Search This Blog

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Nasi Lemak. Couldn't get any better than this!!!

In Malaysia, Nasi Lemak has been proclaimed as their national dish.  It is available almost everywhere and strangely enough, at almost any time of the day.  Traditionally it was intended as a breakfast dish, but can be eaten at lunchtime as it is still classified as an informal dish and is readily available from street hawkers.  The entire contents of Nasi Lemak are parceled neatly, enveloped in banana leaves, that makes for a handy take-away package to-go.  Well, I have not been to Malaysia yet, and until then, it's a bowl of cereal and milk for my breakfast, but Nasi Lemak has long been one of my favourite Malaysian orders - for lunch or dinner that is.   
The national dish of Malaysia is a tough act for me to take on, but being the humble foodie that I am, I give it a good crack and it has always been a winner.  The wow factor is also in the simple plating up where the use of a small bowl to create that restaurant-looking mound of rice garners some attention from awaiting diners at the dinner table - it says that this is going to be one special dish!
There are four major components that bring this tasty platter together and they all co-exist in perfect harmony.

  1. The Curry, my preference is with Beef Rendang, but chicken and seafood based curries can also feature.  These curries are usually nice and spicy.
  2. The Coconut Rice, it fills your kitchen with a wonderful aroma and is perfectly balanced with the spicy curries
  3. The Sambal, this sweet, sour and hot paste is highlighted by the fishy flavour of the dried anchovies used in making it
  4. Condiments, providing extra crunch and texture additions to culminate the dish 

Coconut Rice
This is probably what makes or breaks a good Nasi Lemak for me (that is apart from the Rendang needing to be superb).  The rice needs to be fluffy and enormously fragrant.  I use jasmine rice as it puffs up really well and it is a little more glutinous than basmati so it sticks together better - but either will do.  I highly recommend getting your hands on pandan (screwpine) leaves.  For a while these were quite hard to find but now Asian grocers have them in the frozen section.  These leaves will give your rice that ultimate authentic flavour that the Malaysians love to use, even in their desserts.  Tie each leaf into a tight knot before using as this will help to bring out the flavour and infuse the rice.  
Ingredients, to serve 5
2 cups x Jasmine rice, rinsed and drained
1½ cups x Cold Water
1 cup x Coconut Milk
3-4 x Shallots, finely diced
1-2 x Slices of Ginger, thick cut
2 x Pandan leaves, each tied into a knot
1tsp x Sugar
Salt to taste

Put all ingredients into a large non-stick pot.  
Cover with a lid and place on high heat
Bring to a boil then immediately move pot to the hob with the lowest heat
Cook the rice without removing the lid for 15 minutes
Use a fork to fluff the rice then place lid back on and cook for another 5 minutes
Remove pot from the heat and allow to stand with the lid still covered
Discard pandan leaves and ginger before serving.  

Sambal Ikan Bilis 
This is a recipe for a more traditional style sambal made with dried anchovies or Ikan Bilis. You can blend the paste ingredients in a food processor but grinding it by hand has a much better consistency - and more satisfaction for the cook.  For a hotter sambal do not remove the seeds from the chillies.
1 cup x Ikan Bilis, rinsed in cold water, then drained with paper towel
1Tbsp x Brown Sugar
Salt to taste
In a mortar and pestle grind the following to a smooth paste:
8-10 x Dried Chillies, remove seeds and soak in warm water
½ x Red Onion, finely diced, (finely slice other ½ for use later in the recipe)
2 x Garlic cloves, roughly chopped
1 Tbsp x Belachan
Shallow fry the Ikan Bilis in batches, in a skillet on medium heat, be careful not to burn the tiny dried fish
Drain on paper towels and keep aside
Reserve any remaining oil
Place skillet on medium heat again and add remaining onion slices and a sprinkle of salt
Cook the onions down to a golden brown, do not allow these to burn
Turn out the sambal mix into the skillet and stir fry for 1-2 minutes
Add the fried Ikan Bilis to the dish and fold through to combine
Add Brown Sugar and stir through
Season with Salt to taste

Other condiments
Roasted peanuts, these can be dry roasted in a fry pan
Crispy fried Ikan Bilis, when preparing the sambal reserve a small handful of these 
Boiled egg, cut in half
Cucumber, sliced

Assembling the dish
Start by filling a small round bowl with spoonfuls of rice.  Pack it down firmly and smooth out the top.Turn upside down onto a serving plate and tap to release a half sphere of rice.Now add a generous serve of the curry, be it a Beef Rendang or Chicken Curry.Next a dash of Sambal.And finally arrange the other condiments around the plate.You now have Nasi Lemak - Enjoy!!!


Cindy said...

I had a vegetarian version of nasi lemak for breakfast when I visited Malaysia 2 years ago and fell in love! I now make it at home, using flavoured pan-fried tempeh instead of the meat curry and a seafood-free sambal. I really like the look of your coconut rice, and will have to try adding pandan next time.

ngizee said...

Hi Cindy,

Thanks for your comment.

Hmmm... Vegie Nasi Lemak sounds interesting...I guess if the rice is delicious enough all you need is a little gravy to bring it together.