As children, we knowingly grew up with and revelled in some food traditions. During the week we typically had one ‘green’ curry which was something like okra, cluster beans or spinach with a lentil or pulse-based dish, and of course, abundant chapatti and rice with salad and pickles on the side.
When my aunts visited, we knew dad would go out and buy bright orange and sticky sweet spirals of jalebi, fluffy and lightly sour rice, lentil cakes of dhokla and all the children got Bounty chocolate bars at the end. There were potato and cassava dishes for celebratory fasting days and summers full of steaming hot, spiced rice flour dough which puffed aromas of chillies as we lay the poppadums made with that very dough onto sheets of unused saris in the garden.
On Thursdays we had hot, buttery khichdi made of simmered down rice and lentils with potato curry, Kadhi and crisp poppadums. On Fridays, dad made proper chips after chopping and lightly boiling thick cuts of potatoes and they were accompanied by fried eggs, beans or mushy peas and lashings of vinegar. It was either that or a Chinese takeaway or homemade pie but goodness my brother and I loved those Friday meals.
When I started working in London things altered. Every day was a food adventure rejoicing a different cuisine of the world with my friends or colleagues. One of the things I love about London is that pretty much any cuisine I want to explore is accessible. Some of these cuisines became regular features on my home-cooking menu such as Malaysian recipes with their fresh and sprightly flavours of lemongrass, chillies and lime leaves. Over the years I have read about the fusion of cultures that influences Malaysian cooking; Malays, Chinese, Indian and apparently even Portuguese and Dutch, and for me this makes it such a testament to the success that fusion food can deliver.
I am shameless when it comes to slurping up bowls of fragrant laksa, but the dish that has always made me most curious is rendang curry. I think it is the thick, clinging curry sauce that just makes me swoon for vegetarian alternatives to the traditional heavy meat-based versions of this recipe. The curry gravy reaches thrilling levels of wonderfulness when simmered for around an hour, making it unsuitable for vegetable-based dishes, but Quorn works well in that it just becomes tender and soaks up the flavours of the curry base over this time.
I have cut back on my intake of sugar so I haven’t added brown sugar, palm sugar or other sweeteners to this recipe, but what I have done is add tamarind paste and powdered some toasted coconut to give a little touch of sweetness. It has taken me about three attempts to get to a rendang recipe that I am happy with and I have to say, this one is just divine. I have served it with a really easy and colourful carrot salad and steaming hot rice.
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