- Lifestyle

From Malaysian duck rendang to east African sweetcorn and peanut: Ravinder Bhogal’s world curry recipes

Wherever migrant cooks roam, they pick things up and leave others behind. They cross so many borders that their food repertoire becomes vast, seasoned with the intonations of many cultures. These dishes are the bonny love-children of those blended borders – African ingredients overlaid with warm Arabic spices and Indian culinary traditions. They pay tribute to migrants who learned to reconcile the old and new with grace, who preserved memories while learning to let go, who carved a place for themselves in their new nations and expressed their contentment with food.

Smoky chicken and coconut curry (kuku paka, pictured above)
This iconic dish is eaten all over Kenya. Its roots are in coastal Mombasa, a port on the Indian Ocean where many immigrants arrived (of which my own grandfather was one in the 1940s). Every family has its own version – the spices can differ and some may not include tomatoes – but they all share coconut milk. In my version, I smoke it at the end to recreate the memory of cooking it over an outdoor stove.

Prep 20 min
Cook 2 hr
Serves 4

1 tbsp ghee
1 red onion, peeled and finely chopped
1 thumb ginger, peeled and finely grated
4 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
2 green chillies, finely chopped
1 tsp ground turmeric
100g chopped tinned tomatoes
6 chicken drumsticks
400ml coconut milk
Juice of 1 lime
Sea salt
1 piece lump charcoal (optional)
2 hard-boiled eggs, peeled and cut in half, to serve
1 small handful chopped coriander, to serve

For the masala
2 tbsp coriander seeds
2 tbsp cumin seeds
1 tbsp fennel seeds
1 dried red chilli
1 tsp green cardamom pods
¼ tsp cloves
1 star anise
1 tsp black peppercorns
1 cinnamon stick
1 tsp hot paprika
1 tsp ground ginger
¼ nutmeg, finely grated

Begin by making the masala. Heat a dry frying pan over a medium heat and toast all the whole spices until they are aromatic, stirring frequently and being careful not to scorch them. Pop the spices into a spice grinder and whizz to a fine powder, then stir in the paprika, ground ginger and nutmeg.

Put the ghee in a large frying pan over a low heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, for about 20 minutes, or until dark and caramelised, then add the ginger, garlic and chillies and fry until fragrant.

Next, add two tablespoons of the masala and the turmeric, and cook for a few minutes, until your kitchen is full of the fragrance of the spices. Now tip in the tomatoes and season with salt.

Cook for 10 minutes, then add the chicken and coconut milk. Mix well, then cover and simmer for 25 minutes, or until the chicken is tender and toothsome. Squeeze in the lime juice and season with salt to taste.

If you want to smoke the dish, sit the piece of charcoal directly on a gas burner or barbecue, letting it catch light and burn. When it is smouldering and grey, carefully transfer it with tongs to a small, heatproof bowl. Nestle the bowl inside the pan with the chicken and drizzle a little oil over the charcoal – it will start smoking immediately. Cover the pan with a tight-fitting lid and leave to smoke for half an hour.

Serve the kuku paka topped with hard-boiled egg halves and scattered with chopped coriander.

Massaman pork curry with pineapple relish

Thai curries do not have to be searingly hot, such as the mild massaman, traditionally belonging to the Thai Muslim community. It is generally made with beef or lamb, but is equally good with pork, chicken or robust vegetables like pumpkin. This one always tastes even better the next day, so I tend to make it a day in advance. Serve with jasmine rice.

Prep 30 min
Cook 2 hr
Serves 6

1 tbsp coconut oil
1kg diced pork neck
1 star anise
3 green cardamom pods
A few curry leaves
1 cinnamon stick, broken up
300ml coconut milk
3 potatoes, peeled and diced
3 shallots, peeled and halved
1 tbsp fish sauce
2 tbsp tamarind concentrate
1 tbsp palm sugar
1 handful roasted peanuts
Sprigs of Thai basil, to garnish

For the curry paste
4 dried Kashmiri chillies
2 tsp coriander seeds
2 tsp cumin seeds
7 green cardamom pods
1 cinnamon stick
1 star anise
1 tbsp rapeseed oil
2 banana shallots, peeled and roughly chopped
6 garlic cloves, peeled and roughly chopped
1 tsp shrimp paste
100ml coconut milk
2 lemongrass stalks, roughly chopped
1 thumb-sized piece fresh ginger, peeled and roughly chopped

For the relish
½ small pineapple, finely chopped
70g jaggery, grated
3 tsp basil seeds (optional)
4 tsp fish sauce
2 tbsp rice wine vinegar
2 tbsp lime juice
1 red chilli, finely chopped
1 banana shallot, peeled and very thinly sliced into crescents
2 kaffir lime leaves, stalks removed, very thinly sliced
1 handful finely chopped mint
1 handful coriander leaves

For the curry paste, put the chillies, coriander and cumin seeds, cardamom pods, cinnamon stick and star anise into a dry frying pan and toast over medium heat, stirring frequently, until aromatic.

Transfer to a spice grinder or pestle and mortar and grind to a powder. Pour the oil into the frying pan, add the shallots and garlic and fry until caramelised, then add the shrimp paste and the ground spices and fry, stirring constantly, until fragrant. Tip the contents of the frying pan into a food processor, add the coconut milk, lemongrass and ginger and blend to a smooth paste.

In a large frying pan, fry the pork in the coconut oil with the star anise, cardamom pods, curry leaves and cinnamon stick until the meat is lightly sealed. Add the coconut milk, then fill the empty tin with water and add that to the pan as well, along with the curry paste. Bring to a simmer, cover and cook for one and a half hours, or until the pork is butter-soft.

Meanwhile, make the relish. Put the pineapple in a bowl. Put the jaggery into a small pan with 100ml water and stir over medium heat until the jaggery dissolves, then bring to the boil and simmer for two minutes, or until syrupy. Remove from the heat and leave to cool completely.

If you are using basil seeds, put them into a small bowl and soak in just enough water to cover for 10 minutes – they will puff up. Pour the cooled syrup over the pineapple, then follow with the soaked basil seeds, if using, and the remaining ingredients except the mint and coriander. Refrigerate until needed. Just before serving, toss through the herbs.

Add the potatoes, shallots, fish sauce, tamarind concentrate and palm sugar to the curry and simmer, uncovered, for 30 minutes, or until the potatoes are tender, then stir through the peanuts. Garnish with Thai basil leaves and serve with the pineapple relish.

Sweetcorn and peanut curry (makai paka)

In east Africa, this is served both as part of a main meal with rice or chapatis, or on its own as a snack. The original uses crushed peanuts, but I use peanut butter to make a thick, funky, creamy sauce spiced with aromatics such as star anise and curry leaves. Always look out for unsweetened peanut butter.

Prep 15 min
Cook 40 min
Serves 6

5 corn on the cob, 1 left whole, and the rest cut crossways into 4 chunks
2 tbsp rapeseed oil
1 tsp brown mustard seeds
A pinch of asafoetida
20 curry leaves
1 cinnamon stick
1 star anise
1 thumb ginger, peeled and finely grated
4 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped
1 red chilli, thinly sliced
200g tinned tomatoes
1 heaped tbsp tomato puree
3 tbsp smooth peanut butter
2 tbsp tamarind concentrate
1 tbsp soft brown sugar
Sea salt
1 handful each toasted desiccated coconut and coriander leaves, to serve

Heat a grill to medium and toast the whole corn cob, turning it frequently so it chars all over. Leave to cool, then shuck the sweetcorn kernels from the cob and reserve for later. Meanwhile, steam the sweetcorn chunks until tender and set aside.

Pour the oil into a large frying pan and put over a high heat. Add the mustard seeds and, when they pop, follow swiftly with the asafoetida, curry leaves, cinnamon and star anise, and fry briefly. Turn the heat down to low, add the ginger, garlic and chilli and cook until fragrant.

Stir in the tomatoes, tomato puree, peanut butter, tamarind and sugar, and cook for
eight to 10 minutes, stirring every so often, until you have a sauce that’s thick enough to cling to the sweetcorn. Add salt to taste.

Throw in the sweetcorn chunks and stir to coat thoroughly. Finish with the coconut, coriander and reserved sweetcorn kernels.

Duck rendang

Rendang is an aromatic, dry, braised curry from Malaysia. It is normally made with tough cuts of beef that require lengthy cooking, but I like to use duck legs, which also become luscious with a long, slow braise. The duck is first seared to render any excess fat, then simmered for hours in a lip-tingling, chilli-spiced, coconut sauce that turns the meat into a meltingly tender, flavourful sludge. Serve with steamed rice.

Prep/soak 2 hr
Cook 2 hr
Serves 4

4 duck legs
400ml coconut milk
3 tsp palm sugar, or to taste
2 tbsp fish sauce
Juice of 1 lime

For the curry paste
15 dried kashmiri chillies
15 dried bird’s eye chillies
1 red onion, peeled and roughly chopped
50g ginger, peeled and roughly chopped
25g galangal, roughly chopped
4 fat garlic cloves, peeled and roughly chopped
2 stalks lemongrass, roughly chopped
8g fresh turmeric, peeled and roughly chopped
3 tsp shrimp paste
2 tbsp rapeseed oil

First, make the curry paste. Break up the chillies and soak in hot water for two hours, then drain.

Roughly chop the chillies and put into a small food processor or blender, along with the onion, ginger, galangal, garlic, lemongrass, turmeric, shrimp paste and oil. Process to a coarse paste.

Heat a large, deep non-stick frying pan over medium–high heat. Add the duck legs, skin side down, and fry, without turning, until the fat renders and the skin is golden brown – two to four minutes.

Set the duck legs aside, reserving a tablespoon of the fat in the pan. Add the curry paste and fry over a medium heat, stirring constantly, until the colour deepens and the onion becomes fragrant – it will take around 10 minutes to cook out the rawness and to tease out all the flavours.

Add the coconut milk and 375ml water and bring to a simmer. Add the duck legs, return to a simmer, reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer gently for one and a half hours, stirring occasionally, until the duck is very tender and the sauce is thick and deepened in colour.

Finally, add the palm sugar to the sauce, stirring to make sure it all dissolves, then stir in the fish sauce and lime juice.

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