Curries feature prominently in Southeast Asian cooking. The heart of every curry dish is the rempah (mixed spices, which can be wet or dry). The good thing about making your own rempah is that you can tailor make it to suit your taste. The downside is, it's backbreaking work.
Today, I realised I was running out of my precious rempah. I say "precious" because it is my lifesaver whenever I want curry-on-demand. Well, I spent almost 3 hours making it today. Lest you think diligence is my middle name, let you assure you that the reverse is true! The only reason why I dutifully expend so much energy smashing seeds, rhizomes and bulbs into smithereens is because I don't want to be caught without rempah the next time my curry craving hits. And THAT is a terrifying thought!
So off to work I went. For a few of the ingredients - like shallots and garlic - I threw into the food processor. The large part of the rest, I chose to tumbuk* the traditional way, using a stone pestle and mortar.
*Malay word for "pound".
Now, you might wonder: why not just throw everything into the food processor and let it blitz? The reason is because pounding allows you to control the texture of each item better. Furthermore, ingredients such as chilli seeds, are extremely hard to grind. And since there are quite a few ingredients involved, all of varying hardness, I have found through experience that pounding the hardy ingredients delivers the best results. I know many Nyonyas will be nodding their heads vehemently in approval! LOL.
Since it requires a lot of time and effort, I always make a heap to last me for a while. As long as you fry the rempah thoroughly, it will keep well in the freezer for months.
Below are the ingredients which go into my homemade rempah. You need to add oil as you pound and/or blend in the food processor. Tip: prepare each ingredient individually. This way, you can control the texture and consistency before you move on to the next. Only when all the ingredients are prepared according to your preference do you dump everything into the wok for frying.
Add about one rice bowl of oil in a wok (yes, that much). Fry for about 45 mins to 1 hour. You can add salt if you want. You need to keep frying constantly over low heat. Stop only when the oil floats to the top.
It's almost impossible to give exact measurements for the ingredients, so I figured pictures say it all. Is your recipe similar to mine? Or are there other spices/herbs which you feel I MUST include? I would be really happy to hear from you!
Candlenuts: make the rempah nutty and thick. I heart candlenuts! If you don't have this, you can substitute it with macademia nuts. Pounded this.
Shallots: provide a sweetness to the rempah. Sent to the food processor.
Turmeric: gives the rempah its gorgeous saffron colour. It stains easily, so be careful! Cut and sent to the food processor and then pounded for a finer finish.
Young Ginger. Cut and sent to the food processor.
Galangal (aka Blue Ginger / Lengkuas). It was tiring cutting this. Cut and sent to the food processor, and then pounded for a finer finish.
Big Red Chillies (de-seeded). Cut and sent to the food processor and then pounded for a finer finish. I also added a small handful of lethal Chilli Padi (Bird's Eye Chilli), with its seeds and all. Pounded the Chilli Padi because of its seeds.
Lemongrass. The key to giving the rempah that citrusy scent and taste. If you have kaffir lime leaves, you can add that in too. Cut and sent to the food processor and then pounded for a finer finish.
Altogether now! Oops, forgot to include garlic in this group shot!
Ugly, stained hand! That's why I don't do manicures. They are wasted on me.
The reward - nutty, gritty rempah! I like a little bite and texture in my rempah :) With this, I cooked:
Fish Curry with Lady's Fingers, brinjal, long beans and carrots!
I am one tired but happy girl :)