World curry recipes: From Malaysian duck rendang to east African sweetcorn and peanut

Ravinder Bhogal

THE GUARDIAN – Wherever migrant cooks roam, they pick things up and leave others behind. They cross so many borders that their food repertoire becomes vast, seasoned with the intonations of many cultures. These dishes are the bonny love-children of those blended borders – African ingredients overlaid with warm Arabic spices and Indian culinary traditions. They pay tribute to migrants who learned to reconcile the old and new with grace, who preserved memories while learning to let go, who carved a place for themselves in their new nations and expressed their contentment with food.

Smokey chicken and coconut curry

This iconic dish is eaten all over Kenya. Its roots are in coastal Mombasa, a port on the Indian Ocean where many immigrants arrived (of which my own grandfather was one in the 1940s).

Every family has its own version – the spices can differ and some may not include tomatoes – but they all share coconut milk. In my version, I smoke it at the end to recreate the memory of cooking it over an outdoor stove.

Smokey chicken and coconut curry. PHOTOS: THE GUARDIAN
Duck rendang

Prep 20 minuntes

Cook two hours

Serves four

One tbsp ghee

One red onion, peeled and finely chopped

One thumb ginger, peeled and finely grated

Four garlic cloves, peeled and crushed

Two green chillies, finely chopped

One tsp ground turmeric

100g chopped tinned tomatoes

Six chicken drumsticks

400ml coconut milk

Juice of one lime

Sea salt

One piece lump charcoal (optional)

Two hard-boiled eggs, peeled and cut in half, to serve

One small handful chopped coriander, to serve

For the masala

Two tbsp coriander seeds

Two tbsp cumin seeds

One tbsp fennel seeds

One dried red chilli

One tsp green cardamom pods

Quarter tsp cloves

One star anise

One tsp black peppercorns

One cinnamon stick

One tsp hot paprika

One tsp ground ginger

Quarter nutmeg, finely grated

Begin by making the masala. Heat a dry frying pan over a medium heat and toast all the whole spices until they are aromatic, stirring frequently and being careful not to scorch them. Pop the spices into a spice grinder and whizz to a fine powder, then stir in the paprika, ground ginger and nutmeg.

Put the ghee in a large frying pan over a low heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, for about 20 minutes, or until dark and caramelised, then add the ginger, garlic and chillies and fry until fragrant.

Next, add two tablespoons of the masala and the turmeric, and cook for a few minutes, until your kitchen is full of the fragrance of the spices. Now tip in the tomatoes and season with salt.

Cook for 10 minutes, then add the chicken and coconut milk. Mix well, then cover and simmer for 25 minutes, or until the chicken is tender and toothsome. Squeeze in the lime juice and season with salt to taste.

If you want to smoke the dish, sit the piece of charcoal directly on a gas burner or barbecue, letting it catch light and burn. When it is smouldering and grey, carefully transfer it with tongs to a small, heatproof bowl. Nestle the bowl inside the pan with the chicken and drizzle a little oil over the charcoal – it will start smoking immediately. Cover the pan with a tight-fitting lid and leave to smoke for half an hour.

Serve the kuku paka topped with hard-boiled egg halves and scattered with chopped coriander.

Sweetcorn and peanut curry (makai paka)

In east Africa, this is served both as part of a main meal with rice or chapatis, or on its own as a snack. The original uses crushed peanuts, but I use peanut butter to make a thick, funky, creamy sauce spiced with aromatics such as star anise and curry leaves. Always look out for unsweetened peanut butter.

Prep 15 minutes

Cook 40 minutes

Serves six

Five corn on the cob, one left whole, and the rest cut crossways into four chunks

Two tbsp rapeseed oil

One tsp brown mustard seeds

A pinch of asafoetida

20 curry leaves

One cinnamon stick

One star anise

One thumb ginger, peeled and finely grated

Four garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped

One red chilli, thinly sliced

200g tinned tomatoes

One heaped tbsp tomato puree

Three tbsp smooth peanut butter

Two tbsp tamarind concentrate

One tbsp soft brown sugar

Sea salt

One handful each toasted desiccated coconut and coriander leaves, to serve.

Heat a grill to medium and toast the whole corn cob, turning it frequently so it chars all over. Leave to cool, then shuck the sweetcorn kernels from the cob and reserve for later. Meanwhile, steam the sweetcorn chunks until tender and set aside.

Pour the oil into a large frying pan and put over a high heat. Add the mustard seeds and, when they pop, follow swiftly with the asafoetida, curry leaves, cinnamon and star anise, and fry briefly. Turn the heat down to low, add the ginger, garlic and chilli and cook until fragrant.

Stir in the tomatoes, tomato puree, peanut butter, tamarind and sugar, and cook for eight to 10 minutes, stirring every so often, until you have a sauce that’s thick enough to cling to the sweetcorn. Add salt to taste. Throw in the sweetcorn chunks and stir to coat thoroughly. Finish with the coconut, coriander and reserved sweetcorn kernels.

Duck rendang

Rendang is an aromatic, dry, braised curry from Malaysia. It is normally made with tough cuts of beef that require lengthy cooking, but I like to use duck legs, which also become luscious with a long, slow braise. The duck is first seared to render any excess fat, then simmered for hours in a lip-tingling, chilli-spiced, coconut sauce that turns the meat into a meltingly tender, flavourful sludge. Serve with steamed rice.

Prep/soak two hours

Cook two hours

Serves four

Four duck legs

400ml coconut milk

Three tsp palm sugar, or to taste

Two tbsp fish sauce

Juice of one lime

For the curry paste

15 dried kashmiri chillies

15 dried bird’s eye chillies

One red onion, peeled and roughly chopped

50g ginger, peeled and roughly chopped

25g galangal, roughly chopped

Four garlic cloves, peeled and roughly chopped

Two stalks lemongrass, roughly chopped

Eight g fresh turmeric, peeled and roughly chopped

Three tsp shrimp paste

Two tbsp rapeseed oil

First, make the curry paste. Break up the chillies and soak in hot water for two hours, then drain. Roughly chop the chillies and put into a small food processor or blender, along with the onion, ginger, galangal, garlic, lemongrass, turmeric, shrimp paste and oil. Process to a coarse paste.

Heat a large, deep non-stick frying pan over medium–high heat. Add the duck legs, skin side down, and fry, without turning, until the fat renders and the skin is golden brown – two to four minutes.

Set the duck legs aside, reserving a tablespoon of the fat in the pan. Add the curry paste and fry over a medium heat, stirring constantly, until the colour deepens and the onion becomes fragrant – it will take around 10 minutes to cook out the rawness and to tease out all the flavours. Add the coconut milk and 375ml water and bring to a simmer. Add the duck legs, return to a simmer, reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer gently for one and a half hours, stirring occasionally, until the duck is very tender and the sauce is thick and deepened in colour.

Finally, add the palm sugar to the sauce, stirring to make sure it all dissolves, then stir in the fish sauce and lime juice.