Vegetable dishes are usually described as tasteless for those who like to eat meat, but I am convinced that they will submit to the incredible flavor of this vegetable curry prepared with a myriad of herbs and spices.
This Malaysian Chinese vegetable curry recipe is loved by all communities in Malaysia. There are other variations, but this Chinese version includes more turmeric powder and less spicy. Its intricate flavor rivals any curries prepared with meat, and I am confident that this curry will appeal not only to vegetarians but equally enjoy by the carnivores.
Once you have got all the ingredients, the Malaysian vegetable curry is easy to prepare. Let’s go through the details one by one.
1. Prepare the curry paste
This step is straight forward. In short, you only need to blend all the ingredients listed in the recipe until it becomes a paste. You need a food processor or blender to speed up the process. However, there is some information you need to know before you start to get everything correct.
Gather the ingredients required
Here are some tips to make the perfect curry paste. Ginger. Although ginger is not the primary ingredient for the Chinese vegetable curry, most Chinese like to include it in the curry. This cooking habit is likely due to ginger is used in most Chinese cuisine.
Candlenut. Candlenut is the thickening agent for the curry. Curry is a thick stew, not a clear liquid. These nuts are cheap and readily available locally. Cashew nut is an excellent substitute if it is unavailable. You can omit it if you intend to include potato in the vegetable curry recipe since potato will thicken the curry.
Onion. We use red onions for cooking curries and rendang for years in our restaurant. It is widely available as compared to the yellow onions. The types of onion have a negligible effect on the final result, so you can substitute with yellow onion.
Lemongrass. Use only the white section of the lemongrass. Discard the green section which is fibery and less aromatic. Remove the outer sheath of lemongrass, then slice it thinly before adding it into the electric food processor.
Red chili. We are referring to the Serano red chili, not the bell pepper. Remove the pith and seeds partially, or entirely if you want to keep the flavor but to minimize the hotness, Cut the chilies into short sections to facilitate processing. You may also want to replace it partially with Bird’s eye chili or dried red chili for a spicier flavor.
Galangal. It is a popular ingredient in Malaysian cuisine. Galangal is hard and fibery, especially the part close to the skin. You need to remove all the skin, as the hard and fibery part is hard to blend into a smooth paste. These fibrous parts will remain as small pieces, even blending for ten minutes. The resulting curry paste will not be smooth if this happens.
Blend the ingredients into a paste
The food processor will not function effectively with the limited water content of the herbs. You need to add some cooking oil and water to facilitate the process. I prefer to add all the amount of the cooking oil required to saute the paste into the food processor.
Keep the amount of water added to a minimum as it takes longer to saute the paste until aromatic if the paste is too wet.
Blend the herbs until it becomes a smooth paste. The duration depends on how powerful and the quantity of the herbs you have. It usually takes about five to ten minutes, and there is no harm to blend it even longer.
Saute the paste
Transfer the curry paste to a pan or wok. Saute over low heat until all the water is evaporated. By this time, the oil will bubble at the edge of the paste, and become very aromatic.
The paste will tend to stick to the surface. Therefore please keep stirring from time to time, especially when it starts to dry up.
Remove it from the pan and let’s move on to the next step.
2. Preparing the vegetables and tofu
The vegetables I use in this recipe are tofu (taufu) puffs, long beans, cabbage, carrot, and eggplant. The choice varies considerably from one recipe to another. What I use are the common vegetables among the Malaysian Chinese to cook the curry. You can use any combination of vegetables with a variety of colors, shapes, and textures available locally. Some other ingredients you may consider are potatoes, tomatoes, broccoli, pumpkin, okra, and cauliflower.
Since the vegetable will not brown like meat, I do not stir fry the vegetables first before adding to the curry. It does not make any noticeable difference to the result.
Cut the tofu puffs into half. These puffs act like a sponge and will absorb plenty of gravy due to its porous structure. It is precooked when purchased and therefore only need to add into the curry last. You can use any firm tofu as a substitute if it is unavailable. Another good alternative for the tofu puffs is seitan/gluten balls.
3. Steps to cook the curry
The curry powder is the ingredient that significantly transforms the flavor of a pot of curry.
Choice of the curry powder
I am using the store-bought Malaysian curry powder. Most of the Malaysian curry powder taste similar because they are made from the same set of spices. However, there is a vast difference between curry powders made from different countries. I would suggest you use the Malaysian curry powder for this vegetable curry recipe and try to avoid Japanese curry powder as it tastes entirely different.
I do not suggest you purchase the individual spices to make your blend of curry powder unless you are using it frequently. It is time-consuming, and the flavor will deteriorate over time.
Check out this Kapitan chicken recipe if you are interested in meat dishes. It is a famous Nyonya curry that is with influence from Malay and Chinese cooking.
Coconut milk plays an indispensable role in making this Malaysian vegetable curry. I always like to use the fresh coconut milk extracted from the grated coconut flesh, which is readily available in most of the tropical countries in Asia. It is best to use it immediately or can be frozen for up to a few weeks. If it is not available, use the coconut milk in the can or tetra pack.
The vegetarian curry tastes great if you use stock instead of water. We conveniently use the vegetable stock prepared from scratch in our restaurant. However, if you decide not to spend too much time making this dish, consider using the store-bought vegetable bouillon or powder. There is vegetable bouillon powder with no MSG added available.
Braise the vegetables
Now it comes to the final step, i.e., to braise vegetables. I’ll break it down so that you will not miss any details that might affect the outcome.
- Heat the curry paste in the pan. Add turmeric and curry powder.
- Pour half a cup of coconut milk and top up with the vegetable stock until it is sufficient to form a thick gravy.
- Add the vegetables that need more time to cook first, followed by those need less time. So the sequence is the carrot, cabbage, eggplant, and long bean. Add more stock if necessary along the way.
- It takes five to ten minutes until all the vegetables become soft.
- At this point, add sugar and salt to season.
- Once the vegetables are soft, add the tofu puffs. Remove from heat once the curry returns to a boil. The color will become dull if you cook it for too long.
- Best to serve this vegetable curry with plain rice.
Frequently asked questions
Here are some frequently asked questions I received from my readers about the curry vegetable recipe, and would like to answer here:
1. Which curry powder to use?
I use the store-bought Malaysian curry paste (Babas brand Curry powder).
The recipe also works well for Thai or Indian curry powder but yields a completely different flavor.
2. Can I make the curry powder at home?
Absolutely. You need to put all the dry spices in a spice blender to grind them into powder.
Here is the spices for the Malaysian curry powder: 4 dried red chilies, 4 cardamom pods, 1 cinnamon stick (5cm length), 4 tbsp coriander seeds, 2 tbsp cumin seeds, 2 tsp fennel seeds, 10 cloves, 10 black peppercorns, and 1 tsp turmeric powder.
3. Can I substitute fresh coconut cream with milk?
You can substitute it with milk or yogurt but the taste is different. Coconut milk is not only to make it looks good and creamier but has a unique flavor. Coconut cream in a can is the best substitute for the fresh one. The word coconut cream and milk are used by different brands, which are confusing. What is required for the curry is coconut cream (or label as milk) with a 24% of fat content. It is not suitable if you find the fat content is significantly lower than this amount.
4. Can I use other vegetables?
Since this is a curry vegetable recipe, you can use other vegetables such as bean curd skin, fried gluten balls, and tomatoes, potatoes, cauliflower, and broccoli.
To blend (A)
- 10g ginger
- Four candlenuts
- 120g onion/shallots
- 10g garlic
- 40g lemongrass (edible part)
- 70g red chili
- 60g galangal
- Two dry chili
- 4 tbsp cooking oil
To season and simmer (B)
- 1 tbsp (6g) turmeric powder
- 4 tbsp (28g) Malaysian curry powder
- One stalk curry leaves
- Three kaffir lime leaves
- 12g salt
- 15g sugar
- 200ml coconut milk
- 100ml vegetable stock (or water with 1 tsp vegetable seasoning powder)
The vegetables (C)
- 100g tofu puffs
- 150g long bean
- 100g cabbage
- 150g carrot
- 200g eggplant
- Cut all the ingredients in (A) into small pieces. For the lemongrass, use only the white section. For the chili, remove the seeds and the piths. For the galangal, make sure to remove the skin altogether.
- Blend until it becomes a smooth paste.
- Saute the curry paste over low heat until it turns aromatic.
- Add the remaining seasoning in (B).
- Add the coconut milk and vegetable stock to form a gravy.
- Add the carrot, cabbage, eggplant, and long bean follow this sequence. Add more stock if necessary along the way.
- It takes five to ten minutes until all the vegetables become soft.
- Once the vegetables are soft, add the tofu puffs.
- Remove from heat once the curry returns to a boil. Serve with plain rice.
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Amount Per Serving: Calories: 889Total Fat: 60gSaturated Fat: 22gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 30gCholesterol: 72mgSodium: 3101mgCarbohydrates: 58gFiber: 11gSugar: 14gProtein: 37g
This data was provided and calculated by Nutritionix on 8/8/2019