Saturday, April 24, 2010

Malay Beef Curry -- for the Birthday of a Daughter born in Malaysia

The other evening as I was making this "kari lembu," in honor of Anna's birth way back when we lived in Malaysia, the rich and reminiscent spice and coconut fragrances reminded me that I cook Malay curries very infrequently, despite their popularity in the family.

Then as the hours and cooking steps dragged on, I recalled why. Malay cooking can take forever.

Perhaps the most difficult dish is one of the family's most appreciated, rendang, a curry so slowly simmered down and dry it's like pulled beef barbecue in coconut and spice. Even the kari lembu for Anna's birthday, which has a wetter sauce, takes multiple hours.

In Malaysia these curries would be festival dishes, or restaurant cooking, not everyday fare. But they also come from a different era, before television and cars in every family, when there was time to cook and few other distractions.

I put this recipe in the blog more as an archive than with any expectation that my kids, even the three Malaysian-born ones, will be making it often. My recall of how to make it was helped by a recipe in a 1962 cookbook from Kuala Lumpur.

This is a double recipe (2 katis of meat, a kati being 1 1/3 pounds), since it's an entertainment dish and it's just as much work to make a smaller batch.

Kari Lembu -- Malay Beef Curry

2 3/4 pounds stewing beef, cut in 1 1/2 to 2-inch pieces
2 large stalks lemon grass, cut in 2-inch lengths and bruised
2 large cloves garlic put though press or finely minced
1 teaspoon minced ginger
5 tablespoons ground coriander
5 teaspoons ground fennel seeds
4 teaspoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons paprika
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
1/2 to 1 teaspoon cayenne
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
6 tablespoons water
2 large onions, chopped
4 tablespoons canola oil (the original is coconut oil)
1 whole star anise
8 whole cardamoms
6 whole cloves
1 small stick cinnamon
1 tablespoon shredded fresh ginger
2 1/2 cups water
2 pounds potatoes, peeled and cut in 2-inch chunks (alternatively 1 pound potatoes and 3/4 pound young okra)
1 (14-ounce) can unsweetened coconut milk
4 teaspoons salt
3 tablespoons tamarind pulp softened in 1/2 cup water and strained
1 tablespoon sugar

Marinate beef with the next 12 ingredients, mixing well.

In a large pot, fry onions in oil, stirring frequently, until dark golden color. As onions turn golden, add whole spices and ginger. Fry gently several more minutes.

Add beef and its marinade and cook, stirring frequently and scraping the bottom of pot, until raw color is gone.

Add water. Simmer, covered and stirring occasionally, 30 minutes, or until beef is starting to become tender.

Add potatoes. Simmer, stirring occasionally, 10 minutes.

Shake coconut milk can well. Open add coconut milk to curry. Add salt. Simmer until beef and potatoes are tender.

Taste, and add salt if needed.

If using okra, slit them down the side and mix well with tamarind juice, getting some into the slits. Add okra, if used, tamarind juice and sugar.

Simmer until okra becomes tender. Taste and adjust salt.

Serve with unsalted rice. Accompany with cucumber, cut in 1/2-inch cubes, plus roasted lightly salted peanuts.


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11:41 PM  

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