Gulai Daun Singkong: Coconut Curry with Cassava Leaves (Vegan)

A light coconut curry cooked with cassava leaves. It’s richly-spiced, creamy, and hugely popular in Padang restaurants in Indonesia and the Malay world.

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Nunuk Sri Rahayu
Nunuk hails from Solo, the historic royal capital and cultural centre of Java, Indonesia. She has been cooking since the age of 12, and also performs and teaches traditional Javanese dance. Her dream is to eventually write her own Indonesian cookbook.

Gulai daun singkong is a delicious gulai (coconut curry, the base for dishes like gulai nangka) dish made of daun singkong or cassava leaves. This is one of the most popular ways of cooking this vegetable. Although often associated with Padang restaurants, the dish is also a home cooking favorite.

All about Cassava

Cassava has a long history in Indonesia. Native to South America, the woody shrub was first brought by the Portuguese to the spice islands of Maluku (Moluccas) around the 16th century. The plants were cultivated commercially during the Dutch period two centuries later. Though unpopular in the beginning, with some extensive effort from the Dutch Indies Government and the local authorities, cassava started gaining more popularity, and more people started to consume it. Eventually it spread to Java. Its cultivation increased rapidly in line with the rapid growth of the population. 

Cassava thrives in tropical climates and it grows everywhere in Indonesia all year long. Two things are harvested from the plant for human consumption: the young leaves and the roots. The starchy tuber is high in carbohydrates and is considered one of the main staples in this country, along with rice and maize. 

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Cassava leaves have a tough texture. The young leaves, which are more tender, are used in cooking and often made into gulai or stir fried with spices. Boiling the leaves before cooking is usually necessary to tenderize it. 

Finding Cassava and substitutions

Finding fresh cassava leaves outside Indonesia can be very difficult, especially in Europe or in the US. I remember collecting kohlrabi leaves in some supermarkets in Prague. The leaves were supposed to be thrown away, but I gathered them excitedly. I must have looked like a crazy person when I did that (I used my daughter’s guinea pig pet as an excuse sometimes — when I thought that an explanation was necessary), but I really missed the dish and kohlrabi leaves were the closest thing I could find as a substitute for cassava leaves. After collecting them, I happily brought them home, parboiled them and shredded them to prepare them for cooking. I basically treated them the same way as daun singkong. Sometimes I also used kale. Veggies that have a tough texture are suitable as substitutes for cassava leaves. 

Though gulai daun singkong often includes dried anchovies, this recipe has no animal protein, so it’s suitable for vegans. The dish is richly spiced and creamy from the coconut milk. It is great eaten with rice, but I also like to just enjoy the dish by itself.

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Gulai Daun Singkong: Coconut Curry with Cassava Leaves

Gulai Daun Singkong: Coconut Curry with Cassava Leaves (Vegan)

  • Author: Nunuk Sri Rahayu
  • Prep Time: 20 minutes
  • Cook Time: 45 minutes
  • Total Time: 65 minutes
  • Yield: 3 1x
  • Category: Vegetables, Soups and Stews
  • Method: Boiling
  • Cuisine: Indonesian
  • Diet: Halal

Description

Gulai daun singkong is a light coconut curry cooked with cassava leaves. It’s richly-spiced, creamy, and hugely popular in Padang restaurants in Indonesia and the Malay world.


Ingredients

Scale
  • 500 gr young cassava leaves (discard the stem)
  • 6 shallots, peeled, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, peeled, chopped
  • 2 big red chillies, chopped
  • 2 cm ginger, peeled, chopped
  • 3 cm turmeric, peeled, chopped
  • 3 candlenuts, chopped
  • 1 tsp coriander seeds
  • 1 lemongrass, bruised, knotted
  • 3 cm galangal, bruised
  • 2 salam leaves
  • 2 kaffir lime leaves
  • 1 tbsp tamarind extract
  • 3 tbsp cooking oil
  • Salt to taste
  • 65 ml coconut milk/cream
  • 700 ml water 

Instructions

  1. Wash the cassava leaves thoroughly and put the leaves in boiling water. Add some salt and boil it for around 20 minutes until tender. 

    Boil the cassava leaves

  2. When the cassava leaves are done, cool and squeeze out the water as much as possible, and cut it into smaller pieces. Set aside.
  3. Grind into a fine paste: shallots, garlic, chillies, ginger, turmeric, candlenuts and coriander seeds.
  4. Heat the oil over medium high heat and sauté the ground spices, lemongrass, galangal, salam leaves and kaffir lime leaves until fragrant, around 4 minutes.

    sauté the ground spices

  5. Add the cassava leaves.

    Add the cassava leaves.

  6. Add the water, salt and tamarind extract. 
  7. Add the coconut milk. Mix and bring all the ingredients to boil, and continue cooking for about 20 minutes over medium heat until the vegetable is thoroughly cooked. Stir the soupy gulai frequently during the process to avoid the coconut milk breaking up.

    Mix and bring all the ingredients to boil

  8. Transfer the dish to a serving bowl.

Notes

  • If desired, dried fried anchovies can be added towards the end of cooking. 
  • If unavailable, cassava leaves can be substituted with kale or kohlrabi leaves. Blanch the veggies, squeeze dry and they are ready to use.

Keywords: Vegan, healthy

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