One of my favorite Indonesian dishes is beef rendang. I've posted previously about the first time I had rendang in Indonesia, and what a revelatory experience that was. There is truly something magical about homemade rendang in Indonesia. Although I think I dish up a very decent rendang myself, it's not the same as rendang made with fresh coconut milk. Even when using canned coconut milk, rendang is not a fast food; it takes time. Like risotto, it cannot be rushed. But for those willing to put in the time, the payoff is worth it.
In Indonesia I had beef rendang on a fairly regular basis, and had had chicken rendang a few times. As I mentioned before, the first time I had rendang it had liver as well as beef. However, that first plate of rendang was so delicious I didn't mind the liver (terribly). While I had rendang somewhat regularly, in all my time in Indonesia I never had potato rendang. I thought the recipe odd when I came across it in James Oseland's Cradle of Flavor. Why make rendang without some meat? It seemed wrong.
My wife also thought it seemed wrong. "Put some shrimp in it. Put some chicken in it. Where is this recipe from? I've never heard of such a thing!" My wife is from Kediri, also known as Kota Tahu--Tofu City. She and our niece tried to persuade me to add some animal protein to the dish.
I held out against adding meat. As much as I savor the cooked flesh of sentient beings, there are times I think it doesn't add to a dish. There are times when less is more.
Potato rendang is a dish that requires no meat. There is a richness to it, an expansiveness, that transports it beyond a simple potato curry. It's remarkable how the rendang base, which is very close to the base used in beef rendang, infuses the potatoes with an other worldly piquancy.
I served these potatoes with stir fried pea shoots and rice. Although it might seem odd to most westerners to serve rice with potatoes, the rice helps tame some of the chili heat of the dish. The greens help balance the richness of the rendang. While I resisted my housemates call for meat, this would make a nice side to some simple roast chicken or a grilled pork tenderloin. Because of the time it takes to cook rendang, I doubled the recipe that is in Oseland's book. I also added a few kemiri. People who shy away from spicy food might want to cut back on the number of chilies.
adapted from Cradle of Flavor
3 pounds of baby yukon gold or fingerling potatoes (about 1-inch in diameter)
40 ounces of coconut milk
3 stalks of fresh lemongrass, white and pale green parts only, chopped
8 shallots (about 6 ounces) chopped
4 cloves garlic, chopped
8 fresh red chilies, stemmed, seeded, and chopped
10 fresh green, or green and red, Thai chilies, stemmed, seeded, and chopped
4 tsp fresh turmeric, peeled and chopped (or 3 tsps ground)
1/4 cup fresh ginger, peeled and chopped
3 TBS fresh laos, peeled and chopped
4 kemiri (candlenuts, optional)
5 daun salam leaves (optional)
4 to 6 stems fresh kemangi (preferred), or Thai basil
1 1/2 tsp kosher salt
peanut oil, as needed
First, reduce the coconut milk slightly by simmering over low heat for about 15 to 20 minutes. Oil from the coconut milk should begin to appear on the surface.
While reducing the coconut milk, make the spice paste. In a small food processor, mix together the lemongrass, shallots, garlic, chilies, turmeric, ginger, laos, and kemiri. Pulse until you have a smooth paste. There should not be any large chunks of any of the spices. If there are, continue to pulse, adding a tablespoon or so of the coconut milk to facilitate the process.
Add the spice paste, salam leaves, and kemangi to the simmering coconut milk and stir to combine. Allow to simmer uncovered, stirring occasionally to prevent the bottom from scorching, until the liquid has reduced by about half. This could take from 45 minutes to over an hour. Be patient and don't try to rush it by cooking at too high of a heat, for this will cause the coconut to boil and possibly separate and curdle.
While the coconut milk is simmering, wash and scrub the potatoes. Cut them about half way through to allow the flavors from the rendang base to penetrate.
After the coconut milk has reduced by about half, add the prepared potatoes and salt to the mixture, and stir well. Cook the potatoes in this liquid until the liquid has reduced and become thick. Stir often to keep the potatoes and liquid from sticking to the bottom of the pan. It will probably be necessary to add a little peanut oil as the paste becomes thicker.
Reduce the heat to low and saute the potatoes in the rendered oils and fats, stirring frequently. You really need to pay attention at this point and continue to cook until the paste turns a rich, fairly dark brown. It does not become as dark as beef rendang, but it is not too light either.
Oseland recommends allowing the dish to rest at least 30 minutes before serving to allow the flavors to intensify. Bir Bintang in a glass with a large chunk of ice would be the perfect accompaniment to a meal with these potatoes.