I don’t know about you, but no matter the weather, my craving for Southeast Asian food – sweet, sour, hot, and spicy flavors – is always strong. There’s something about being jolted out of the dullness of the heat and humidity with a bowl of steaming pho or, in this case, being warmed up on a cold winter day with a spicy, sweet and sour Malaysian curry.
Malaysian cuisine, highly underrated and woefully absent in the US (at least outside of urban centers), is usually described as a mix of Chinese, Indian, and Thai flavors. However, there’s nothing derivative here; the fact that this curry is balanced and entirely distinctive speaks to its sophistication. Believe in the harmony of turmeric, tamarind, coriander powder, and soy sauce! Having said that, I have no idea how “authentically” Malaysian this curry actually is. My dear and talented foodie friend, Tim, first gave me this recipe, along with Deborah Madison’s Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone. However, I have made several adjustments, mostly to turn up the flavors.
This thick, delicious, golden curry is perfect with a bowl of white or brown rice. Today, I paired it with okra chips, which were a perfect complement (recipe here). My friend stef, who is vegan, gave me a photography lesson today and joined us for lunch–so plus point, both recipes are also vegan. These photos are a product of their gentle but precise direction.
Total prep. and cooking time: half an hour
2 tbsp. vegetable/canola oil
½ red or white onion, sliced in half moons
2 tbsp. chopped garlic
2 tbsp. ginger
1 can coconut milk (400 ml. or approx. 13 oz.)
1 cup warm water
1 box firm tofu (preferably pressed or the firmest you can find)
1 tbsp. tamarind paste (you can add more after tasting)
1 tbsp. light soy sauce
2 tsp. Madras curry powder
2 tsp. coriander powder
2 tsp. red chili powder
1 tsp. turmeric powder
2 tsp. light brown sugar or palm sugar
1 roma tomato, chopped
1 scallion stalk, finely chopped
Chopped cilantro (a handful)
1 lime, cut in wedges
- If using tofu that is in water, remove the tofu from the container and using a few paper towels, gently press down to release any extra water. Cut the tofu into 1” cubes.
- Put 1 tbsp. of oil in a pan on medium heat.
- Once the oil is hot, slide your tofu cubes into a sauté or sauce pan. You want to gently sear or brown them on both sides. After about 2-3 minutes, check to see if they are browned and turn them over to sear them on the other side. (If you are using pressed tofu from an Asian grocery store, you can skip this step).
- In a wok, add 1 tbsp. vegetable oil. When the oil is hot, add the onion and a pinch of salt, and cook, until the onions start to brown (about 2-3 minutes).
- Add the garlic and the white parts of the scallions to the pan with the onions and saute for 30 seconds.
- Pour in the coconut milk along with 1 cup of warm water. Once the mixture starts boiling, turn down the heat slightly, to a gentle simmer. Add the tamarind paste, sugar, Madras curry powder, coriander powder, turmeric powder, and red chili powder. Add the seared tofu as well.
- Using a grater or zest, grate about 2 tbsp. of ginger directly into the curry.
- After about ten minutes, add in the soy sauce and chopped tomatoes. At this point, taste the curry and adjust the spices as per your taste. Add more tamarind if necessary.
- Cook for another 2 minutes, until the tomatoes soften slightly, but they should still look fresh and brightly red against the golden, thickened curry.
- Add the green part of the scallions and chopped cilantro. Turn off the heat.
- Serve with brown or white rice and a wedge of lemon on the side.