Masak lemak is a very typical and traditional cooking style among the Malay community. While it literally translates into ‘cooked in fat’, masak lemak actually refers to dishes cooked in coconut milk or coconut gravy. It’s a rich and incredibly versatile cooking style and can easily go from vegan to full-on meaty, or mild to incredibly spicy with the addition of a few more ingredients. And, just like many other local dishes, how masak lemak is cooked varies from state to state, and even family to family. Flavours, too, can vary in complexity, like the smoky and spicy masak lemak daging salai, to a simple pumpkin in coconut gravy, more commonly and lovingly known locally as labu masak lemak.
While it may seem simple – pumpkin in coconut gravy requires less than ten ingredients to make, a feat in itself when it comes to Malay cooking – this dish is no less delicious. The mild yet rich coconut gravy pairs incredibly well with cooked-till-tender sweet chunks of pumpkin flesh. There’s no need to use expensive pumpkins with this dish, like butternut squash, delicata or fancy blue Hokkaido pumpkin – stock standard supermarket pumpkin will do. And since you’ll be removing most of the skin, there’s no need to get the pretty ones either. And did we mention that pumpkin in coconut gravy is super easy to make?
A bad rep
Let’s face it, any dish with the words ‘masak lemak’ in it is often deemed an unhealthy indulgence. While this is undoubtedly true for some styles of masak lemak out there – often due to the addition of other ingredients and style of cooking – labu masak lemak is, all things considered, surprisingly healthy for a Malay dish.
If you’re one who keeps up with nutrition trends, coconut milk is no longer a taboo ingredient. In fact, coconut milk has several health benefits including lauric acid, a medium-fatty acid easily absorbed by the body and used as energy. Its saturated fat content can also help lower cholesterol levels. Plus, coconut milk is dairy-free, lactose-free and even nut-free (despite the nut in coconut), making it a great ingredient for those who are allergic to dairy and nuts.
Pumpkins, too, are not without its own health benefits. It’s a great source of beta-carotene, a powerful antioxidant, while also having lots of fiber – great news for your digestive system! Furthermore, pumpkin in coconut gravy is mostly cooked over a low fire, allowing its super ingredients to retain most of its nutritional benefits.
Rich, indulgent and still reasonably healthy? We definitely need to make labu masak lemak more often.
- 7kg (2 large) pumpkins
- 2kg coconut milk (santan)
- 340g (2 large) red onions, skin removed
- 60g dried anchovies (ikan bilis)
- 18g (2 tbsp) black pepper
- 50g (3 tbsp) salt
- 50g (3 tbsp) sugar
- 8kg water
- To prepare your pumpkin chunks, first cut a pumpkin in half with a cleaver or large knife.
- Then, remove the seeds and stems.
- Using either a knife or a potato peeler, remove pumpkin skin. You do not need to remove the skin completely. Leaving a little bit on here and there randomly will help keep the pumpkin chunks intact as it cooks.
- Quarter each half of the pumpkin, then slice it into large triangular chunks.
- Cut peeled onions in half, and then slice them thinly.
- There are two ways to prepare your anchovies. You can either use a pestle and mortar to pound and grind them until they are a mix of fine powder and coarse, flattened pieces. Or, divide your anchovies in half. Blend half until it’s a fine powder, and blend the other half until coarse. Bear in mind that the anchovies must be dry regardless of which process you choose or you’ll end up with a paste instead.
Cooking pumpkin in coconut gravy
- In a large pot set over your stove, add pumpkin, onions, anchovies and black pepper. Do not turn on the fire yet.
- Pour in coconut milk then put the flame on high heat.
- Bring ingredients to a boil, stirring occasionally to prevent the coconut milk and other ingredients from sticking to the bottom of the pot and burning.
- Once the dish comes to a boil, turn the heat down to simmer.
- Add salt and sugar and stir to mix through. If you’d like to test for taste, this is a good place to do it. Feel free to use more or less sugar according to your taste buds and type of salt and sugar you’re using.
- Simmer for about 25 to 30 minutes until the pumpkin is soft and cooked through, stirring occasionally.
- Serve hot with steamed rice and other tasty kampung-style dishes.
- This recipe feeds a lot, so feel free to scale it down as needed.
- Just because you don’t need to use fancy pumpkin in this recipe, doesn’t mean you can’t. If you’ve got some extra dough to spare, hop over to your supermarket’s pumpkin display and mix and match a few types!
Didn’t we tell you this is a super easy recipe to prepare and make? And if you follow our simple instructions carefully, pumpkin in coconut gravy is a pretty fool proof recipe. Just look at those tender morsels of pumpkin swimming in that creamy golden gravy. We know you can’t wait to liberally pour this all over your plate of steaming hot rice or, if you’re doing that whole no-rice thing, just throw caution to the wind and eat this like a soup! Whether you’re making it to serve others or just for your own pure pleasure, pumpkin in coconut gravy in a comforting pleaser. Just don’t forget to show us your pictures by tagging it with the #butterkicap hashtag. We can’t wait to see how your labu masak lemak turned out.