This one is a little different.
If the foodways of the coastal tropics have a unifying feature, it is the coconut. Spread by its own maritime machinations as well as human effort, Cocos nucifera is a large, flavorful, energy-dense addition to numerous cuisines and if there is anything about my people’s cooking that frustrates me, it is that it does not use enough coconut. Coconut has been my gateway into so many other delights and into so many different cultures’ recipes, and today, it serves that role again.
Enter beef rendang, or rendang daging in Bahasa Indonesia.
One of the most famous and most widely favored Indonesian dishes, rendang involves slow-cooking meat (most often beef) in a coconut-based sauce for an extended period of time, until the sauce is mostly evaporated and absorbed into the meat and the meat has caramelized. Originally invented as a means of preserving meat, rendang has since evolved into a curry-like experience in its own right, and one ripe for expanding my culinary horizons. What makes this dish feel most at home in my repertoire is that it is, in its way, a one-pot dish, dirtying relatively few kitchen implements.
In this variation on the classic, I add several ingredients and subtract others to fit my palate and dietary restrictions. Adding walnuts provides some textural variety, and adding spinach helps me stay on top of my green-vegetable intake. This recipe serves at least six and should be accompanied with a carbohydrate; rice is traditional.
You will need a stove or similar bottom-up heat source, a large pot with a lid, and your favorite cutting, stirring, and measuring tools. A cast-iron pot or aluminum caldero is ideal because of the need to maintain consistent heat through a long cooking time.
- Green bell pepper, ½
- Cuban oregano, fresh, ¼ cup
- Spinach, 150 g. If using frozen, chopped is recommended.
- Ginger, 150 g fresh or 2 tbsp ground
- Oil for frying
- Ground turmeric, 2 tbsp
- Dried hot pepper, 1 tbsp
- Dried cilantro, 2 tbsp
- Stewing beef, 1 kg
- Coconut milk, 2 400 mL cans
- Chopped walnuts, ½ cup
- Anise seeds, 2 tbsp
- Ground cumin, 2 tbsp
- Ground cardamom, 1 tbsp
- Ground cinnamon, 1 tbsp
- Salt, 2 tbsp
- Green onion / scallion, one bunch, green parts only
- Shredded coconut, ¼ cup
Common Food Restrictions
- Gluten-Free: This recipe is naturally gluten-free.
- Ketogenic / Low-Carb: This recipe is relatively low in carbohydrates and high in protein and fat. Choose accompaniments accordingly.
- Low-FODMAP: This recipe is optimized to reduce FODMAP content.
- Vegetarian/Vegan: Use your preferred meat substitute and adjust cooking times accordingly.
- Chop and blenderize green bell pepper and Cuban oregano. Chop spinach if using fresh. Peel and chop ginger into slivers if using fresh.
- Heat oil over medium heat. Add green bell pepper, Cuban oregano, spinach, ginger, turmeric, dried hot pepper, and cilantro. Fry until most of the water has evaporated. If using frozen spinach, it can be defrosted this way, but this adds significantly to the cooking time.
- Add stewing beef. Stir with a wooden spoon or equivalent to mix the beef with the other ingredients and cook until the exterior of all chunks is cooked and there is visible oil separation in the fluid surrounding the beef. The beef chunks will shrink considerably as they lose water throughout this process.
- Add coconut milk, walnuts, anise seeds, cumin, cardamom, cinnamon, and salt. Cover and reduce heat to low. Confirm that it is now at a gentle simmer. Cook for 60 minutes.
- Add green onion and shredded coconut. Cook partially covered for another 30 minutes and uncovered for another 30 minutes or until sauce reaches desired thickness. It is beneficial to stir during the final 30 minutes to prevent spinach from sticking to the bottom of the pot and unstick any that may have become adhered to keep it from burning.
- Serve with white rice, potato, or another carbohydrate.
Learning how to make this adaptation of an Indonesian classic has been an exercise in expanding my culinary horizons, replacing a far less effective curry I had made a routine of cooking, and substituting standard ingredients for items friendlier to my finicky stomach. I am now making it as often as I can find the long evenings to fit it in, and regretting none of the time I spend preparing it. I hope it serves you well.