Sayur lodeh: Indonesian vegetable curry in coconut milk

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Sayur lodeh is one of the tastiest and most characteristic Indonesian side dishes with vegetables. Sayur is a sauce made from coconut milk. With a sayur lodeh you can pretty much use any vegetable. So it’s a great way to clean out your fridge.

In Holland (I’m Dutch), Indonesian food is widely available and highly valued. Much like Indian food in England. My family loves Indonesian food and we eat it a lot. I am very happy I know my way around most of the ingredients used. Because Indonesian food can be made completely paleo proof and with some adjustments even AIP.

Not just one kind of ‘Asian’

Cooking Indonesian is not hard. It’s just building layers of flavour. The rhythm of adding stuff will come to you rather quickly when you start preparing more dishes. Because the basics are always quite the same.

There is not just one Indonesian kitchen, every island has its specialties. But what makes Indonesian stand out from other Asian cooking like Kantonese or Szechuan is that most of the dishes take some simmer time. Stir fry is not a commonly used cooking method. Neither are condiments like ve-tsin or cornstarch.

Typical condiments are kecap manis and sambal oelek/badjak. They contain soy and nightshade. But neither of those are used in the authentic recipe for sayur lodeh. So you don’t have to search for alternatives.

Where to find ingredients

The list of ingredients may seem a bit overwhelming, especially where to find them. The best change is to go to an Asian market, otherwise online. With most ingredients your dish won’t immediately fall apart if you leave them out. So just buy a few ‘new’ stuff and start experimenting from there. Your collection of condiments will grow as you go along.

What is sayur lodeh?

Sajoer lodeh looks a bit like a soup but it is mostly served as a side dish. It is a kind of vegetable stew or yellow curry. Sayur always has a ‘wet’ sauce. If you eat it as soup, it’s really delicious with some egg and noodles.

What is in a sayur lodeh?

Sayur lodeh can contain different vegetables. In this case I used cauliflower, white cabbage, carrot, snow peas and red bell peppers. If you don’t eat green legumes or nightshade you can think also think of bamboo or bok choi. Sayur also contains tasty spices such as turmeric, ginger and lemongrass. For depth in the sauce, use a combination of fish sauce and trassie.

Wet sauce from coconut milk

A sayur always contains coconutmilk. In my opinion, the best recipe use not only coconut milk, but also santen (pressed coconut flesh or really thick coconut paste/cream) and stock.

The characteristic, wet sauce goes well with a bountiful Indonesian rice table. The sauce is delicious in your rice or nasi. If you eat gluten-free, it is best to eat with plain white rice or rice noodles. If you eat paleo, you can use sweet potatoes (noodles or whole potatoes) or cassave pasta. You can also use konjac or shirataki noodles. But then you will have fewer starches for the sauce to absorb. Then put mostly vegetables on your plate and leave the sauce in the bowl or pan.

Trassie and fish sauce

What is Indonesian food without umami? In this soup I use a combination of trassie (block of fermented shrimp paste) and fish sauce (fermented anchovy). Do you only have one of those at home? Then just use a little more of the one you have. Your dish won’t fall apart with some tweaks here and there.


Trassie can add a typical Indonesian flavour to your sayur. Trassie is pressed fermented shrimp paste. It smells quite penetrating. It Holland it comes in a re-usuable, well-sealable bag. You need very little of it, just a few crumbs. Buy a block of real, pure trassie. You should be able to buy it in Asian sores. Otherwise online. In Holland it’s quite well known. But even in Holland not every supermarket has it in store.

In Holland, and maybe elsewhere as well, Indonesian trassie may be confused with trassie trafasi. That is Surinamese trassie in a jar, made from stock with salt, some other flavors, additives and sugar.

Sugar-free, pure fish sauce

If you want to eat pure and sugar-free, it is a good idea to invest in an authentic fish sauce. Real fish sauce contains nothing but anchovies and salt. The sauce must ferment for months to even years. This is not just for sale in the supermarket, at least not where I live. Cheap fish sauces have gone through an accelerated fermentation with enzymes or hydrochloric acid. To compensate for the lack of taste, flavor enhancers and sugar are often added. Too bad, because that really shouldn’t be part of a fish sauce. I think the tastiest fish sauce is Red Boat Fishsauce. You can buy it in larger Asian stores ir order it online.

Kaffir lime leaves

South East Asian cuisine uses a different kind of lime than we have in Europe. It looks like an old wrinkled version. It’s called kaffir, makrut or djeroek peroet. For me it’s not easy to buy those. I don’t live near Asian sores or markets where I can buy fresh Asian fruits and vegetables. So, I always use ‘normal’ limes. You would have to be a real connaisseur to taste the difference.

But what will give your dish a real Asian flavour are the leaves. And those you can use dried and they are easy to order online.


In Indonesian dishes you commonly start with a bumbu. That sounds difficult, but it just means that you grate or grind herbs and spices before you start cooking. Most recipes start bij frying the bumbu in coconut oil before you add the other ingredients. Before adding a bumbu you can roast whole nuts and seeds and you can fry onions. After the bumbu you add dry ground herbs and spices and then the liquids.


On the optional list I have put typical Indonesian nuts: kemiri. At least, that is what we call them. In English I found they are mostly referred to as candlenuts or kukui. They look an bit like hazelnuts and macademia, but the taste is much darker. You always roast kemiri’s before anything else. Originally this was done in an open fire. I just roast them in the pan. I Holland I buy them in Asian stores or in specialised Indonesion stores. They are also available online. If you can’t find them in your country, just forget about them.

Sayur lodeh: Indonesian style vegetables in coconutmilk

ME (Marjolein Eikenboom)
Sajoer lodeh is a delicious Indonesian vegetable dish in which you can use any vegetable you like. You cook the vegetables in coconut milk or water/stock with some santen. To this you add fried onion, a bumbu and loose herbs such as sereh, lime leaf and bay leaf.
Free from dairy, eggs, eggwhites, gluten, grains, legumes, nightshade, nuts, peanuts, pseudograins, seeds, soy
Prep Time 30 minutes
Total Time 30 minutes
Course dinner, side dish
Servings 4 portions
Calories 65


  • wok
  • or frying pan + soup pan
  • grater
  • grounder


Vegetables (5/6 cups or 600/650 grams)
I used:
  • cup cauliflower (150 grams)
  • cup carrot (150 grams)
  • 1 cup red bell pepper 1 pepper (100 grams)
  • 1 cups white cabbage (125 grams)
  • ¾ cup snow peas (100 grams)
  • note: bell peppers and snow peas are not strict paleo or AIP
Bumbu and sauce
  • 1 large red onion
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • ½ inch fresh ginger
  • ½ inch fresh turmeric
  • ¼ inch fresh galangal kha, laos
  • 2 leaves kaffir lime leaves makrut/makroet or djeroek peroet
  • 2 leaves Indonesian bay leaves daun salaam
  • 2 stalks fresh lemongrass sereh
  • 1 can coconut milk 13,5 oz (400 ml)
  • 2 tbsp coconut cream or santen
  • 12 oz broth (350 ml)
  • ½ tsp fish sauce
  • ½ tsp trassie just a few crumbs
  • 2 tbsp coconut oil for frying
Optional: nightshade, nuts and seeds (not strict paleo and/or AIP)
  • 1 chili pepper
  • 1 tsp cumin seeds ground or whole
  • 1 tsp coriander seeds ground or whole
  • 3 pieces candlenut kemiri/kukui, well roasted, otherwise poisonous


  • Chop or grate the garlic, chili pepper, ginger, laos/galangal and turmeric. This can also be done in a small food processor.
  • If you use them: ground the kemiri into pieces. Roast without oil. If you use them add whole cumin and coriander seeds when the nuts are done.
  • Add oil to the pan. Cut the onion into half rings and fry until translucent.
  • Add the bumbu and the trassie. If you use ground cumin and coriander seeds you can add them now.
Make it a sauce
  • Add the coconut milk, cream, stock and fish sauce.
  • Add the santen, lime and bay leaves. Bruise the sereh or cut into large pieces and add. Remember how many leaves and sereh go in (and you have to take out before serving).
Add the vegetables
  • Prepare the vegetables that need to cook the longest. Cut the white cabbage into coarse pieces, cut the carrot into bite-sized pieces and break the cauliflower into manageable florets. Add.
  • In a wok with (high edges), everything can be done in the same pan. If you have a (low) frying pan with, transfer everything to a large cooking or soup pan.
  • Cook for 10 minutes and then add vegetables that don't need to simmer for long. Like the bell peppers and snow peas. Let it cook for another 5 minutes or so.
  • Put on the table in a large bowl at the table. Let everyone serve themselves.

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