Pinning down a good Rendang recipe on the internet can be a daunting task because there are as many versions as there are Malay homes, but since it’s full blown turmeric season here in India, I thought it necessary to make one. Rendang is first and foremost a non-vegetarian dish wherein the meat is stewed in coconut milk and a well-toasted spice paste for some time until the whole mixture thickens and coats the meat. I wanted to pull off a vegetarian version sans potatoes or jackfruit and the first thing I thought of was pumpkin. Pumpkin’s sweet flesh would taste delicious with the fiery hot lemongrass, turmeric and chilli of the spice paste. The timing was perfect too since this would be the eve of the 3rd #VirtualPumpkinParty by Sara Cornelius of the blog Cake Over Steak, and this seemed like a great dish to bring to the table.
In order to cook down the coconut milk without letting it catch, It is very important to keep stirring, and then to stop at a point when you feel that any more stirring will cause the pumpkin to disintegrate. This last bit is inevitable, but you can try your best to keep the pumpkin’s shape intact by using a fish spatula to lift and fold instead of stirring with a wooden spoon. The second thing to keep in mind is to use a non-stick pan to make this, so that even when you’re not stirring, the coconut milk isn’t burning at the bottom.
Toasting the spice paste is super duper important and you’ll have to do this for an easy 7-8 minutes, constantly flattening it out against the base of the pan and bringing it together again till the paste doesn’t have any rawness to it. This cooking of the spice paste is really what concentrates all the heady Asian flavours that then are ready to be diluted the second the coconut milk and water hit the pan.
For this recipe I’ve used both freshly grated turmeric as well as turmeric leaves. You could leave out the latter, but I strongly suggest you don’t. It’s those subtle differences that make all the difference when it comes to Asian flavours I find. It is for this very reason that I’ve used a mix of ginger, galangal, as well as turmeric because I’m building up layers of flavour.
Using a non-stick pan to make this pumpkin rendang is important so that none of the coconut milk catches at the bottom as you cook it down to a dry-ish curry.
The Spice Paste
Dried red chillies 10 (If you use Kashmiri, the colour, like mine will be more orange than brown. If using another kind of red chilli, reduce the amount)
Onion 2 small
Garlic cloves 6
Fresh Turmeric 1-inch piece, peeled and washed
Lemongrass root 2 pieces, chopped
Ginger 1 cm piece, peeled and washed
Galangal 1/2 cm piece, peeled and washed
Freshly grated coconut 3 tbsp
Salt 1 tsp
Vegetable oil 3 tbsp
Pumpkin 500g, cut into large dices
Cinnamon stick 1 small
Star Anise 1
Lemongrass root 1, bashed in
Turmeric leaf 1, torn and knotted
Coconut milk 1/2 cup
Water 1/2 cup, plus more
Tamarind 1-2 tsp liquid from a soaked golf-ball sized bit of tamarind
Palm sugar 1/2 tbsp
Kafir lime leaves a few, rolled up and sliced
Wash the dry red chillies and add them to a mixer grinder with the onion, garlic, fresh turmeric, ginger, galangal, lemongrass, coconut and salt. Blitz this spice mixture and set aside.
Heat a non-stick pan, then add 2 out of 3 tbsp of vegetable oil and let that get quite hot too. Once hot, add in the spice paste, along with the cinnamon stick, cloves, star anise, cardamom and bashed lemongrass root and cook over a medium-high flame for 7-8 minutes or until no raw taste remains.
Add in the pumpkin with the reserved tablespoon of oil and saute the pumpkin with the spice paste for a whole minute. Splash in the coconut milk, water, tamarind extract, palm sugar, plus a wee bit more salt. Dot the top with a few knotted turmeric leaf parcels and stir over a medium-high flame or until the pumpkin starts to soften. You could alternately cover the pan, and come back to occasionally stir it.
Once the pumpkin is soft, I advise against stirring. Add in some more reserved water if you feel the pumpkin still needs to cook for a bit longer and cover again if necessary. When the pumpkin is done and the spice paste has dried out to coat the pumpkin, fish out the bashed in lemongrass root and serve garnished with kafir lime leaves.