Sometimes, you read a menu description that sends you into paroxysms of longing and desire and has you practically gaping at the waiter as you urge him, wide-eyed, to come over and take your order instantly so that the kitchen can quicken the transition of your food from plate to mouth. There was once a wonderful Malaysian restaurant in York that offered, as a vegetarian option, ‘Classic Malay pineapple and aubergine with palm sugar curry’, described as a ‘sweet coconut milk thick curry’.
The rest of the menu became irrelevant to me upon reading those words. I ordered this every single time. Now that the restaurant sadly no longer exists, I have been forced to create my own version, which is – to my delight – just as appealing and delicious as the original. It is a perfect main course for vegans and vegetarians (use the soy-sauce option), but I defy even the most ardent carnivore not to love it.
For the spice paste
2 shallots or ½ a white onion, roughly chopped
2 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
5cm piece of ginger root, peeled and roughly chopped
1 tablespoon dried shrimp, soaked in 200ml water for 1 hour (reserve the water) or 2 tablespoons light soy sauce
2–3 red chilies (deseeded if you want less heat)
For the curry
3 tablespoons coconut oil
1 cinnamon stick (about 8cm)
5 cardamom pods, bruised with a heavy knife or pestle
2 teaspoons medium curry powder
1 teaspoon salt
½ pineapple, peeled, cored and flesh cut into 2.5cm chunks
1 aubergine, cut into 2.5cm dice
400ml full-fat coconut milk
3 kaffir lime leaves (fresh, or frozen and thawed; avoid dried), shredded (tough centre stems discarded)
80g green beans, cut into 2.5cm lengths
3 tablespoons desiccated coconut, toasted in a hot, dry pan or oven
1–2 teaspoons tamarind paste
2–3 teaspoons palm or brown sugar
chopped coriander or Thai basil, for sprinkling
lime wedges, to serve
How To Prepare It
First, make the spice paste by blitzing everything together in a mini chopper or food processor. Add a little of the shrimp soaking water (or plain water, if using soy sauce) to help everything blend evenly to a paste. Set aside.
Make the curry. Heat the coconut oil over medium-high heat in a large frying pan or wok. Fry the cinnamon, cloves, cardamom and star anise for 1 minute until fragrant, then add the spice paste, curry powder, and salt and cook for 5 minutes, stirring regularly, until fragrant and starting to dry out. Add the pineapple and aubergine and cook for 5–10 minutes, until starting to soften, stirring well to coat everything in the spices.
Pour in the coconut milk and add the lime leaves. Simmer for 10 minutes, then add the green beans and simmer for another 5 minutes, until the sauce has reduced and thickened (add a little water if it looks too thick). Grind the coconut in a mortar and pestle or spice grinder, then add it to the curry. Simmer for another 1 minute or so. Add the tamarind and sugar to taste – the sauce should be tangy and hot, but quite sweet. Simmer for a final 1 minute, then serve with lime wedges and sprinkled with chopped coriander or Thai basil leaves. Serve with steamed jasmine rice.