Chunks of tender meat infused with the flavour of aromatic spices come to mind when thinking about rendang.
Can the dish be just as good made with mock meat?
Madam Rusnah Sajee's vegetarian version of the dish might well convince sceptics.
She uses mock mutton from the brand Tian Xin Su Shi Bao Dian, which tastes just like very tender beef.
The "meat" is made with mushrooms and other ingredients such as vegetable oil and spices. It can be ordered online (www.tianxin.com.sg) or bought at its shop at Block 123 Hougang Avenue 1. Alternatively, use other mock meat options.
The 57-year-old housewife says: "The mock mutton is quite soft, so you don't have to cook it for so long. Cooking mutton rendang can take about two hours and beef rendang can take up to three hours for the meat to become soft."
If mock meat is not your thing, her solid rempah base can also be used to cook the real thing. She adds a considerable amount of sugar and salt as the mock meat can be on the bland side, but it can be adjusted to taste.
The avid cook, who has more than 20 years of experience in the kitchen, used to cook for Malay weddings, making meals for more than 1,000 people at a time. She created the vegetarian rendang for customers who do not eat meat.
"I've had people ask me why the beef rendang is so tender," she chuckles.
"They don't realise that they are not eating meat."
She will be sharing her vegetarian "mutton" rendang recipe at O.P.E.N. Kitchens, which is part of the ongoing Singapore International Festival of Arts.
The interactive series of events, hosted by home cooks, is inspired by Lebanese culinary activist Kamal Mouzawak's Make Food Not War philosophy, where the power of food - the eating and cooking of it - brings people together.
O.P.E.N. Kitchens runs until July 30 and Madam Rusnah's session is on Friday at 6.30pm in Ang Mo Kio Avenue 6.
She and her friend, Madam Nurhasana Kamaruzaman, 30, will also teach recipes for sambal goreng, begedil (deep-fried potato patties) and agar agar.
Madam Rusnah is also a baker with Bakers Beyond, a baking project under voluntary welfare organisation Beyond Social Services.
The single mother of four children aged 21 to 34 has five grandchildren aged 10 months to 18 years old.
The containers of Hari Raya goodies on her kitchen shelves and tables are all homemade by the talented baker.
Her specialities are makmur (traditional Malay cookie made with butter, ghee and flour) and chocolate-coated Almond London cookies.
Upon request, she has also made green tea cookies, which she admits she is not fond of.
"I didn't really like the flavour, but since other people liked it, I made it anyway."
While Madam Rusnah is no stranger to satisfying people with her cooking, it turns out that the toughest people to please are her own children and grandchildren.
She laughs when told they are fortunate to be able to enjoy her cooking every day and points out that one of her grandsons is cooking instant noodles in the kitchen.
She says: "The only meat they want to eat is chicken. So if it's chicken biryani, chicken curry, chicken kecap pedas (chicken in spicy sweet soya sauce) or chicken belado (Padang-style chilli fried chicken) - no problem. If I cook anything else, they are not interested."
Her creative streak does not stop at food.
She has honed her sewing skills as a looms artisan under social enterprise The Looms Workshop for the past two years. The Looms Workshop provides education and employment for women from low-income families.
She sews bags, pouches as well as clothes for children up to seven years old. Other craft items she makes include photo frames and key chains.
Madam Rusnah, who is also looking to learn the art of flower arranging, says: "Being busy keeps me in good health and although I focus more on cooking and baking, I'm happy to try new things."
We have been experiencing some problems with subscriber log-ins and apologise for the inconvenience caused. Until we resolve the issues, subscribers need not log in to access ST Digital articles. But a log-in is still required for our PDFs.