cinnamon stick

2 lb boneless leg of lamb, cubed into bite sized pieces

1 can (400 ml) unsweetened coconut milk

6 lime leaves, optional

2 stalks lemongrass, ends trimmed, crushed lightly with mallet

Combine onion, garlic, galangal or ginger, macadamia nuts, red chilies, fresh turmeric (if using), ground coriander, sugar, salt, cayenne, turmeric, paprika, tamarind paste, ground cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg and fennel in food processor or blender. Process until well combined and finely minced. Transfer to a bowl.

Warm oil in large non stick skillet over medium heat. Add whole cloves, cardamom, cinnamon and star anise. Sizzle spices 1 min, then add spice paste from bowl.

Saute for 3-4 min until paste is fragrant, then add lamb pieces. Fry lamb for 3-4 min to seal flavours.

Add coconut milk, lime leaves (if using) and lemongrass. Mix well, cover and cook on very low heat for 2 hours or until lamb is very tender and sauce is very thick, stirring occasionally. Garnish with slivered lime leaves or mint and serve.

Serves six-eight

 

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Pad Thai Noodles In Bangkok

Our first impression of Bangkok was one of chaos, as we tried to battle our way through the throngs of people everywhere, the gridlocked traffic, and the street stalls that crowd the sidewalks. Then, after a day or two, we began to feel the rhythms of the city. Behind the tumult of the streets there are oases of calm - gardens and temples of stunning beauty. The people are always quick with a smile and gracious with their warm hospitality. The stalls that make walking through the streets such an obstacle course are the real treasures of the city, for Bangkok is, above all, a never-ending feast!

Bangkok is probably one of the best and safest places to eat street food. Not only is it fresh, delicious and reasonably hygienic (well, we never once fell sick!), it is also cheap, plentiful and very popular with locals and visitors alike. Judging by the sheer number of vendors who have set up impromptu food stalls on every street and their immense popularity, no one in Bangkok seems to cook at home! There is something very satisfying about watching your meal cooked right in front of you while inhaling all those heavenly aromas. Just like being in a cooking class!

While Pad Thai noodles, grilled chicken satays and fresh seafood were some of our choice things to eat from street food vendors; whole grilled fish, coated in a thick 'plaster' of salt and flour was easily our most favourite. The plaster hardens as it dries and keeps the fish incredibly flavourful and moist inside. Before being coated with the flour and salt paste, the fish is first stuffed with lemongrass and herbs to add more flavour. Served with a garlicky dipping sauce, liberally spiked with fiery Thai chillies, it was an amazing new dish that we encountered.

Literally every street in Bangkok has some amazing food and it is very tempting to just follow your nose to the nearest food vendor, grab a stool and eat what's offered. Sukhumvit Soi 38, was one of the first places we ventured out to try street food. One of Bangkok's most popular street food havens, it is lined with lots of food stalls, plastic tables and chairs and exciting Thai food of every description. We grabbed ourselves a couple of plastic chairs and soon an adorable little urchin was at our elbow, offering us a bunch of menus from nearby vendors. 

This little guy cheerfully helped us choose the foods that we would like, brought our meal to the table and was thrilled to pose for a photograph! The food was cheap, tasty and fresh - an unbeatable combination! We washed it all down with chilled green coconut water and felt well fortified to explore some of Bangkok's famous nightlife. 

One of the joys of being in Bangkok was that I could have my favourite Pad Thai noodles for practically every meal! We had it in fancy restaurants where it came wrapped in a gossamer thin, lacy omelette and we had it by the side of a street, sitting on a plastic chair while watching the food vendor deftly toss the ingredients together in a huge wok. No matter where we ate it, or how often, it was always fantastic!

My recipe here is vegetarian but you can easily add sautéed shrimp or chicken if you wish. This is probably very unorthodox of me, but I like to add in some rich coconut cream (skimmed off the top of a can of coconut milk) for the extra creaminess and flavour it adds to the dish. 

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For even more flavour, add a teaspoonful of Thai curry powder and serve with Thai chicken satays or Mussaman Potato Curry to round out the meal.

Pad Thai Noodles

225g (1/2 lb) dried rice stick Pad Thai noodles
2 tbsp each: tamarind chutney or sauce (store bought), tomato ketchup, lime juice, coconut cream
1 tbsp each: Thai red curry paste or Thai chili sauce, dark soy sauce

3 tbsp vegetable oil
2 eggs, beaten
2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
1 medium onion, thinly sliced

1/2 sweet red pepper, thinly sliced
1 cup fresh bean sprouts
1/4 cup roasted peanuts, lightly crushed
2 green onions, sliced
2 tbsp chopped fresh coriander
4 lime wedges for garnish

Soak noodles in enough hot water to cover for 20 minutes or until softened, stirring now and then to loosen them. Drain and set aside. 
In a small mixing bowl, combine the tamarind sauce, ketchup, lime juice, coconut cream, curry paste or chilli sauce and soy sauce. Set aside. 
Beat eggs in a small bowl. Warm 1 tbsp oil in small frying pan over medium high heat. Pour eggs in, make omelet. Shred omelet roughly with spatula. Set aside.   
Warm remaining oil in large non-stick wok or skillet over medium high heat. Add the onions, garlic and red pepper. Sauté 4-5 min until lightly browned. Add the bean sprouts, noodles, egg, tamarind soy mixture and peanuts. Stir fry gently, tossing with 2 forks until everything is well mixed, about 2 min. Transfer to a platter and garnish with chopped coriander, green onions and extra peanuts and lime wedges if desired.
Serves four 

Saveur, Lamb Shawarma In New York

When I recently got a call from the famous Saveur Magazine, asking if I would be interested in a trip to New York to help their test kitchens prepare for their upcoming special India issue, I took exactly five seconds before saying YES!!

A long-time fan of Saveur, who has cooked her way through many, many of their recipes, I couldn't believe I was actually going to meet the people whose names have long been familiar to me! It was a wonderful experience for many reasons, but the best part of it was getting to know so many warm, friendly people who are a joy to work with.

 Saveur test kitchens are a home cook's dream. Equipped with top of the line appliances, cookware, and an extremely well stocked spice cabinet, they made cooking a breeze! We created and tested recipes for dishes like Hot Mix snack, Spicy RasamDaikon Curry, Methi Malai Paneer, Mussels, pickles, chutneys, naan, parathas  and puris .

In spite of being busy in the Saveur kitchens, I made sure I left enough time for some of the things I love to do in New York: sampling the goodies at Eataly, buying exotic spices at Kalustyan's, and treating myself to macarons at Ladurée.

While walking the streets of Manhattan it is always a treat to grab a quick bite from one of New York's many street food vendors! Our favourite is lamb shawarma from The Halal Guys, a wildly popular food cart on 53rd street at 6th Avenue. There is invariably a long line of people winding around the block,  but the food is worth the wait. We had the lamb and rice plate with lashings of their famous white sauce and hot sauce.

Home made shawarma is easy to make and the taste is quite close to the spit roasted version sold from street carts and restaurants. I like to serve lamb shawarma in a wrap with lots of toppings, most of which are easily available at our local supermarket. You can also serve it over yellow basmati rice with the toppings scattered over top.

Lamb Shawarma Wraps

1 lb boneless leg of lamb

For marinade:

4 cloves garlic

1 inch piece ginger

2 tbsp each: lemon juice, oil, plain yogurt

1/2 tsp each, ground: cumin, cinnamon, mace, black pepper, paprika, cayenne, cardamom

Salt to taste

For wraps:

2 tbsp oil

4 thin pita breads

1/4 cup each: hummus, tabbouleh and tzaziki

Hot sauce, pickled turnips to taste

Place lamb in large mixing bowl. Make a few deep gashes on its surface for marinade to seep in.

Combine marinade ingredients together in mini blender until smooth. Pour over lamb, turning to coat well. Cover and refrigerate for 24 hours.

Preheat oven to 400F. Place lamb in large baking dish, spoon marinade over it, cover with foil and bake for 20 min. Uncover and bake for another 15 min or until lamb is done to your liking. Do not overcook the lamb. Remove from oven.

Let lamb rest for 15 min, scrape off and discard any excess marinade clinging to it, then slice it thinly into strips.

Warm oil in a large non stick skillet over medium high heat. Add lamb and sauté for 2 min until lightly browned. Remove to a platter.

Place warm pitas, lamb and remaining wrap ingredients on table for people to assemble their own wraps.

Makes four wraps