Cookbook 154: My Rendang Isn’t Crispy and Other Favourite Malaysian Dishes

You may not be aware of Zaleha Kadir Olpin’s UK Masterchef episode where the “judges” told her that her chicken rendang wasn’t sufficiently crispy enough, and was a mistake for her dish. They were clearly wrong, and anyone who knows anything about Malaysian food wanted to smack those judges upside the head.

Zaleha Kadir Olpin’s perfect perfect revenge is her new cookbook My Rendang Isn’t Crispy and Other Favourite Malaysian Dishes. The foreword by Vicki Treadell, former British High Commissioner to Malaysia (Australia at the time the book was published), is also another lovely “get stuffed” to the judges who thought they knew everything about food but clearly didn’t.

So there is a lot to love about this book before you even get to the dishes inside. Malaysian food is one of my favourite foods, I love Nasi Lemak as a dish to eat any time of day, and find it hard to go past a roti canai with whatever curry is going. Surprisingly this is only my third fully Malaysian cookbook, and I really should cook more Malaysian food.

On to the recipes! Only one dish didn’t really work out, and that was partly because of the appliances I have. That dish was the coconut rice, so if you don’t have a rice cooker that will make coconut rice, I recommend this recipe instead. All the other recipes were delicious and although sometimes slightly fiddly, they worked well and deliciously. Overall, this book gets 4.5 stars out of 5.

Nasi Lemak (Serves 4)


  • 370g basmati rice
  • 2 star anise
  • 2.5cm length cinnamon stick
  • 2.5cm knob ginger, peeled and thinly sliced or crushed (or grated)
  • 2 pandan leaves, rinsed and tied into a knot
  • 800ml coconut milk
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tbsp vegetable oil


  1. Rinse the rice and drain. Place in a rice cooker with the rest of the ingredients. Stir to mix, then turn on the rice cooker
  2. Alternatively, cook the rice in a non-stick pan. Combine all the ingredients in the pan and place on a stove over a medium heat. Cover the pan and let it simmer until the rice is done.

Notes on this recipe:

  • My cheap rice cooker was not up to the job of cooking this and barely managed to heat the coconut milk sufficiently (it’s either dead or it just takes more energy than heating water)
  • I eventually put it in a saucepan and slowly cooked it on the stove top (delaying everything else), and having a fair amount of it start to burn and stick to the bottom of the pan.
  • It tasted great, but I will not cook this coconut rice recipe again. I’ll use the one I linked to above, and add all the herbs and spices as listed here, to that one.

Kari Ayam – Chicken Curry (serves 6)


  • 1 small chicken, about 1 kg (or 1kg of chicken pieces)
  • 3 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1 stalk curry leaves, stem discarded
  • 3 medium potatoes, peeled and cut into quarters
  • 250ml coconut milk
  • 1 tsp salt, or to taste
  • 100ml double cream (optional)
  • 2 plum tomatoes, cut into quarters
  • chopped coriander leaves (up to you as to how much or not)

Tempering spices

  • 3 cloves
  • 5cm length cinnamon stick
  • 2 star anise
  • 4 cardamom pods

Spice paste

  • 3 shallots, peeled
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled
  • 7.5cm knob ginger, peeled
  • 2 candlenuts (or 4 macadamias)

Spice powders

  • 2 tbsp chilli powder
  • 3 tbsp coriander powder
  • 1 tsp turmeric powder
  • 2tsp cumin powder
  • 125 ml water


  1. Wash the chicken and pat dry. Cut into small pieces. Set aside (only if you’re not using chicken pieces
  2. Pound the ingredients for the spice paste coarsely using a mortar and pestle. Set aside (or use a food processor, because that’s much easier)
  3. Combine the spice powders in a bowl and add the water gradually, mixing it into a paste. Set aside
  4. Heat the oil in a saucepan over medium heat. Add the tempering spice and curry leaves. Cover with a lid and let the spice splutter.
  5. Add the spice paste and fry until fragrant and slightly dry.
  6. Add the spice powder paste and stir quickly, making sure the mixture does not burn. Turn the heat down to low and fry the spices for another 10 minutes, adding a little water if the mixture dries out.
  7. Add the chicken and potatoes and stir gently, making sure the chicken and potatoes are well coated with the spices. Leave to simmer for 5 minutes.
  8. Add the coconut milk and bring to a boil. Add the salt and turn the heat to low. Let it simmer for 20 minutes until the potatoes are tender and the chicken is cooked through.
  9. Taste and adjust the seasoning, if needed. If it is too spicy for your liking, stir in the double cream. Add the tomatoes and coriander leaves. Simmer for another 3 minutes before removing from the heat.
  10. Serve hot with rice or bread.

Notes on this recipe:

  • It looks like a really complicated recipe, but it isn’t too hard. Just make sure you have everything measured out and ready to go before you turn the heat on.
  • Mine was overcooked a little because of the rice issue – which really didn’t impact the dish all that much. The tomatoes disappeared, the potatoes and chicken were very tender.
  • This dish is also very spicy with that amount of chilli powder. If your spice tolerance isn’t good, substitute the chilli (all or some) for paprika. You need to keep the ratio of dried spices about the same, and the red of the paprika will make the dish a beautiful colour (it’s what we’re doing when we make it again).

Kacang Buncis Goreng Dengan Sos Tiram – Stir-fried French Beans with Oyster Sauce (serves 4)


  • 1 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled and thinly sliced
  • 1 medium white onion, peeled and thinly sliced
  • 1 red chilli, cut into fine strips
  • 150g French beans, ends trimmed and cut into 5cm lengths
  • 1 tbsp oyster sauce (we used vegetarian oyster sauce)
  • 1 tsp light soy sauce


  1. Heat the oil in a wok over a medium heat. Add the garlic and onion and stir-fry until the onion is translucent. Add the chilli and French beans and stir-fry for 3 – 4 minutes
  2. Season with the oyster sauce and light soy sauce. Turn up the heat and stir-fry until the vegetables are tender.
  3. Dish out and serve hot with rice and other dishes

Notes on this recipe:

  • This dish was very quick to prepare and cook, and was delicious. The chilli could be easily avoided by those who didn’t want to eat it, and it just added good flavour to the dish overall

Tauhu Sumbat – Stuffed Tofu (serves 4)


  • 6 firm tofu squares
  • 500ml vegetable oil
  • 1 medium cucumber, core removed and finely shredded
  • 1 carrot, peeled and finely shredded
  • 1 cup bean sprouts, tailed


  • 1 red chilli
  • 1 bird’s eye chilli
  • 2 shallots, peeled
  • 1 clove garlic, peeled
  • 125ml tamarind juice
  • 60g sugar
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 80g roasted peanuts, roughly chopped


  1. Cut each square of tofu diagonally into two triangles. Pat dry with paper towels to ensure it doesn’t splatter while frying
  2. Heat the oil and gently lower the tofu into the hot oil. Deep-fry until golden brown and crispy on the outside. Remove and set aside to cool.
  3. Once cooled, cut a slit in the middle of each triangle and stuff with cucumber, carrot and the bean sprouts. Cover and set aside.
  4. To prepare the sauce, place the chillies, shallots and garlic in a blender and process until fine. Heat 2 tsp of oil in a small frying pan and fry the paste until fragrant. Add the tamarind juice, sugar and salt. Mix well and let it simmer until thickened into a pourable consistency. Add the peanuts and transfer to a serving bowl.
  5. Spoon some sauce onto the tofu pockets and enjoy. It will be messy but it is well worth the mess!

Notes on the recipe

  • Tailing bean sprouts is the worst, and really you can probably skip them entirely (we almost did)
  • We cut ours finely, but not as finely as the photo in the book. I think you could probably get away with a coarse grating, which will make it easier to stuff the tofu with.
  • I cooked my sauce for longer than anticipated (because of the rice), but it just thickened into a jam like consistency which was still great to scoop over the tofu. The tamarind pretty much takes most of the heat out of the sauce and this was a really lovely side dish for the evening.