First published Jan 2014. Updated Feb 2018.
Sayur Lemak Serani is a light-ish coconut based curry of the Eurasian persuasion, Serani being the Malay word for Eurasian.
Sayur = Vegetables, Lemak = Cream (here, it refers to the the coconut milk)
If truth be told, the Malays have their own version, as do the Nyonyas. You can read more about the Nyonyas and the other local cultures in Singapore on the Singapore and Malaysia page, and find more recipes like:
Sayur Lemak is also known as Sayur Lodeh or Masak Lodeh and has its origins in Indonesia, particularly, Java, where quite often, it is made with jackfruit.
This Sayur Lemak Serani is lighter than the Malay and Nyonya version, it uses slightly less coconut milk than is popular, and although carrots, beans and cabbage are the standard vegetables used, the dish can be enhanced by adding aubergines (eggplants), cauliflower, tofu and even seafood or chicken, to make it non vegetarian.
When I first posted this recipe in Jan 2014, I made it the way my granny used to make it, and very traditional. However, when I published my Singapore Cookbook later that year, I wanted to make some recipes accessible to the vast majority, and so simplified the ingredients rather drastically.
- First, I made it completely vegetarian by omitting the dried shrimp and shrimp paste.
- Then, I cut down on the aromatics and settled for just onions, garlic, chillies and lemongrass. Don’t fret, this lighter, vegetarian version is still absolutely delicious, the turmeric and lemongrass playing a major part in contributing flavour and aroma.
However, for those of you who have access to South East Asian ingredients, and if you fancy the original recipe, I’m giving you that too in the recipe card.
A few quick tips on cooking today’s Sayur Lemak Serani
You can omit it if you are not a fan. However, if using tofu, you have a few options here: just use the tofu as it is, cut up in cubes. In this instance, be careful when stirring the curry, as you don’t want to break up that tofu too much.
Second option is to lightly fry the tofu cubes, until a light golden brown. This adds amazing texture, just a touch a crispness when eating the curry, and fried tofu is also delicious!
The tofu I’m using in the pictures here, are puffed tofu, bought from the Chinese grocer. You can make these yourself, it involves draining the tofu for a few hours, by placing a squashing it between kitchen towels and placing a heavy object over. Then when you fry the tofu squares, they’ll puff up. But it’s easier to just buy them!
You can read more about how we use lemongrass, here.
Never cook on a rolling boil, or cover your saucepan with fresh coconut milk. Canned coconut milks with stabilisers can also be temperamental, so I would suggest following the same rule.
Although not listed in the ingredients, as I can’t stand it (!), tempe is a very popular ingredient in Sayur Lemak. So if you are a fan, use it instead of the tofu or with it.
Turning this Sayur Lemak Serani into a Non Vegetarian affair
Just add prawns (shrimps) or small pieces of chicken to the recipe. Add the prawns in step 7, as you only want to cook them for 2-3 minutes.
Add the chicken with the aubergines and carrots, in step 5.
How to Serve Sayur Lemak Serani
The traditional sayur lemak is served with rice, as well as compressed rice cakes called lontong and ketupat. The latter 2 tend to be festive foods, and the lemak will be served alongside other favourites like Beef Rendang, a thick beef curry, known as rendang daging, in Malay and Indonesian.
This is not really the sort of curry you would serve with rotis (flatbreads). Here are some examples of dishes you can serve it with, along with some rice:
Let me know what you think!
Sayur Lemak Serani is a vegetarian coconut curry from Singapore, lighter than its Malay and Indonesian counterparts. The nutritional information is based on 6 servings, and the tofu not being fried, and used fresh, cut in cubes.
Sayur Lemak Serani (Eurasian Coconut Curry)
Sayur Lemak Serani is a vegetarian coconut curry from Singapore, lighter than its Malay and Indonesian counterparts.
The nutritional information is based on 6 servings, and the tofu not being fried, and used fresh, cut in cubes.