One of my favourite Malaysian dishes is sambal petai. I always order it in restaurants – it’s one of the choices that tends to get me a side-eye from the waiter, with maybe an ‘are you sure you want this?’ thrown in. I don’t know why. Despite their English name of ‘stink bean’, petai aren’t stinky and with their buttery texture and slight grassiness, they’re like a more strongly-flavoured version of British broad beans (i.e. American favas). Fresh petai are hard to come by in these parts, but when I saw the first of the season’s broad beans in the co-op, I realised that they might provide a good local alternative. My usual way with broad beans is Italian: either mashed up with pecorino, mint and olive oil or in pasta with asparagus, chilies and mozzarella. But maybe I could combine them with the embarrassingly large bag of chilies I had sitting in the fridge…

The only problem is that no matter how big a bag of broad beans you fill, what you end up with is always disappointingly paltry. This might be true with petai as well, but they’re bigger beans and the pods seem more reliably packed. With broad beans, you go home with an enormous and unruly bag of pods but by the time you’ve podded them then boiled and peeled the beans, you’re left with a harvest that’s always smaller than you anticipated. So, I knew I wasn’t going to make the version of this dish that’s almost all beans, with a little sauce and a few shrimp studded among them. Instead, I went for more of a saucy sambal, with lots of plump shrimps and the beans as a secondary element. I think if I made it again, I’d bite the bullet and buy kilos of broad beans to ensure they were the star of the show, but it was still pretty good this way.

Shrimp and broad bean sambal

  • 12 large shrimp, peeled
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • a small chunk of ginger
  • 5 shallots
  • 6 long red chilies
  • 1 tsp shrimp paste
  • 2 stalks of lemongrass
  • 1 medium tomato, chopped
  • 1 tbs palm sugar
  • 1 tbs fish sauce
  • as many broad beans as you can bear to pod

Pound the garlic, chilies, shallots, shrimp paste and ginger into a paste either in a mortar and pestle or with a mini-prep. (You can toast the shrimp paste first but I tend not to if it’s going to be cooked in a paste right after.) Boil the broad beans for a few minutes, then cool and peel.

Fry the paste in a good glug of vegetable oil for 5 minutes. Add the lemongrass whole, bashed a bit with the back of a knife, and the chopped tomato, fish sauce and sugar. Add the shrimp and stir until cooked. Take out the lemongrass. Lastly, add the broad beans and stir carefully to mix.

Serves 2.

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