vegetarian rendang

A Vegetarian Raya

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The celebrations to mark Hari Raya Aidilfitri are a great chance to enjoy your favourite dishes – particularly for members of the Muslim community, who have just finished observing the month of Ramadan. Families, friends and loved ones come together to enjoy delicious curries, salads and grilled meats, which are then topped off with celebratory sweets reserved for this special occasion.

These days, many people are opting for vegetarianism or veganism, be it for health or ethical reasons. Some popular Hari Raya dishes already fit the bill, including ketupat, rice dishes, peanut sauces, spicy sambals, and sweet rice cakes and cookies. But here are a few extra savoury dishes to try if you’re planning a meat-free Hari Raya feast.

Tofu rendang or gluten (meat alternative) rendang

For non-meat eaters, the plain white block of soya or tofu is the stuff of dreams. Made either coated with egg or with a slightly firm structure, tofu is a perfect protein alternative to meat and if you skip the eggy skin vegans can enjoy it too. Tofu is also a great ingredient to absorb sauces and spices, particularly dried chilis, ginger or lemongrass, and this makes it a wonderful substitute for beef in a traditional rendang recipe. Rendang is a Southeast Asian dish that is a staple for the Malay and Muslim community in Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia. The decadent dish is usually served during Hari Raya celebrations, weddings or gatherings to mark births or other ceremonial occasions. Some describe it as a curry, but most cooks would agree that rendang is richer and drier, containing less gravy than a conventional curry. Like its meat counterpart, the tofu rendang can be cooked dry.

Tempe is another popular choice as a meat substitute and you can learn how to make it here. If neither tofu nor tempe take your fancy, you should instead consider wheat gluten, which is an ingredient commonly found in Chinese vegetarian dishes. Known as mock meat, wheat gluten is made from wheat flour dough that is processed to remove the starch. What’s left is a sticky gluten that can be cooked to give it a stringy or chewy texture. Either way, this rendang recipe is suitable for vegans as well.

You can try this version of tofu rendang!

Jackfruit curry

Jackfruit is fast becoming a popular meat substitute around the world due to its meat-like texture. Many Western chefs are using the versatile Southeast Asian fruit to make vegan burgers, but it can also be used in a curry. Surprise your guests during Hari Raya with this recipe, which uses familiar spices such as torch ginger flowers, curry leaves, cardamom, fennel and cumin seeds.

Known as “nangka” in Malay, jackfruit can be consumed young when it is slightly ripe or even unripe. A ripe jackfruit tends to have a sweet, dense and pungent flavour that makes it a rich alternative to meat in a curry as it holds the flavours well. Although the seeds are not used in this curry, they can be boiled or baked to make a dessert as they contain starch and some dietary fibre. The fruit is a good source of calcium, iron, magnesium and vitamin C, making it both a healthy and tasty option for the festive period.

Buying the fruit in season at the market will save you the trouble of opening it yourself, which may be a bit tedious for some cooks. You need to use a sharp knife to peel off the skin and scrape out the fruit (be careful of the sticky substance from the skin!) You can find detailed instructions here if you want to give it a go.

Nasi Ulam

This is a classic, rich salad served with fresh and raw herbs that is full of live enzymes that are good for our guts. The traditional recipe tends to have meat dishes as accompaniments, such as grilled mackerel or chicken curry.

But there are vegan options that use tempe as a protein alternative and petai or a sambal or spicy sauce made with broad beans. This sauce can be cooked on its own with chilli, or for a twist add some lychee to give the pungent petai a fresh lift. Using oil to fry the tempe gives it slightly more decadent taste – keep the tempe thinly sliced before a shallow-fry so that it will be nice and crispy.

Ulam can also be eaten as a side dish, accompanying the spicy starters and main. It can contain a whole array of leaves, including kaffir lime, polygonum (daun kesom), turmeric (daun kunyit), wild betel (daun kadok), torch ginger (bunga kantan) and mint. Of these, mint, kaffir lime and turmeric are very easy to grow and are often found in Southeast Asian home gardens.

Vegan sambal

In many parts of Southeast Asia, no meal is complete without a spicy sidekick known as sambal. This fiery condiment is usually made out of chillies, fermented shrimp paste (belacan), tamarind water (asam jawa) and sugar. However, you can swap the shrimp for mushroom granules in this vegan version, and lime juice can be used if asam jawa is not available. Cooks call for a mix of bird’s eye chillies or larger red ones, so pick a spice level that your guests can handle. Sambals can be jazzed up with tofu or even petai or broadbean as a dish on its own.

Fruits can also add to the sambal; pineapple, for example, offers adds a delicious acidic taste. More like a chutney, this condiment can be blended into a finer version that goes with your rice or lontong dish.

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