Olah olah

Preparation info

  • Difficulty


  • Serves


Appears in

Fire Islands: Recipes from Indonesia

Fire Islands

By Eleanor Ford

Published 2019

  • About

Our visiting friends so loved this vegetable curry they declared it reason alone for a book on Indonesian food. The veggies are stir-fried, keeping them crisp and vibrant, but the sauce is luscious and rich - the perfect counterpoint. As you make the bumbu spice paste your eyes might widen at the quantities, but these are meant to be big flavours and it works.


  • 3 carrots, sliced on the diagonal into discs
  • 1 aubergine (eggplant), cut into small wedges
  • ½ Chinese napa cabbage, cut into chunks
  • 2 tablespoons oil
  • 400 ml (14 fl oz) coconut milk
  • 4 tablespoons oyster sauce
  • 3 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 450 g (1 lb) fine green beans, cut into thirds
  • 2 bok choy, leaves separated

Bumbu spice paste

  • 2 tablespoons oil
  • 200 g (7 oz) large red chillies, halved and seeded
  • 80 g (3 oz) galangal, skin scrubbed, roughly chopped
  • 10 small red Asian shallots, peeled
  • 10 garlic cloves, peeled
  • 40 g ( oz) candlenuts or blanched almonds
  • 2 cm (¾ inch) turmeric, peeled, or ½ teaspoon ground turmeric
  • 1 teaspoon shrimp paste, toasted (optional)
  • 3 lime leaves
  • 1 lemongrass stick, trimmed and bruised


Start by making the bumbu spice paste. Heat the oil in a large frying pan and add the chillies, galangal, shallots, garlic and candlenuts - the shallots and garlic go in whole. Fry, stirring often, until the garlic has browned and everything smells wonderful.

Transfer to a pestle and mortar, high-speed blender or food processor with the turmeric and shrimp paste. Add 200 ml (generous ¾ cup) of water and pound or blitz to a smooth puree. Return to the pan along with the lime leaves and lemongrass. Cook over a medium heat, stirring often, until the raw taste has gone and the sauce is fragrant. This will take about 10 minutes - loosen with more water if needed as you don’t want the sauce to caramelise and darken. Season with salt and remove from the heat.

Prepare all the vegetables before you start stir-frying. Set a wok over a high heat and add the oil. The carrots go in first and will need about 2 minutes stirfrying to soften before you add the aubergine. Stir-fry a minute or two more, then add the cabbage and stir-fry for 1 minute.

Scrape the bumbu into the pan and toss to coat all the vegetables. Lower the heat and add the coconut milk, oyster sauce and soy sauce and stir again. You will probably need to add some water to loosen the sauce to a creamy curry consistency - and add more as needed as you cook.

Season with salt and pepper and simmer for a few minutes. Add the green beans and bok choy and simmer for a final 2-3 minutes until all the vegetables are tender-crisp. Taste for seasoning before serving.