Marlena Spieler is a wonderful cook. Like me she’s a member of the Guild of Food Writers and unlike me has about 70 cookery book titles to her name. What Marlena doesn’t know about food and ingredients isn’t worth knowing.
Her book Feeding Friends
was published in 2000, and it’s been a good friend of mine ever since. It’s full of spicy, zesty, interesting and cheap recipes. One of my favourites is her Malaysian vegetable curry. Beautifully fragrant and gently spiced it holds its own among meat eaters and veggies alike.
3-5 dried shitake mushrooms
3 tablespoons dry-roasted peanuts
1 stalk lemon grass, finely chopped (or 1 teaspoon pureed lemon grass from a jar, or 2-3 teaspoons grated lemon zest)
1 onion, or 4 shallots chopped
2-3 fresh red chillies, chopped
6 tablespoons chopped fresh coriander (including stems and roots if you like)
half teaspoon ground turmeric
quarter teaspoon curry powder
2-3 tablespoons vegetable oil
half aubergine, cut into bite sized chunks
about 125g pumpkin or squash
2 potatoes peeled and cut into bite sized chunks
salt and pepper
350 ml vegetable stock (if using coconut milk: 500ml if using creamed coconut)
250g green or runner beans cut into 2.5cm lengths
400g can chopped tomatoes
250ml unsweetened coconut milk (or 60-90g creamed coconut cut into chunks)
2 tablespoons lemon juice
several handfuls fresh basil, torn or coarsely chopped
Rehydrate the dried shitakes by placing them in a bowl with 250ml of hot water. Leave to soak while you make the curry paste and cook the vegetables.
To make the curry paste: Put the peanuts, lemon grass (or lemon zest) onions (or shallots) garlic, red chillies, coriander, turmeric, curry powder and a tablespoon or two of the oil in a blender or food processor, or in a mortar and pestle and grind together. Heat the remaining oil in a heavy frying pan, add the curry paste and cook over a low heat for 7-8 minutes or until it is fragrant and the solids have separated from the oil.
Add the aubergine, squash and potatoes, and cook for a few minutes in the paste and oil, then sprinkle in salt and pepper to taste and add the stock. Cook over a high heat for about 10 minutes, then add the runner or green beans and tomatoes, and continue to cook for a few more minutes, stirring to be sure the mixture cooks evenly.
Remove the shitakes from their soaking liquid. Strain the soaking liquid to rid it of grit and save the strained water for the sauce. Cut the rehydrated shitakes into bite-sized piece and add to the cooking vegetables with the strained soaking liquid. Continue to cook the vegetables for a few more minutes or until the beans are cooked through.
Reduce the heat to a summer and stir the coconut milk or creamed coconut into the sauce. Let it cook through with the vegetables for a few minutes and thicken the sauce, then stir in the lemon juice and basil. Serve straight away.
Note: Dried shitakes can be costly when purchased in a supermarket or speciality shop. In Chinatown or a Chinese grocery, however, they are often very reasonable. Since they nearly last forever, stock up when you have a chance. You’ll find yourself using them in all sorts of dishes, ranging from the Far Eastern to East-West and decidedly European, such as an Italian ragu or pasta, their flavour is wonderful.