Recipe: Sayur Masak Lemak

Let’s face it – with the amount of dried shrimp & belachan (fermented shrimp paste) used in Nyonya & Malaysian cuisine, it doesn’t make for the most vege-friendly of cuisines out there. However, if there is one simple but delicious vegetable dish I turn to when entertaining vegetarian friends or fulfilling the vege option as part of a wider feasting menu, this Sayur Masak Lemak dish would be it.

Literally meaning ‘Vegetables cooked in coconut milk’, the creamy, spicy coconut and chilli based broth works a charm with a wide variety of greens – cabbage, green beans, aubergine. butternut squash & sweet potatoes to name a few.

This time of year in the Europe, I love using Cavolo Nero & Pumpkin to make this dish. The deep, earthy flavour of Cavolo Nero stands up well to the rich, spicy flavours at play whilst the pumpkin provides sweetness, sponging up the scrumptious gravy. Leave the dried shrimp & shrimp paste out of the spice paste ingredients if you want to keep things fully vegetarian.


Ingredients (serves 6 people as a shared vegetable dish)

  • 400g Pumpkin (or sweet potatoes) – peeled then cut into 2 – 3 cm, bite-sized cubes
  • 400g Cavolo Nero – sliced into 1 to 2 cm wide pieces
  • 400ml Coconut Milk
  • 250ml water

Rempah (Spice Paste):

  • 6 large red chillies – deseeded if you prefer a milder broth & roughly chopped
  • 10 – 12 shallots (about 200g) – peeled and halved
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 1 tablespoon white palm sugar
  • 1.5 tablespoons dried shrimp – soaked for 5 minutes in hot water before use
  • 1 tablespoon Belachan (fermented shrimp paste) – toasted in a dry pan for a few minutes before use

Seasoning (to taste):

  • 3 tbsp light soya sauce or fish sauce (to taste)
  • 1 tbsp palm sugar or light brown sugar  (to taste)
  • Sea salt, large pinch (to taste)


  1. Prepare and blend all the rempah ingredients in a food processor until it forms a smooth paste.
  2. Heat up the oil in a large lidded pot and sauté the rempah on a medium heat for 6 – 8 minutes until fragrant.
  3. Add the coconut milk and water to the pot to the pot. Bring everything to a boil and season with light soya sauce (or fish sauce), brown sugar and a large pinch of salt to taste.
  4. Add the pumpkin to the pot and cook for 6 minutes. Add the Cavolo Nero and cook for a further 5 minutes until everything is cooked and tender. Serve with steamed rice.