Nonya cuisine is a blend of Chinese, Malay and other influences that combine to create the most sublime dishes featuring coconut, galangal, shrimp paste, tamarind, lemongrass and kaffir lime, to name just a few.
When I visit Malaysia I am always astounded by how good the chicken curries are. One reason is that they sell the chickens live, so when you eat a chicken dish, there is a very good chance that the chook was alive only hours before. And then there are the spices that are so artfully woven into the dish, creating a magnificent depth of flavour. Water spinach is available at Asian grocers, but if you can’t find any, you can use bok choy or choy sum instead.
– 80 ml coconut oil
– 1 star anise
– 2 whole cloves
– 1 cinnamon stick
– 200 ml coconut cream
– 2 pandan leaves shredded lengthways and knotted (optional)
– 12 curry leaves
– 600 g chicken thigh fillets each fillet cut into 4 pieces
– 1 sweet potato (about 300 g) diced
– 150 g okra halved lengthways
– 400 ml coconut milk
– 1 tblspn sea salt
– 2 small red chillies halved lengthways and seeded (optional)
– 2 large handfuls water spinach
– Rice to serve
– 8 dried red chillies
– 3 tblspns coriander seeds
– 1 tspn cumin seeds
– 1 tspn fennel seeds
– 1 tblspn shrimp paste (belacan)
– 8-10 red Asian shallots (about 270 g) chopped
– 3 garlic cloves chopped
– 6cm piece fresh turmeric root (about 25 g) chopped
Start by making the spice paste. First, seed the chillies then place them in a small bowl and cover with boiling water.
Soak for 10 minutes, then drain and chop.
Toast the coriander, cumin and fennel seeds in a dry frying pan over medium heat for 2 minutes, or until fragrant and beginning to smoke. Grind to a powder with a mortar and pestle or spice grinder and set aside.
Next, toast the shrimp paste in the same frying pan for 1–2 minutes, or until fragrant. Spoon into a small bowl and set aside.
The next step can be done the old-fashioned way or in a food processor. If using a mortar and pestle, pound the soaked chillies, adding a small amount at a time, until a fine paste forms. Continue to pound and add the ground spices, shrimp paste, shallots, garlic and turmeric until you have a smooth paste. If using a food processor, exercise the same patience and add only small amounts of the ingredients at a time.
Melt the coconut oil in a heavy-based saucepan or wok over medium heat. Fry the star anise, cloves and cinnamon stick for about 20 seconds, or until fragrant. Add the spice paste and sauté for 6–10 minutes, or until it is very fragrant and the oil starts to separate from the paste. Add 100 ml of the coconut cream, the pandan leaves (if using) and curry leaves and cook for a couple of minutes, or until the oil separates and rises to the surface. Stir in the chicken, sweet potato, okra, coconut milk and salt.
Cover and simmer for 10–15 minutes, or until the chicken is cooked and the sweet potato tender. Add the remaining coconut cream and the chillies (if using) and simmer for a further 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir through the water spinach. Serve with rice.
Used with permission from Healthy Every Day by Pete Evans, Macmillan, $49.99. © Pete Evans.