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Galangal (Recipe: chicken curry, Lombok style)


When I needed to replenish my supply of galangal a few weeks ago, Ted offered to pick some up at the local Chinese market near his office.

Galanga, galangaal, galingale. Lengkuas. Lao. Kha.

With so many names, it must be a fairly common ingredient, yes?

Yes, in Thai, Malaysian, Vietnamese, Indonesian, Laotian and Cambodian cuisines.

But in China, not so much.

Ted couldn't find the dried slices, but he did find a jar of powdered galangal buried on the spice shelf. When he brushed the dust off, he noticed the expiration date — August, 2003. (Thank goodness for expiration dating!)

So, it was off to our favorite Asian grocery that carries products from many cultures and cuisines, where he bought not only galangal powder, but the fresh root as well.

I live in a small town without an Asian grocer, so I keep galangal powder or dried galangal slices in my pantry. (You can store fresh galangal root in the freezer, though, honestly, I never remember to do that and any leftover usually turns googly on the countertop.)

Galangal is a rhizome — actually, a family of roots related to ginger. There are two main varieties: greater and lesser. Greater galangal, known as laos, is native to Java and popular in Indonesian and Malaysian cooking, as well as in parts of India; it's gingery and mildly pungent. Lesser, known as kencur, is native to parts of China (though it's not used in the cooking there), India, and the rest of Southeast Asia; of the two, lesser is more, as in more spicy and peppery.

Fresh or dried galangal, which tastes like a less-pungent version of powdered ginger, is an essential component in beef rendang, soup, curry — and, occasionally, something as out-of-the-box as these truffles. Purists will tell you to never-ever use dried galangal for fresh, just as you wouldn't substitute dried coriander for fresh cilantro, because they are different animals entirely.

Since moving to the country, with a more limited supply of pantry products available (more than compensated by an abundance of farm-fresh produce), I've learned to never say never. In many recipes, you can substitute a combination of fresh ginger root and a bit of dried galangal to simulate the taste and texture of fresh galangal root.

Chicken curry, Lombok style

Adapted from Maddhur Jaffrey's A Taste of the Far East. Can be made ahead and refrigerated, so it’s a great party dish. Let the cans of coconut milk sit on the counter undisturbed for 30 minutes or more, to make sure the milk and "cream" separate. Serve this curry with rice colored with a bit of turmeric or saffron, for a beautiful presentation. Serves 8-12; can be halved.


2 red bell peppers, seeded and coarsely chopped
6 fresh long hot red chilies, seeds and ribs removed, coarsely chopped, or 2 tsp cayenne
2-inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and coarsely chopped
12 raw cashew nuts
2 large onions (or 12-14 shallots), coarsely chopped
8-10 cloves garlic, peeled
1 tsp shrimp paste or anchovy paste
1 tsp cumin seeds
2 tsp whole black peppercorns
8 good-sized slices of dried galangal, or 2-3 tsp galangal powder
8 whole cloves
2-inch cinnamon stick
2 14-oz cans coconut milk (do not shake the cans)
3/4 cup vegetable oil
7 lbs chicken thighs
1 Tbsp salt


Put the red pepper, chiles, ginger, cashews, shallots or onion, garlic and shrimp paste into a blender, and blend to a smooth paste, adding a tiny bit of water if needed.  Leave it in the blender container.

Put the cumin seeds, peppercorns, galangal, cloves and cinnamon into the spice grinder, and grind until fine. Put this powder into the blender and whir for a few seconds to mix. (This paste may be made ahead of time and frozen; defrost thoroughly before using.)

Open the cans of coconut milk WITHOUT shaking them. Spoon off the cream at the top and set aside. Pour the remaining milk into a measuring cup; add water to make 3 cups total.

Heat oil in a wok or nonstick pan (or cook in two pans if necessary). When hot, put in the curry paste from the blender. Stir fry 6-8 minutes or until the paste is dark red and quite reduced. Add chicken pieces and salt. Stir fry for another 2-3 minutes. Now put in the thinned coconut milk and bring to a boil. Cover, lower the heat, and simmer gently for 30 minutes. Uncover and cook on medium heat for 5-10 minutes. Turn the heat off.

Spoon off most of the oil that will have risen to the top. Stir in the coconut cream and mix well. Heat through gently. Serve, garnished with additional chiles.

[Printer-friendly recipe.]

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Dried galangal is unfortunately pretty weak in flavor compared to the raw root. Here in the UK we have started to get jars of crushed galangal - much like the crushed garlic or ginger that's available, which I use out of sheer laziness; it has a lot more flavor.

I've never seen the powder! - sounds strange....

Galangal surely is elusive, but worth the effort to hunt down. Substitutes work just fine (I use them enough), but once you actually have the exact ingredient, no matter what it is, there's this "AHA" moment when you taste it. You know exactly what the purists are talking about.

This is something I haven't used. I once had a jar of the dried stuff from Penzeys, but I think I eventually threw it away after never using it. Then I made a Thai soup and wondered if ginger could be substituted. Pim was kind enough to comment and say, no ginger isn't really a substitute, but if tastes good to you, then who cares. But I love the sounds of the dishes you've linked to as well as your recipe here, so it's going on my (ever-growing) list of "things to learn more about and try." Thanks!

Well the time I remembered to store my galangal in the freezer, it stayed there petrified and googly! and how funny I just pulled out my Madhur Jaffrey book for this week's inspiration...

I froze fresh galangal and it keeps fine in the freezer. I totally adore it, and for me nothing can substitute for the fresh root. But I have heard that the galangal in brine works well, too. The recipe for Opor Manuk sounds absolutely yummy. I have soft spot for curry like these.

I always keep dried ingredients just in case I am not lucky enough to get the fresh exotic ones from the Asian stores here in Panama City. But, the truth is that nothing compares to the fresh ones :)

Thank you for the link!

I have some dried galangal that I have yet to use but your recipe is tempting me!!

I've seen so many recipes with galangal on the Discovery Food and Travel that I'm so curious about it, Lydia!
I could only expect you to have it in your amazing pantry. :)

well I'll be a monkey's uncle! I never knew you could get dried galangal, let alone powdered galangal!
You know, this is one ingredient I've never been able to find in NYC. I guess I might not actually know what it looks like. thanks for the info Lydia!

I was not at all aware of galangal (and might have been challenged in trying to spell it!) Once again, you've taught me something new!

I really enjoyed this post Lydia, Galangal is new to me! The more I read your site the more curious I am about what your pantry looks like. I bet your collection of ingredients is amazing.

Hello Lydia!
You're right, I'm Chinese born Mauritian but we've never used Galangal before. But we do consume lots of ginger, pickled ones too, at home. This curry sounds utterly spicy & exciting to me:)

I'm so glad you posted this when you did, so timely! On a very recent trip to Bangkok I acquired some dried galangal because most of the Thai recipes call for it. But I had never used it before (and still haven't) so I don't know much about it. Well, that is until now, thanks to you. :)

Paul, you're lucky to find crushed galangal. I've not seen it in my markets here, but that would be a much better substitute for fresh. Powdered is a last resort, but it's always in my pantry, just in case.

Susan, you are so right. I'm trying to think of dishes made with substitutes as completely new dishes, so that I don't do quite so much comparison (fresh beats dried every time).

Kalyn, it's always about taste, isn't it? Fresh, dried, frozen, or ginger instead, whatever works for you is the right thing to use. Nice to know that our beloved Penzeys sells galangal!

Callipygia, Maddhur Jaffrey uses lots of galangal in her cooking. I love that about her recipes.

Anh, do you have any secrets for how to store galangal in the freezer? Mine never seems to hold up.

Melissa, same here. Dried is better than nothing, and fresh is better than dried.

Freya, go for it!

Link, it will be a wonderful journey indeed! This is one of those ingredients that really isn't like anything else, and yet it is....

Patricia, I'll have to look at those web sites and see if the recipes are posted!

Ann, our large Asian supermarket in Boston has an amazing variety of products -- even more than The Perfect Pantry!!!

TW, given that there are seemingly infinite ways to spell this and different names for it, I can imagine it was tough! See Kalyn's comment above -- penzeys.com seems to carry it, powdered and in slices.

Ari, thank you. I'm actually going to be interviewed on Culinate soon, and I talk about my pantry. But I will post photos soon, I promise.

Valentina, galangal and and pickled ginger, both wonderful, are so different. If you can't get fresh galangal locally, I'd be happy to send you some dried (powdered or slices).

Christine, I'm always envious of your travels! Dried galangal is good for making pastes and spice mixes.

Lydia, I'm not an expert but I simply pat dry the galangal then put it to the freezer without a plastic bag. When it's frozen, it keeps for a while (at least more than a month here). One thing though, do not defrost it for a long time. When I need to use galangal, I get it out of the freezer just prior to cooking and run through hot water to soften it a little then slice or pound it and cook straightaway. I store ginger this way too and it seems to work fine.

I just bought some powdered galangal at of all places, the 99 cent store! I'm in California. It was curiously interesting and for 99 cents I though what the heck! I was looking for recipes for it and that's how I found this site. I'll be back for sure.

I bought some powdered galangal in Holland and I love it. I also use the fresh kind when making curry pastes, but this little jar of powdered (the greater kind I believe) has really spiced up my life. I recently moved out to the countryside (to the Fontainebleau forest) and while yes the abundance of farm fresh produce and good meat is fantastic, I still go all the way back to the Asian grocery stores in Paris, but sometimes I just want a curry without the day trip.

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