Nonya Vegetable Curry: A Cuisine Steeped in History


No more than five weeks ago, although it feels way longer than that, I hosted the renowned Singaporean chef, entrepreneur, and cookbook author Shermay Lee in my kitchen.

For a few hours, Shermay and I had the most interesting time cooking and chatting about her extraordinary culinary journey and the professional detour that she opted for.

For the full interview, watch the video here 

From an auspicious corporate career in finance to culinary entrepreneurship and cookbook writing, Shermay decided to fearlessly pursue her passion and leverage her college degree to become an influential food persona and super-achiever entrepreneur in Singapore.

Her business acumen is constantly paired with genuine loyalty to her family’s Peranakan food heritage— “Peranakan cuisine comes from the Peranakans, descendants of early Chinese migrants who settled in Penang, Malacca, Singapore, and Indonesia. The cuisine combines Chinese, Malay, and other influences”, Shermay explains to me.  

Along her prolific culinary journey, she hasn’t strayed away from her grandma’s Peranakan recipes that she embraced dearly as her most invaluable childhood memories.

For a taste of her deep-rooted food heritage, Shermay guided me through the steps of making her Grandma’s Vegetable Curry, using Shermay’s organic products. (Find the recipe below).

Shermays’ example as a woman who decided to blaze her trail in a predominantly masculine career was initially the core theme of this post, yet Shermay surprised me with a new brave business move that flipped my post theme on its head.

She launched the initiative “Save Our Food Crafters”  #savefnbsg. Her initiative aims at sheltering small food business owners who are painfully hit by the disruptions of COVID-19. And while many mega grocery stores stopped their delivery service, Shermay embarked on a new business adventure, with a few food crafters on board, offering to take grocery orders and deliver to consumers door steps.

The proceeds of food orders made on go directly to the food crafters and the ecosystem they support in Singapore.

Shermay couldn’t find a better time to pay back Singapore, the island that endowed her a splendid platform, an avid market, and sophisticated foodie clientele to thrive as a food maven.

Entrepreneur in need is an entrepreneur indeed.

Peranakan Vegetable Curry

Recipe by Shermay Lee

Serves 4-6 people


  • 1/2 packet (50g) of Shermay’s Nonya Curry Powder 
  • 50ml water
  • 2 small shallots or onions
  • 2 slices mature ginger
  • 2 cloves garlic or 1 rounded tablespoon Shermay’s Ginger Garlic Sauce
  • 2 tablespoon oil, for frying

  • 1 whole big white or red onion, coarsely chopped

  • 500ml coconut cream or milk
  • 1-1.2kg mixed local vegetables (carrots, potatoes, cauliflower, broccoli, long beans or French beans, lady fingers, corn, tomatoes, etc)
  • 200gm firm tofu and/or tempeh (fermented soya bean cake)
  • 1-2 teaspoons salt, to taste


  1.  Make the curry paste:In a small bowl, empty half of the pouch of curry powder, then add just enough water to form a paste. Set it aside to let the dry spice absorb the liquid.
  2.  Pound the aromatics: Peel and discard the skins of the aromatics (shallots, ginger and garlic). Pound or blend into a coarse paste or add Shermay’s Ginger Garlic Sauce to the curry paste.
  3.  Stir-fry the onion: Peel and slice a big white or red onion. In a wok or pot, add a little oil, then stir-fry over medium heat until light golden brown.
  4. Add the curry paste: Add the paste to the fried onions, stir-fry until the aroma releases and the colour changes over low-medium heat. Add a little more oil, if necessary.

  5.  Add the coconut cream then vegetables: Increase the heat to medium-high, slowly pour in the coconut cream while stirring to ensure an even gravy, then the vegetables. Once it hits boiling (i.e. the gravy bubbles), quickly lower it to a simmer. Let it simmer for 15-20 minutes, depending on the size of the vegetables. Add the tofu and tomatoes last so that they retains their shape.

  6. Adjust the seasoning: Add salt and pepper if need.
  7. Serve hot with white rice, brown rice, or quinoa on the side.


* The more the variety of vegetables, the more texture and flavour your curry will have. The more colour you have in your dish, the more diversity of antioxidants, vitamins and minerals as well.

* Do use up leftover vegetables in your kitchen to reduce food wastage.

* It is better to fry your vegetables a little before adding the coconut milk. The very simplified version is to make the curry paste, slowly add the coconut cream while stirring (to make a lump-free gravy), then add all the vegetables and simmer.

* If using tempeh (fermented soybeans), dice then fry the tempeh until light or dark golden brown, before adding.

* Use firm tofu which is meant for stewing, it retains its shape. (Soft tofu is generally for steamed recipes and desserts).

* Add water or more coconut milk if the gravy is too thick.

* This recipe is just a guide, you can add the amount of curry paste, coconut cream or milk, type and quantity of vegetables, as you wish!



Posted by

Former diplomat | Travel & Food Writer | Stauch advocate of Culinary Diplomacy. Find more here:

2 thoughts on “Nonya Vegetable Curry: A Cuisine Steeped in History

Leave a Reply