It’s a primordial soup, here. The clouds and the rain have settled in, sandwiching the town between the smell of the forest and the salt tang of the sea. The Otway Ranges are wet, temperate rainforest sliding down into the Southern Ocean, just about the very bottom of mainland Australia, the dark heart and lungs of the Great Ocean Road. Today it’s gray and it’s wet and it’s humid. My husband has been reading Heart of Darkness. His word of the moment is “miasmic” and it’s miasmic here right now. Acts of creation are taking place. There’s a curry on the stove you see and I am, at this very minute, breathless with anticipation
Malaysian curries. How I love them. All the dark complexities of Indian food plus the delicate high end notes of south east Asia. I can’t think of another cuisine that so perfectly balances Baroque complexity with home-cooked comfort. The curry on my stove-top right now could hardly be more simple. Onions, garlic and ginger fried until softened, a large amount of a Malaysian meat curry powder, cinnamon, star anise and coriander roots. A stem of lemongrass bobs in the thick golden gravy. A red oil is just now starting to rise to the surface. When the fibres of the meat have broken down some more, I’ll throw in some potatoes and finish it off with coconut cream.
It is magic, alchemy. Nothing more than a cheap cut of meat, potatoes and a small handful of other ingredients. There’s no tricks, no special instructions. All you need to do is bring the components together and they will transform themselves without intervention, the perfect unfolding of a culinary gene sequence that has been repeated for generations. The bowl of miso I had for lunch seems like a long time ago now. My husband was hard pressed to leave the house for Kendo because of this curry and I will be hard pressed to wait for his return to eat it. My seven year old son is in awe of its fragrance. At this point in his life he won’t eat it – he has an uncanny ability to detect and reject tiny quantities of chili within an enormous ocean of food – but Malaysian food is in his genes, courtesy of his father, and I believe that one day he too will fully embrace the many alchemies of his cultural inheritance.
Eating curry in the clouds between the rainforest and the ocean. I am dancing at the feet of my lord, all is bliss, all is bliss.
Simple Malaysian Beef Curry
- 600 gm of topside or blade beef, large dice
- 2 red or brown onions, peeled, halved and thinly sliced
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 2 cloves garlic, smashed and finely chopped
- 2 teaspoons minced ginger
- 3 tablespoons of Malaysian meat curry powder
- 1 teaspoon chili powder
- 1 1/2 cups of water
- 2 whole star anise
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 1 teaspooon salt
- 3 Coriander roots (whole)
- 1 stem of lemongrass, bottom half only, bruised to release flavour
- 2 potatoes – cut into dice to match the size of your meat
- 1/2 cup coconut cream
Heat the oil in a heavy based frying pan over medium heat. Add the onions, ginger and garlic and fry until soft. Mix the curry and chili powders together and add just enough water to make a stiff paste. Add this paste to the pan and fry for about 1 minute to release the fragrance. Add the meat, cinnamon stick, star anise and salt and stir until the meat is completely coloured and well-covered with the spice paste. Then add the water, lemongrass and coriander roots. Bring to the boil and then cover and simmer gently until the meat is just tender. I used a topside which is very tough and so this took about 2 hours. A blade cut may only take about 40 minutes. When the meat is tender, add the potatoes and continue to cook until they are just cooked through. Stir in the coconut cream at the end, only long enough for it to warm through, and serve with steamed rice.