Vegetables in Nonya Coconut Curry

Sayur Masak Lemak


Preparation info

  • Difficulty


  • Makes

    4 to 6

    servings as part of a multi-dish meal (about 3½ cups )

Appears in

This creamy yellow curry is pure comfort food for my wife, Esther, whose mother, Annie, has cooked it for her whole life. The Malay term “lemak” indicates rich and creamy, from coconut milk. Various vegetables can be used, depending on availability. The most well suited is “Sawi” or Chinese mustard greens (not the same as the type from the southern U.S.). Feel free to use cabbage, choy sum, or any other green vegetable. If you cannot find fresh red chilies, substitute 6 dried long red chilies, soaked.


  • ¼ cup Vegetable oil
  • 4 lg. Shallots, roughly chopped
  • 2 pieces Long red chilies or other hot red chilies, roughly chopped
  • 2 cloves Garlic, roughly chopped
  • 1 tsp. Malaysian shrimp paste (belacan), or other fermented shrimp paste, toasted
  • 1 tsp. Ground turmeric
  • 2 tsp. Minced ginger
  • 1 stalk Lemongrass, trimmed, sliced very thin
  • cups Canned coconut milk (divided use)
  • ¼ cup Water
  • 1 tsp. Kosher salt
  • 1 tsp. Granulated sugar
  • 1 lb. (454 g.) Chinese mustard greens, or other dark, leafy greens, cut into 2-inch (5 cm.) pieces (4 to 6 cups)
  • ½ lb. (227 g.) Chinese eggplants, halved lengthwise, cut into 1½-inch (3.8 cm.) lengths


  1. Purée oil, shallots, and chilies in a blender until semismooth. Add garlic, shrimp paste, turmeric, ginger, and lemongrass; puree until semi-smooth. Add a drop of water, only if needed, to facilitate blending. This is a “rempah.”
  2. Heat a saucepan over medium heat. Fry the rempah until the oil begins to separate from the mixture, about 5 to 10 minutes (make sure raw shallot aroma and flavor is gone).
  3. Add one cup of coconut milk, salt, sugar, and vegetables; bring to a simmer. Cook until all vegetables are tender.
  4. Add remaining ½ cup coconut milk; bring to a boil, and then adjust seasoning with salt to taste. Serve with steamed rice.