Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Beef Rendang

I grew up with a positive aversion to coconut. Mind you, my limited access to it back then was in Almond Joy or Mounds chocolate bars and the grinding texture and sickly sweet flavor did not impress me as a child so I avoided anything with the word 'coconut' in it for years.

Then we moved to the Far East and my path was crossed with a dish called Beef Rendang which is a spicy sweet aromatic and thicker version of what we might call 'stew'. I first tried it in a restaurant, I believe, and could buy it ready-made in tins (dreadful) but eventually was taught to make it by the housekeeper of a man who lived next door to us in Brunei.

The housekeeper/cook was a transvestite to begin with and I never knew which persona I would meet each day working out in the garden or running errands. At first I thought they were two different people, and I suppose that really is most accurate. But not germane to the story.

On the appointed day, I bopped over and after we visited for a few minutes, we got busy in the kitchen, by which I mean, she got busy and I took notes. She did not speak English, I did not speak Malay but we both communicated like fast friends over a common bond: Food.

Here is where I first discovered that coconut goes into the making of this delicious curry. And that most foreign and mesmerizing ingredient, lemongrass.

All the spices and herbs were ground up with a mortar, which took more time than necessary these days, thanks to our advanced technology of the mini-blender (c'mon folks, just get one) and today I whirr them all together in less than 2 minutes. But back then, I confess, as she ground and ground away, the fragrances that were released filled the room and senses like nothing I had ever experienced (except possibly, when in a bakery).

Then the ingredients are all fried up in a large pot and coconut milk and water added. This then slowly cooks for several hours and the beef tenderizes and pulls in the spices even as they break down. at first, the liquid is light in color and almost off-putting but eventually as it evaporates, the curry takes on a darker, richer color and if you prefer a 'dry' curry, you can continue til it's practically non-existent. This is not something I like because I let the rice we serve with the rendang soak up that gravy.


1 1/2 pound boneless beef cubes, cheap cuts are fine
5 tablespoons cooking oil
1 cinnamon stick (about 2-inch long)
4 cloves
3 star anise, I use powdered star anise 1/4 teasp. This is not the anise seed!
3 cardamom pods, or 1/4 teasp of the seeds from within

1 lemongrass (cut into 4-inch length and pounded) I used the stuff in the squeeze tube as the lemongrass is harder to find here

1 cup thick coconut milk (canned. Try to get a can from Thailand, not Mexico. It is prepared a little differently)
1 cup water
2 teaspoons tamarind pulp (soaked in some warm water for the juice and discard the seeds )(good luck finding this. I substituted 7 prunes and added 1 Tables of Lime juice)
6 kaffir lime leaves (very finely sliced) Sorry, I grow my own here in the South. Again, Good luck. try an Asian Grocery store
6 tablespoons kerisik (toasted coconut) (couldn't find it, omitted it altogether)
1 tablespoon sugar/palm sugar or to taste
Salt to taste

Spice Paste:

5 shallots
1 inch galangal
(Ii have powdered )
3 lemongrass (white part only) (Squeeze tube, (again)
5 cloves garlic
1 inch ginger
10-12 dried chilies (soaked in warm water and seeded)


  1. Chop the spice paste ingredients and then blend it in a food processor until fine.
  2. Heat the oil in a stew pot, add the spice paste, cinnamon, cloves, star anise, and cardamom and stir-fry them until aromatic.
  3. Add the beef and the pounded lemongrass and stir for 1 minute.
  4. Add the coconut milk, tamarind juice, water, and simmer on medium heat, stirring frequently until the meat is almost cooked.
  5. Add the kaffir lime leaves, kerisik (toasted coconut), sugar/palm sugar, stirring to blend well with the meat.
  6. Lower the heat to low, cover the lid, and simmer for 1 – 1 1/2 hours or until the meat is really tender and the gravy has dried up.
  7. Add salt to taste. If not sweet enough, add more sugar to taste.
  8. Serve immediately with steamed rice and save some for overnight.

Okay, that fine recipe is from the link on the name above and it is superb. Galangal is a root much like ginger but different and you might find it at the Asian Grocery. I brought alot of these these ground dried spices back from Thailand and will search for them locally the next time I cross the lake.

I allowed it all to cook to at least 5 hours total and it would taste even better today if there was any left. Note to self: Make twice as much next time!

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