Opor, a dish from central Java, is usually described as a white curry, which somehow does not do justice to its dreamy and alluring flavour of galangal, ginger and lemongrass combined with mild green chillies. For me, opor is the quintessential Javanese dish: subtle, creamy and aromatic. In this modern interpretation I have selected scallops to partner tofu to create what I think is a supremely elegant curry. It’s the kind of meal to serve your girlfriends for lunch on a day when you have plenty of time and loads to chat and giggle about – alongside some free-flowing bubbly of course!

8 scallops
1 teaspoon wet tamarind pulp dissolved by hand in 2 tablespoons water, strained
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 lemongrass stalks, bruised and tied together in a loose knot
3 salam leaves
3 kaffir lime leaves
100 g tofu, cut to a size to match the scallops
250 ml coconut milk
2 tablespoons fried shallots
2 teaspoons grated palm sugar
sea salt
steamed rice

Spice paste
5 candlenuts
3 teaspoons coriander seeds
½ teaspoon cumin seeds
½ teaspoon white peppercorns
3 red shallots, roughly chopped
4 garlic cloves
2 long green chillies, seeded and roughly chopped
2 small green chillies, roughly chopped
3 tablespoons chopped galangal
1 tablespoon chopped ginger
slice of shrimp paste equivalent to ½ teaspoon

Mix the scallops with the tamarind water and set aside to marinate. (The tamarind tenderises the scallops and takes away any fishy flavour.) Put the spice paste ingredients into a large mortar and pound to a smooth paste. (Alternatively use a blender or food processor, adding a splash of water to get the mixture moving if needed.)
Heat the oil in a wok over medium heat and fry the spice paste for 30 seconds. Add the lemongrass, salam leaves and lime leaves and fry for another 20 seconds, or until glossy and fragrant. Strain the scallops (reserving the tamarind water) and throw them into the wok. Toss around until seared, then add the tofu and toss gently for a few more seconds. Add the tamarind
water, coconut milk, fried shallots, palm sugar and some salt
and simmer gently for a minute, or until slightly thickened. Taste
for seasoning and serve with steamed rice.

Serves 4

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