Lillies & Chillies

“If you have two loaves of bread, sell one and buy a lily”
Chinese Proverb

Throughout history, both the East and the West have embraced the healing properties of the Allilium species. Garlic and onions have long been associated with the common cold as a natural antibiotic.  Combining garlic with the dried pepper from the cayenne chilli will induce a ‘sweat’ if given at the onset of the cold. This promotes a warming action, and helps to move energy throughout the body.

The onion family possesses very high quantities of sulphur, which assists in flushing out toxic waste and heavy metal deposits from body and helps with metabolising protein/amino acids. (Pitchford). Drinking tea made from spring onions may soothe the sharp pain incurred from arthritis, whilst garlic poultices applied topically may also help.

It’s little wonder that members of the Lily family: garlic, leeks, onions, shallots and chives, all marry and combine well together, and individually offer flavour and enhancement to any dish. Add any of these potent bulbs to chilli and garlic, and you will have the foundations for much of the cuisine of Asia.

“The five pungent plants (onions, garlic, scallions, leeks, chives) have remarkable healing powers due to their ability to dissolve the deposits in the body from meat eating. Although celebrated for their healing effects it is wise to note that they are also powerful herbs, are medicinal, and need to be used cautiously in the daily diet.”
Paul Pitchford, Healing with Whole Foods


I have visited markets all across South East Asia. From Mataram, Lombok to the Batak market in Medan, Sumatra, across to devout Kota Baru on the northeast coast of Malaysia, into Phuket and Krabi in Thailand, and across to Cebu in the Phillipines, and everywhere and in between; the pungent aromas and vibrant colours of the regional cuisine are as varied as the colloquialisms of language. So too, there is a great diversity in the preparation and use of ingredients in making the traditional rempah or curry paste throughout this region.

In 2005 I met my dear fiend Janet de Neefe in her Bali home in Ubud. She has invited me to present at her inaugural Yoga festival and within 24 hours we had become firm friends and are frequently told that we bear an uncanny  and shared mannerisms. So my ‘soul-sister’ “Bali Janet” and I have since had may culinary and travel adventures and she has taught me much about her beloved, adopted cuisine.

My first encounter with the renowned rich, regional, dry beef dish called Rendang was in Salang, the beautiful island village on Pilau Tioman, Malaysia. I was staying as a guest of a family who operated   a restaurant and bungalows right on the beach. There was a scarcity of generated electricity, not much hot water, and only very intrepid travellers- usually scuba divers- there to swim the South China Sea with the green turtles. Pilau Tioman is said to have been the site for the shooting of the film Bali Hai, and its natural beauty is well documented. Sadly, now well-heeled tourists, in newly acquired designer gear, overrun it from neighbouring Singapore’s Orchard Road. My first visit to Salang was in 1991 and I doubt whether these people had ever seen a suitcase back then.

One evening, I enjoyed a late supper in the family kitchen, separate from the restaurant. It consisted of traditional feasting food from a Muslim celebration earlier that day. Representing every celebration and at the centre of the table was Nasi kuning, the yellow savoury rice served with boiled and peeled quail eggs, ikan bilis, dried fish, pickles, acar, and some sambal greens. I ate the delicious Rendang, a spiced beef dish. Beef, gently simmered in coconut milk, is then stir fried until all the liquid is absorbed.

In Indonesia Rendang is not considered a curry, as such, as the spices used are not the same as would be used in a curry, however the Malay version uses cardamom, cloves and star anise giving it another dimension. In her book Indonesian Regional Food Cookery, Sri Owen tells that the dish “probably developed out of the need to preserve the meat from a newly killed buffalo for as long as possible in a tropical climate with no refrigerators.”

Light Spicy Coconut Beef  – Rendang Daging 

The traditional methods are extremely high in coconut milk, which is a saturated fat so I have also included a slightly healthier alternative, which if full flavoured and requires less preservation. Ground candlenuts are used to thicken curries and can be substituted with macadamia nuts. Candlenuts are extremely toxic in their raw state.

1 kg rump steak – cut into cubes
2 cups water
1 Tbsp chilli powder

3 large red onion
4 cloves of garlic
3 stalk lemon grass
1 inch piece ginger
2 candle nuts
2 inch piece galangal – hit it with knife side to flatten it a bit

2 cup coconut milk
¼ cup sweet soy sauce (kecap manis)
¼ cup tamarind juice (from ½Tbsp tamarind paste)
4 bay leaves
3 kaffir lime leaves
Pinch salt
Palm sugar to taste

1. Add all ingredients (except tamarind juice) in a wok and mix well

2. Cook until meat is tender
3. Add tamarind juice and cook until the gravy dries out
4. Serve with rice or roti bread

Rendang Chicken         Serves 4
6 shallots, peeled

4 cloves garlic, peeled
4cm piece fresh turmeric peeled (or 1 tsp of ground)
4cm piece fresh galangal (or ginger) root, peeled
2 or more small red chilli
• Roughly chop before processing

4 chicken Maryland, thighs and legs, skin off

4 tbsp peanut oil
2 cinnamon sticks
3 whole star anise
10 cardamom pods
650ml coconut milk
4 lemongrass stalks
¼ cup tamarind juice extracted from ½ tablespoon tamarind paste
1 dessertspoon palm sugar
5 kaffir lime leaves, stems removed
4 long sweet red chilli

  • Combine paste ingredients in a food processor with a few tablespoons of water to process as required
  • Heat the oil in a saucepan and lightly fry the cinnamon, star anise and cardamom for 2-3 minutes stirring constantly. Add the paste and fry, always stirring, for 5 minutes
  • Add the coconut milk, lemongrass, palm sugar, kaffir lime leaves and a pinch of salt. Stir and simmer for 20 minutes uncovered
  • Add the chicken, tamarind juice and the long chillies and continue to simmer gently for an hour or so, stirring every 10 minutes, until the liquid has concentrated and sticks to the chicken pieces. Serve with steamed jasmine rice

* Blondo
When the coconut milk has simmered for a long time it becomes oily and binds with the or sediment of the spices and then release back the oil from the cooked meat.

Therapeutic Notes: Healing Properties and Remedies

Garlic (and onions) is a natural antibiotic, reducing the incidence of common colds.  Combining garlic with the dried pepper from the cayenne chilli will induce a sweating reaction, if taken at the onset of the cold.

They are warming and help to move energy throughout the body.  A garlic poultice applied topically to the inflamed area may help to alleviate arthritic pain.

Onions Allilium cepa
The onion family possesses very high quantities of sulphuric compounds (allylic sulphides), which assist in flushing out toxic waste and heavy metal deposits and the metabolism of amino acids

Dry Onions
These onions may be left in a dry place for a few weeks. Their skins should remain intact, slightly crisp to touch and without dark marks or soft spots

Shallots, Eschallots
In Australia and parts of Asia, we call small dry brown onions shallots. These milder onions are an essential ingredient in Asian Rempah

Red Onions
Also called Spanish onions, these pretty varieties come in different shapes from robust and round to small oval footballs. They have a sweet flavour, which lends itself nicely when finely sliced to a salad of orange segments

White & Brown Onions
Used in most kitchens as the foundation of many a dish, they will begin to shoot a green stem if forgotten. The white variety is much stronger, and elicit more tears

Green Onions (Spring Onions – Australia)
These onions are a welcome addition to any salad or stirfry, however some confusion surrounds them. In Australia, we know these shoots as ‘spring onions’ or ‘scallions’ but they are commonly known as shallots in the United States

Scallions, Spring Onions
Spring onions are cylindrical and approximately the same width at each end.Tea produced from spring onions is thought to soothe the sharp pain incurred from arthritis

Salad Onions
Salad onions bulbs are round and larger than those of the Spring onions are. Confused?

Leeks Allium porrum
Leeks are the sweetest of the onion family, and are very much a part of French cuisine

Chives are the smallest perennial herb belonging to the onion family



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