Sayur Lemak is a light-ish coconut based curry from Singapore and Malaysia. Here, I’ve veganised and simplified this favourite childhood dish.
First published Jan 2014. Updated Feb 2018.
Malay Language Lesson, as usual 🙂
Sayur = Vegetables
Lemak = Cream (here, it refers to the the coconut milk)
The traditional Sayur lemak can be found in various guises, depending on which ethnic group is making it. The Malays, the Eurasian and the Nyonyas all have their own versions.
You can read more about the various ethnic groups and their foods, in these 2 countries on the Singapore and Malaysia page:
Where does Sayur Lemak come from?
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.
Vegan Sayur Lemak Recipe
This vegan Sayur Lemak is lighter than the usual version, and is more like the one made by the Eurasians in Singapore. It uses 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 tempeh, a very popular ingredient with the locals.
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.
Vegan Sayur Lemak Ingredients
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 one of 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 and 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. We will be using them whole, after bruising them. This is how:
Cut off a small piece at the bottom and remove any dried out or brown layers. Using the back of a knife, pound hard on the bulb to lightly smash it. This releases the essential oils and flavour.
Never cook on a rolling boil when using fresh coconut milk as it will curdle. Always cook on a medium low heat, at a simmer. Canned coconut milks with stabilisers can also be temperamental, so I would suggest following the same rule.
If you have access to fresh, grated coconut milk, get 2 pressings to make up the amount here.
If using canned, give it a good shake before opening. Then use what the recipe calls for here and freeze the rest for another day, or use it to make a vegan drink like the following:
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
Because I’m all for equal opportunity! 😉
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 Vegan Sayur Lemak
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:
Shall we get our aprons on?
♥ And if you like the recipe, don’t forget to leave me a comment and that all important, 5-star rating! 😉 Terima Kasih ♥
Vegan Sayur Lemak is a simplified and veganised version of the traditional light coconut curry from Singapore and Malaysia.
- 300g (10.5oz) tofu, cut in 2.5cm/1″ cubes
- 125ml (1/2 cup) vegetable oil (only if frying tofu)
- 1 medium onion, halved, then sliced thinly
- 1 small clove garlic, sliced widthwise
- 2.5cm (1″) ginger, thinly sliced
- 1/2 a red chilli, sliced
- 2 lemongrass stalks, the bottom half only, and bruised
- 1 tsp ground turmeric
- 1 medium aubergine (eggplants), sliced in rings (or 5 baby aubergines)
- 1 medium carrot, sliced in rings
- 150g (about 5oz) white cabbage, sliced thinly
- 100g (3.5 oz) French beans, sliced in half
- 2 Tbsp vegetable oil
- 350ml (1 2/5 cup) water
- 300ml (1 1/5 cup) coconut milk
- 2 Tbsp light soy sauce
- 1 tsp salt
- 4 lime leaves, torn (optional)
- 1/2 tsp clear vinegar
- small handful fresh coriander leaves (cilantro), finely chopped
Frying Tofu (optional)
- If you are frying the tofu, heat the oil in a small frying pan and lightly fry the tofu for about 2-3 minutes, on medium heat, until golden brown, and drain on kitchen paper, until needed. This is just to add crunch and deepen the flavour. You could skip this stage and add the tofu as is.
Cooking our Vegan Sayur Lemak
- Heat a large saucepan on medium high heat and sauté the onions for 2 minutes.
- Add the garlic, chillies and lemongrass and fry for just 30 seconds.
- Add the turmeric and cook for another 30 seconds.
- Add the aubergines and carrots and coat them well.
- Add the water and coconut milk, bring to a gentle boil, then lower the heat and simmer, giving everything a good mix but with a light touch. Cover partially and cook for about 15 minutes (or 20-25, if you like your aubergines falling apart) Remember, never cook coconut milk on high heat.
- Now add the rest of the vegetables, the soy sauce, salt and lime leaves (if using), and stir thoroughly. Cook for 5 minutes. Add the tofu now, if you didn’t fry them first (and tempe, if using). If fried, add tofu in the next step, after 5 minutes.
- Add the fried tofu, cook for a minute to let it heat through, check the seasoning, add more salt or soy sauce if necessary.
- Turn the heat off and stir in 1/2 tsp clear vinegar.
- Garnish with some coriander leaves (cilantro) and serve, as suggested.
The nutritional information is based on 6 servings, and the tofu not being fried, and used fresh, cut in cubes.
- Category: Side dish
- Method: Easy
- Cuisine: Singaporean
Keywords: vegan, vegetarian, curry, singaporean, malaysian, indonesian