The best memories are made almost always by accident – stumbling upon a quiet beach while on holiday, running into interesting people who have intriguing stories to share and finding surprisingly delicious food in places where you go in with no expectations. That last one has happened to us many a time. One such instance was when we were out in Dublin on a Saturday, found ourselves starving and decided to try out a rather nondescript restaurant called ‘Penang’ located on central O’Connell Street. It was the name and the menu that attracted us. While the interiors won’t blow you away and it is definitely not the place you’d go to for a romantic dinner, the food is simple yet scrumptious and good value for money.
This was where I first tasted a ‘rendang’ without knowing what it was. The description read something along the lines of beef cooked in a coconut sauce with spices and that won me over. Anything with coconut will win me over! I was expecting a spicy stew-like curry smothered in a coconut gravy and I was not disappointed. Since then, every time we found ourselves in the city centre around lunch time, ‘Penang’ is where we headed for a satisfying meal of rendang served with nasi lemak (rice cooked in coconut milk) along with slices of cucumber and boiled egg, peanuts and a sambal, dried anchovy and onion mix – it warms you up on a cold blustery day like nothing else.
Needless to say, when we were travelling through Malaysia and Thailand a few years ago, we tried out rendang at every opportunity and discovered that the one we knew from Dublin wasn’t far off the mark in authenticity – such a satisfying revelation!
I’d never tried making it myself although I did once give it a go using a ready made spice mix I got from the Asian market. It tasted nothing like the real thing and then I forgot all about it. Only recently, while thinking of something different to make for dinner did I think of giving this another try.
So off I went to the ‘Rasa Malaysia‘ website – if you haven’t been there yet, you should check it out now. It’s a treasure trove of Asian recipes that are guaranteed to be winners.
The only ingredients I couldn’t source for this recipe were kaffir lime leaves and galangal. The rendang still turned out to be finger licking good. So much so that I’ve made it once more since then in the gap of just a couple of weeks.
If you have the patience and a good mortar and pestle, the spice mix for rendang is supposed to be made by hand and you can give that a go. However, since I lacked both, I used a stick blender to make my spice mix. The other thing you’ll need is time as it is like a stew and the meat will take a few hours to get really tender. A great project to take up on a rainy weekend.
Also, this can definitely be made using other meat such as chicken or lamb although cooking times may vary.
Beef Rendang (original recipe can be found here)
Ingredients (Serves 2-3)
For the spice paste –
7-8 small shallots peeled and halved
2 inch piece of ginger peeled and roughly chopped
2 stalks of lemongrass chopped after removing the hard outer layers
5 garlic cloves peeled and crushed
10-12 dried red chillies deseeded – you may adjust this to your liking
For the sauce –
5-6 tbsp sunflower or vegetable oil
1 cinnamon stick
3 whole cloves
3 cardamom pods crushed
1 lemongrass stalk cut into half
500g stewing beef cut into cubes
about 200ml coconut milk
about 200ml water
2tsp tamarind pulp
6-7 dessicated coconut
salt to taste
Note – I used the same quantity of ingredients as in the original recipe with only half a kilo of meat. You can easily double this amount to feed more people.
First make the spice paste by putting all the ingredients in a blender and blending it to a nice paste and set aside. Place a medium frying pan on a low-medium heat and dry roast the dessicated coconut until it’s toasty and nut brown in colour – this should take only a couple of minutes. Set aside.
In a large heavy bottomed pan or casserole dish, heat the oil along with the spice paste, whole spices and lemongrass for 2-3 minutes. Add the meat and stir it around to coat it in the spice paste and let the pieces brown a bit.
Add the coconut milk, water and tamarind pulp. Add the sugar and season with salt. There should be enough liquid to cover the meat fully. Bring it to a boil, lower the heat to a simmer, cover and cook until the meat is really tender. When the meat is almost done, stir in the toasted coconut and put the lid back on to finish cooking.
After about 3 hours, the meat should be meltingly tender. At this stage, increase the heat so that the sauce thickens and becomes rich and syrupy.
Once done, remove from heat and serve hot or warm with rice to make a heart warming dinner. This recipe is a keeper and one worth making whenever there’s time to spare. So go on and give it a try!