Simple Homemade Gulai from Scratch

By Catherine Ling - Tuesday, Aug 06, 2013

With Hari Raya approaching, our thoughts are turned to the glorious feasting guaranteed amidst the festivities. It is a common tradition to exchange dishes with neighbours and relatives. For many of us, cooking some of these Hari Raya dishes can seem daunting, especially from scratch. But this is not the time to rely on putrid packets of ready-made rempah. This is the best time to cook from the heart, especially for your friends. The results can be a far cry from what you had in mind. Here’s a recipe for a “gulai kambing” or light mutton curry spiced stew that is simple but can be good when cooked with a sincere heart.


Gulai Kambing


Gulai Kambing


All the ingredients you need


500g mutton, diced
300g grated coconut (add about 400ml water, press and strain for coconut milk)
200ml water and 250ml water (to be used separately)
1 tomato, cut into small pieces
3 slices blue ginger
1 stalk lemongrass, chopped into three
5 kaffir lime leaves
3 pcs daun salam (large dark green leaves available at Malay or Indian stalls, sometimes translated as “Indonesian bay leaf” but omit if you cannot find any, as it does not taste like bay leaf at all)
3 tbsp cooking oil (for frying)
salt to taste (about 2 tsp)
½ tbsp sugar


Rempah paste from scratch


Rempah (spices) to be blended:
5-6 shallots, roughly chopped
5 cloves garlic
2 chillies, roughly chopped
a thumb-size portion of ginger, sliced
3cm portion of turmeric, sliced
3 candlenuts
half a nutmeg
½ tbsp coriander powder
½ tbsp white pepper powder


1. First blend all the rempah or spices with a little water (one tablespoon at a time) until smooth and combined.
2. Heat the cooking oil in a wok (or large pot) and fry the lemongrass until fragrant. Add the rempah blend and salt.
3. Add 200ml water in the rempah bowl, and pour it into the wok (literally rinsing out the bowl of all rempah to make full use of it). Continue frying on medium-high heat for about five minutes.
4. Add blue ginger, kaffir lime leaves and daun salam. Fry for another two minutes.
5. Add mutton and sugar. Fry on medium heat for five minutes.
6. Cover and simmer until meat is tender (about half an hour). Add more water (about 250ml) halfway when mixture starts drying up.
7. Add coconut milk and tomatoes. Simmer until the gulai reaches desired consistency. It is generally meant to be more watery than curry, but some people may prefer thicker gravy.
8. Serve hot with steamed white rice. Optional condiments include kicap manis (black sweet soy sauce) and spicy sambal topping (blend four chilies, four chili padi, and two cloves garlic) which is also used in other soupy dishes, like soto.