A national dish of Malaysia which I as a Malaysian like so many others are proud of. There are several eatery places that I particularly love to enjoy Nasi Lemak with a wide variety of side dishes to choose from. Some of the popular side dishes are sotong sambal (squid cooked in chilli paste), beef rendang (a dry and spicy beef dish cooked with coconut milk and other spices) and deep fried chicken. Yet the most traditional type of Nasi Lemak which is wrapped with banana leaf and shaped like a cone can easily be found at stand-alone stalls or food trucks set up during rush hours on pedestrian pathways or near the train stations. I cherished the sight of office workers lining up to get a pack of Nasi Lemak before heading to their offices. Sometimes it drew me to get a pack as well. How can I resist Nasi Lemak anyway? Those days it only costs me RM1.50 to get a pack of Nasi Lemak filled with a spoonful of sambal, few slices of cucumber, a hard boiled egg, deep fried anchovies and crunchy peanuts. This is the simplest version but it is appetizing as long as it comes with a well-prepared sambal (a flavorful chilli paste made from a variety of spices).
What actually is Nasi Lemak? Nasi means ‘Rice’ and Lemak means ‘Fats’. The ‘fats’ comes from coconut milk which is used to cook the rice. It adds a subtle milky flavor that tame down the spiciness of some of the side dishes such as sambal. At the very least, this is the difference I noticed compared to eating plain white rice (without coconut milk). So, it makes sense to cook rice with coconut milk. On a side note, it is highly recommended to use Asian’s coconut milk (such as Thai’s) as it is more saturated and thick.
Living abroad, I make my own version of Nasi Lemak using ingredients that are more easily accessible to me. I have made this countless times for my cooking classes and serve to my guests who come over for dinner. It is not just good food but it spurs conversation of the diverse cultures and lifestyles in Malaysia.
Let’s get started! Here’s the ingredients in alphabetical order (Note: This is not in the sequence of how I prepare this dish but an introduction of ingredients used. Check out the recipe below for a complete detail in making this dish) :-
An overview of the ingredients
Anchovies – There are several types of anchovies that can be used depending on one’s preference. I favor the anchoviews knowns as しらすほし (shirasuhoshi) that I found in Japan as it is tiny and really crispy once deep-fried. Due to its high moisture content, the oil tend to splash constantly. So, stay a good distance away if you choose to use this type of anchovies. After deep-fired, lighlty sprinke with salt. Dont’t discard the oil yet as it can be used to deep-fry the raw peanuts.
Banana Leaves (optional) – Wash with water and use a paper towel to wipe dry the banana leaves. Use a scissor to cut into a rectangular shape. The banana leaf is used as a plate. If you prefer not to use banana leaf, use a clean plate instead.
Cucumber – Wash and peel the skin of a cucumber. Use a knife to cut into slices of approximately 0.3cm thickness.
Eggs – Place 3 – 4 eggs into the boiling water with 1/2 teaspoon of baking soda and cook for 8 minutes. I add baking soda to aid in peeling the egg shell. Trust me, it comes off rather easily. Once cooked, rinse under cold tap water to cool down. Peel the shell and cut the eggs in half.
Fried chicken wings – Prepare the ingredients to marinate the chicken wings first. Use a food processor to blend 2 stalks of lemongrass, 1 tablespoon of turmeric powder, 5 cloves of garlic, ginger of approximately 2 cm, 1/3 of a whole yellow onion, 3 counts of shallots (or 1/4 of a whole red onion) and 1 teaspoon of salt. Once blended, coat 6 – 8 chicken wings with the mixture and marinate for at least half an hour. The blended ingredients used to marinate the chicken wings
To prepare the batter for frying, mix together 1/2 cup of corn flour, 2 teaspoon of salt and 1/3 cup of water. Coat the marinated chicken wings with the batter and fry in a hot oil for 8 minutes or until cooked.
Peanuts – Use either raw or roasted. If you want a quick fix, then get a pack of roasted peanuts from the grocery store. Well, that’s what I did occassionally 😉 But homemade fried peanuts still taste better for its freshness and crunchiness. But be careful not to let it burn as it is usually cooked within 2 minutes. Dish up, drain the oil and lightly season with salt.
Sambal – There are 2 parts in making sambal : (1) First, I make the base sauce for the sambal. Use a food processor to blend 1 beefsteak tomato, 2/3 cups dried chilli, 1/3 cup dried shrimp, 1 whole peeled garlic, 0.5cm ginger, 1/2 of a whole yellow onion, 8 shallots or 1/2 of a whole red onion, 1 squeezed lime, 1/3 cup sugar and 5 tablespoon vinegar. Transfer to a pan to cook on medium heat on a stove until the juices dries up. Transfer to a clean bowl. (2) Heat up a clean frying pan on medium heat. Place in 2 tablespoon of oil and stir fry 1/4 of a whole yellow onion (sliced) until soft. Place in 4 to 6 tablespoon of base sauce, 1 teaspoon of sugar, 3 teaspoon of vinegar, 1/3 cup of water, 2 teaspoon of belacan (shrimp paste). Shrimp paste can be omitted (due to allergy or other reasons) but it enhances the taste. Saute for 3 minutes or until well-combined. The base sauce used to make sambal
Steamed Rice with coconut milk – Place 2 US cups of short, medium or long grain white rice in a rice cooker / crockpot. Wash and drain the water. Place 1 1/4 US cup of purified water, 1 1/4 US cup coconut milk, 1.5 teaspoon salt, 4 slices ginger, 2 screwpine leaves (also known as pandan leaves) tie into a knot and 1 stalk of lemongrass into the rice cooker / crockpot. Screwpine leaves can be found in Asian or Thai grocery stores. But it can be replaced with 2 drops of pandan essence which can also be found in Asian grocery stores. I like to use pandan essence as it produces a stronger pandan flavor and gives the rice a slight green color. Cook the rice based on your rice cooker /crockpot instruction. Once cooked, discard the ginger, pandan leaves and lemongrass. You might see small chunks of coconut milk on the surface of the cooked rice. Make sure the rice is cooked and use a wooden spoon to mix it well. As a general rule, the rice is usually cooked around 40 minutes but different factors may alter the cooking time. The types of rice used will influence the ratio of water and coconut milk and its absorption rate and in turn alter the cooking time. Just bear in mind that it can get tricky to cook rice with coconut milk.
It’s time to assemble!!!
Prepare 4 – 5 banana leaves or dinner plates depending on how many guests you are serving to. Scoop the rice into a small bowl and lightly press with a spatula so that it takes the shape of the bowl. Then invert it in the middle of the leaf / plate. Place 3 spoonful each of anchovies, peanuts and sambal on the side of the rice (or cover top half of banana leaf / dinner plate). Continue to place 3 slices of cucumber, hard boiled eggs and 2 chicken wings. Take a good picture and time to eat!! Eat the rice with a little bit of sambal and everything else. Enjoy with a cup of Teh Tarik!
For the recipe in pdf, click the link to get the recipe Nasi Lemak