Recipe of the month: Masak Lemak!

Udang Masak Lemak Chili Api (Spicy Malaysian prawn coconut curry)

This is quite a popular Malaysian curry and incredibly versatile as it can be made with beef, fish, king prawns, chicken, tofu, or even a medley of vegetables. ‘Chili api’ refers to the small birds eye chilies which packs a real kick so for the faint hearted perhaps it would be sensible to omit it and add the larger chili which is less fiery, or skip it altogether if you prefer a completely mild version. Don’t fret if you decide on the latter as it won’t compromise the taste in any way.

If you opt for the vegetarian/vegan version then the shrimp paste can be omitted and the addition of aubergine, green beans, white cabbage, sweet potato, and fresh tomatoes makes it a colourful and tasty alternative. There really is no hard and fast rule. Just go with your taste buds and whatever’s in your fridge that needs using up. 

The key points to remember when making this curry is that the paste or ‘Rempah’ must be blended until it’s very fine without small bits still present. Rempah is a term which simply means paste and you will come to see that many Malaysian curries will start with a rempah of sorts. Also ensure that the oil comes back up to the surface when cooking out the paste. The recipe will give you directions so if you follow the process, all will be well. 

One ingredient that might be unfamiliar to some of you is ‘candlenut’ or ‘buah keras’. This aids to thicken the curry and add more depth. It can be sourced from any good Chinese supermarket or online but if you can’t get hold of it then macadamia nuts work just as well. I wouldn’t advise to use any other nut and worse case scenario, just omit it altogether.

Hope you enjoy this dish!

Recipe Serves 2

Ingredients for blending and making the ‘Rempah’:

  • 2 medium red onions (Chopped roughly)

  • 2 stalks lemongrass (finely sliced) – keep the leftover stalks to simmer in the curry.

  • 3 candlenut

  • 2 large cloves garlic 

  • 3 birds eye chili, or 2 large red or green chili, or 1 heaped teaspoon of chilli powder.

  • ½  heaped teaspoon ‘Belacan’ or shrimp paste – (optional) which can be found in any Oriental grocery store or even Tesco!

  • ½  teaspoon turmeric powder 0r 2 inches of fresh turmeric

  • 2 cups of water or more if the paste is still rough

Other ingredients:

  • 175g raw king prawns (raw has more flavour)

  • ½ cup vegetable oil

  • ½ can coconut milk – or coconut powder mixed with water

  • 4-5 green beans cut into 1.5 inch pieces

  • ½ an aubergine (sliced thickly at an angle)

  • ½ sweet potato cut into large chunks

  • 1 red chili sliced lengthwise and then into half

  • 1-2 level teaspoon salt

  • 1 teaspoon sugar 

  • 2 sprigs of chopped fresh coriander for garnish or you could use parsley as a substitute


  1. Heat the vegetable oil on a medium heat in a saucepan and add the paste.

  2. Stir the paste in the oil and cook until it’s fragrant and the oil comes up to the surface. This is known as ‘pecah minyak’ in Malaysian and is essential in ensuring that the paste is thoroughly cooked out. It’s important to master this stage of cooking as this process is essential when making any type of Malaysian curry that requires a ‘rempah’.

  3. Once the paste is ready, add the coconut milk and 1 cup of water, and turn the flame down to a low simmer. Leave it to simmer for at least half an hour until the curry has thickened slightly. 

  4. Now add the firmer vegetable i.e. the sweet potato. When the sweet potato is semi tender, add aubergine and green beans. You can always put a dash of water if you think the sauce is too thick but make sure that it’s not too runny. 

  5. Continue to simmer until all the vegetables are tender and lastly the prawns, sliced red chili, salt, and sugar. Once the prawns turn an opaque pink, turn the flame off immediately and sprinkle the chopped coriander. Taste the curry to ensure there’s enough seasoning and add more if desired. You want a balance of salt with a lightly sweet hint. 

  6. Serve with basmati or Thai fragrant rice.

Cooks tip:

Belacan or shrimp paste is a staple ingredient in all Malaysian store cupboards although it needs to be refrigerated once opened and has a relatively long shelf life. Although the smell is extremely pungent, once cooked, it reduces to a faint aroma. It can be purchased in any good Asian supermarket and now even in Tescoo. If you do decide to make a trip to a Chinese supermarket, make sure you get the right one as there is another form of shrimp paste which is mainly for salads and not cooking. I’ve included some pictures below to help you.

If you want to cook it with beef or chicken then the meat has to be added first and cooked till tender before adding the vegetables. More water will be needed if using beef as the cooking time is longer for tenderising.


Not this as it’s used for salad dressings and dipping:

Mariae xxx

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