Monday, January 28, 2013

serundeng (spiced grated coconut)

One of the most pleasurable aspects of Asian food, for me, is the dizzying array of condiments and side dishes that often take up as much space on the dinner table, as the main dishes themselves. Like skilful use of punctuation, these little culinary accents, usually saturated with colour, flavour and texture, add just the right punch, in exactly the right places, to a meal and make it that much more memorable.

From amongst the wide range you will find in the south east Asian region, one of my favourites is serundeng, a side dish of spicy sweet and intensely aromatic fresh coconut shreds, that is unfortunately not prepared or seen as commonly these days, except around Hari Raya (Eid).

Once upon a time, no self respecting lontong seller would serve his lontong without a generous sprinkle of serundeng atop the rich and flavourful melange of rice cakes and tender vegetables stewed in spiced coconut milk. Its rich golden hue, speckled with flecks of green and red, make it as beautiful as it is delicious. I'm not certain if serundeng originates from Malaysia or Indonesia, though most believe it should be credited to Indonesia. You will find it in both countries though, as well as here in Singapore, in each case, with slight variations.

When you ask for serundeng in Singapore, you will get spiced grated coconut with either dried krill or belacan added for flavour. Some local cooks will also add minced beef, chicken or fish, though the main component remains grated coconut. A more lux version, called Serundeng Daging is made from beef, cooked long and slow, then pounded and shredded finely. The beefy shreds will then be cooked yet again with spices and coconut milk until quite dessicated and deeply infused with the spices.

In Malaysia, serundeng refers to the shredded beef version while serundeng kelapa denotes the grated coconut version. Indonesians on the other hand say serundeng when they mean spiced grated coconut (as do we) but call the beef version abon sapi. Interestingly, the Indonesians also include peanuts in the coconut version. All are delicious and well worth exploring, if you enjoy south east Asian food.

It takes some time and effort to make good serundeng but when you sniff in it's gorgeous aroma, even before you taste this ambrosial treat, any fatigue will melt away. It's also wondrously versatile and can make the simplest meal of just white rice and fried eggs or fish, unforgettable. I call it fairy dust, because everything it touches becomes culinary gold, and I will not eat lontong without it! It adds sparkle to nasi lemak, rendang, paru goreng (spicy fried beef lung) bergedel (potato croquettes) complements acar and sambal belacan, and is a heaven appointed match with glutinous rice. In Indonesia, it's also a common garnish for dishes like mee soto in addition to being a favourite topping for rice.

As it goes with so many dishes, it's really worthwhile making a large batch. In fact the amount I made for this post, lasted barely 4 days in my house. My boys pour it on EVERYTHING, and love it beaten into eggs for a serundeng omelette. It will easily keep for 2 weeks, in a dry, securely lidded container in the fridge. Always take portions with a clean dry spoon and avoid touching directly with fingers as coconut once contaminated, spoils very easily. The longer you fry the serundeng, the drier it will be and the longer it will last. To dry it out, stir continuously over gentle heat until toasty and crumbly.

If there is one 'secret' to good serundeng, it's to use fresh, skinned, unsqueezed grated coconut, still saturated with all it's natural juices and milk. Dessicated coconut, while easier to handle and much faster to cook, will produce a clearly inferior version, if you have tried one made with fresh coconut. To make it more manageable and extend it's shelf life a little, the coconut is lightly pre-roasted to dry off some of the moisture so it will be less clumpy and easier to mix with the fried spices.

In my next post, I will show you my favourite use for serundeng, and the one dish that is guaranteed to  derail any diet I try to stay on, even more so than cheesecake or anything covered in chocolate. So, I make it very infrequently as a very special treat, when I have been very, very good, or when I want to show off Singapore's culinary treasures ;)

serundeng (spiced grated coconut)

prep 35 mins        cook 25 mins        serves 15

Spice Paste

8 fresh red chillies
3 onions, peeled and cut
8 cloves garlic, peeled and cut
4 cm length fresh turmeric, peeled and cut
3 thick slices peeled galangal, thinly sliced
2 stalks lemongrass, discard coarse outer leaves and thinly slice soft, pale inner core
1 tbsp ground coriander
1 tsp ground cumin

6 tbsp dried krill, rinsed, squeezed as dry as possible
6 kaffir (makrut) lime leaves
2 slices tamarind (actually dried garcinia slices, not tamarind pod pulp)
600g (6 cups) fresh grated, skinless coconut, lightly dry roasted until light gold
1 tbsp soft brown sugar
1 tbsp red sugar
1/2 - 1 tsp salt
2 small turmeric leaves, ribs discarded, leaves finely shredded

Combine all spice paste ingredients and process or pound to a smooth paste.

Heat 5 tbsp oil in a pan or wok and when moderately hot, add the krill, lime leaves and tamarind. Fry for 3 minutes or until krill is golden and beginning to crisp.

Add the spice paste and fry, stirring constantly, until oil seeps out and the mixture is fragrant. Add the coconut, brown and red sugar and salt.

Stir continuously over moderate to low heat until coconut is evenly coloured, light and fluffy. Don't stop stirring for longer than half a minute as coconut is oily and burns very easily.

Do not cook for too long or the coconut will be too dry and grainy. If preparing as a topping for savoury snacks, leave the coconut a little moist so it will adhere and not crumble off easily. When coconut is almost done, add the shredded turmeric leaves and stir through for about 2 minutes.

Turn off heat and keep stirring until bottom of pan is no longer hot to prevent the coconut at the bottom from over browning. When cold, store in a clean, dry, air tight container and keep refrigerated until consumed.


  1. oooh, Denise .. you kill me.. I love serundeng so much, especially when you eat with ketan putih *glutinous white rice* ooooh.. heaven! I never make my own, too much work to do. *lazy me* now I more suffer after seen your pictures

    1. Hahaha! I know exactly what you mean Fitri! I think we have very similar tastes in food, by the sound of it :) It's not really easy to make serundeng, but no choice because nowadays, not so easy to buy from shops. Even the sellers are too lazy to make it LOL

  2. Wow Denise... This is very informative and great photography, as usual!

    BTW, how long can it be kept in the fridge?

    1. Thanks Chef :) Glad you found the post informative. Serundeng is a wonderful treat, but many Singaporeans are not aware of it, because it is getting rare - even Malay cooks find it too troublesome to prepare :( It will keep for at least 2 weeks in the fridge, if properly handled. If you cook it drier, until very crumbly, it can last at least twice as long. In our weather, it's best to refrigerate it, even if cooked very dry.

  3. Hey Denise,
    I was about to ask where I can get my hands on some coconut serundeng but then I read your reponse to Nisa's comment. I am disheartened to think that I might not get a chance to taste it after all.
    Willing to settle for a food court version. Does the desperation show ?!

  4. Hi Usha, your best bet to get a taste of serundeng in Singapore would be to trawl the local nasi padang stalls or stalls that sell lontong. Chances are pretty slim, but you never know, lady luck might decide to smile down on you :) I know one place you can get it, but it's a staff eatery for Changi Airport employees only. You could also try your luck at the Ramadan bazaars that dot Geylang Serai prior to Eid. Btw - the desperation would only show, if you actually decide to make this yourself ;)

  5. Hi Denise, I tried this recipe yesterday (unfortunately, with dessicated coconut because fresh one is difficult to find in France),my family and I enjoyed it very much, many thanks ! Anne

    1. Hi Anne, so happy to know that you and your family enjoyed the serundeng :) If I may offer a suggestion, you could stir some canned coconut milk into the dessicated coconut until all the coconut shreds are moist, then steam the coconut for about half an hour to rehydrate it and make it more like fresh coconut. Then use the rehydrated and steamed coconut to make the serundeng. I'm sure it will be much better than untreated dessicated coconut. If you do give it a try, do let me know how it turns out.

    2. Good idea Denise, thank you ! I'll let you know !

  6. The serunding that I ate during Hari Raya was the beef serunding but I did cook this coconut serunding once here in Minnesota. It was really tasty and I could have eaten my entire plate of rice with just the serunding alone. Yours look really good and I will have to try your recipe one of these days. It is unlikely though that I will find turmeric leaves here unless I plant it from fresh roots in the summer. :)

  7. I'm surprised to see the similarity between Sri Lankan and Malay food. We also make a similar salad called sambol (recipe in my blog) and serve with milk rice made with coconut milk.

    1. I'm not well versed in Sri Lankan cuisine, but I do know that coconut and pandan are frequently used in both Sri Lankan and Malay cooking. And of course, rice is ubiquitous in most Asian kitchens. Thanks for leaving your comment. I look forward to your future visits and input :)

  8. Hi, what is red sugar (gula tanjung)? Where can I get this from?

  9. Hi. I would like to try your recipe but i don’t think i can find krill. Is there a substitute? Can i use tamarind pulp and how much instead of slices?

  10. Very interesting to note that you add gula tanjung, turmeric leaf and using krill instead of dried shrimps. I would definitely wish to try out your serunding recipe. You are right to say that even we malays find them too much hassle to prepare a good serunding. Love your serundeng and how you presented it.


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