Vegan Curry, Indonesian Style

Vegan curry
Vegan curry

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Had enough of Goulash and Chili [c|n]on Carne but want some serious flavor-intense treat and craving for something a little more Asian? How about Indonesian-style curry?

In this vegan curry recipe, we will show you how to make your very own curry from the ground up, no added anything, just pure natural goodness.

Many ingredients are readily found in modern Western grocery stores, but some you will find only at an Asian grocery (depending on where you live, of course). Fresh turmeric, curry leaves and candle nuts are typically sold by markets stocking Indian or Indonesian foods while galangal is available in many Asian markets with fresh produce. Kaffir lime leaves are usually sold frozen or in dried form.

One word of advice: Be careful when handling fresh turmeric – its intense yellow color may not just stain cloths and clothes but also stone and skin, and stay for days. On the other hand, it is far more flavorful than dried ground turmeric and should be preferred if available.

Don’t worry if you fail to find all listed ingredients – due to the nature of a curry, one or two missing spices won’t kill the flavor, and your dish will likely be finger-licking delicious nonetheless.

The amounts listed here are just recommendations, so feel free to you rely on your cooking experience and differ from this recipe if you think something might come out too strong or too weak.

Genuine Asian curries have little in common with the bland “curry” powder you find in the spices department of your local grocery or supermarket. There are tons of curry pastes out there, but there is really no need to use them, because rolling your own is dead simple!

A good curry made with fresh ingredients and whole spices such as lemon grass, galangal, ginger, candle nuts or cinnamon sticks can make a difference between a sucker and a puncher. Not only can you be sure that there are no added MSG or preservatives, you also get to indulge the subtle notes of each one ingredient, building up from the first bite and eventually uniting in harmony.

Hungry? Here we go:


  • Candle nuts (a.k.a. kemiri) 2x
  • Coriander seeds 2 tbsp
  • Cubeb (tailed pepper / kabab chini) 1 tsp
  • Grated fresh turmeric 4 tbsp, or about 2 tbsp of ground turmeric
  • Cumin 1/2 tsp
  • Lemon grass 2 stalks
  • Cinnamon 1 stick
  • Star anise 2x
  • Cloves 3x
  • Black cardamom 2 pods
  • Ginger ≈ 1 thumb’s size, sliced against the grain, 3mm thick.
  • Galangal same as ginger
  • Curry leaves 3x (at roughly 3cm x 4cm)
  • Kaffir lime leaves 4x (at roughly 2cm x 3cm)
  • Bay leaves 4x (at roughly 2cm x 3cm)
  • Garlic cloves 2x, chopped
  • Thai chili peppers 1-2x for slightly hot curry
  • Aubergine (eggplant) 1x, diced into 1.5-2cm pieces
  • Oyster mushrooms 200g, sliced
  • Onion 1x, sliced
  • Coconut milk (or water) 100-200ml
  • Freshly ground black pepper 1 tsp
  • Salt; dark soy sauce to taste
  • Vegetable oil

For the “curry base”, gently grind candle nuts, coriander seeds and cubeb with a little bit of salt using a mortar and pestle and/or a coffee grinder (note: the mixture becomes moist and oily and has an intense flavor). Mix with turmeric, cumin and black pepper.

Curry base
Curry base

Heat a pan with a little bit of oil to high and sauté eggplant, browning them on the outside and mix them into a pot with a bit of salt, then fry onions and oyster mushrooms at high heat, add them to the pot and cover it.

Now on to the heart of this dish: The typical curry flavor. Using a pan at medium-to-high heat with about 1 tbsp of oil, stir-fry lemon grass, ginger and galangal until slightly browned, then add cinnamon, star anise, cardamom, garlic and chili peppers, lower heat to medium and after maybe half a minute, add the curry base, cloves and leaves.

Add a bit of oil if the mixture becomes too dry and keep stir-frying for another 1-3 minutes to extract the flavors, taking care not to burn the base.

Pour in the coconut milk and stir gently to blend it with the curry, then combine it with eggplant and mushrooms in the pot. Alternatively, use water if you don’t like or have coconut milk. Deglaze and clean the pan with a cup of water or two and pour everything into the pot; salt the curry to taste. Optionally add a bit of soy sauce to boost the “umami” taste and add color. When served with plain rice, make the curry a bit saltier than you would normally do for a soup – this makes the dish perfect when both are combined.

Depending on your preferences, you may want to move the smaller parts of the mixture into a mesh tea ball infuser or similar (there are dedicated infusers for cooking) to keep the curry clean from unwanted things you do not want to eat.

Let the curry simmer at medium-to-low heat for at least half an hour, stirring from time to time.

Serve with rice or lontong, or cook diced potatoes with the curry for an all-in-one dish.