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Nasi Lemak, Malaysia on a plate (or banana leaf)

Passport & Plate - Nasi Lemak

Malaysia | Friday, 6 March 2015 | 5 photos

Measurements are approximate, serves 4/6 people
1hr to prepare and cook
Super easy to make
Caution: HOT!


3 cloves of garlic
2 Large red chillies, de-seeded
Small handful of small dried red chillies, soaked in water
2 Shallots, roughly chopped
2 Shallots thinly sliced into rings
1 tbsp of Shrimp paste (Vegetarian substitute: fermented soy bean paste or mushroom ketchup)
1 tbsp Tamarind paste
1 tbsp Brown sugar
2 tbsp of sunflower oil
Some coconut water or water

Coconut Rice:
1 Pandan leaf, in 4 strips and knotted (Alternative substitute: lemon grass)
1 Inch of ginger, lightly smashed with side of knife to release flavour
1 Shallot cut into four large pieces
1 Tin of coconut milk
4 cups of rice
4 cups water
Salt to taste

4 eggs, cooked according to preference
Deep fried anchovies (Vegetarian substitute: green beans or fried mushrooms)
Fried and salted peanuts (Healthy substitute: salt roasted peanuts)
Sliced cucumber (Alternative substitute of radish also works well)
Thinly sliced spring onions


How to prepare this recipe
If you don’t mind pounding away with a pestle and mortar, then place the garlic, roughly chopped shallots, dried and fresh chillies as well as the shrimp paste in the mortar and pound away till you have a rough paste. If you don't own a pestle and mortar, or simply prefer the efficiency of kitchen gadgets, then blitz the ingredients in a food processor, adding a little bit of coconut water or water as you go. You won’t get the same flavour from using a food processor, but you will still get an ass kicking sambal paste!

To add an extra deep umami flavour to the sambal, fry off some whole anchovies in some sunflower oil. Remove when plump and crisp, and save to be used as a garnish. Fry the sambal paste in the very same oil to cook off the harshness of the raw ingredients. Then add the brown sugar and tamarind paste, stirring in well. Add some coconut water or plain water if the paste seems too dry. Finally add the shallot rings. Allow the sambal to reduce on a low heat, until the colour deepens and the shallots have totally softened. Allow to cool.

Time to cook the rice. Place the rice, boiling water and coconut milk to a pan, and place on a high heat. Add the knotted pandan leaf, ginger and shallots. Salt should be added according to taste. When the rice is very nearly cooked, turn the heat off and drain thoroughly. Place the rice back in the pan and cover with a tea towel and a heavy lid. Allow to sit for 10 minuets to fluff up.

In this time, the garnishes can be prepared. Traditionally Nasi Lemak is served with either a boiled or fried egg. Garnish with cucumber, anchovies, salted peanuts and the sambal. Sprinkle some finely chopped spring onions over the top for a hint of acidity and vibrancy of colour.

Serve with Ice Milo or Honey Melon and cardamom milkshake to help counter balance the spice from the sambal. Enjoy!


The story behind this recipe
Growing up in Malaysia as a child, I used to be woken up every Sunday morning by a honking van driving up our street, with a man yelling over a megaphone: “Nasi Lemak! Old newspaper! Honk, honk, honk!” Mum would exchange newspapers she had gathered from the week for parcels of Nasi Lemak. We would sit outside in the morning sun, on the front steps of our house and eagerly unwrap the still warm banana leaves, tucking straight in with our hands. We would bear sambal-stained fingerers for the rest of the day, evidence of our few moments of pleasure.

Nasi Lemak is a national dish eaten by all, and at any time of the day. The ingredients are affordable, and perfectly reflect the diversity in the cultural heritage of Malaysia. Banana-leaf: an influence from South India, and a hygienic, biodegradable material that also saves on washing up. The sambal: epitomises nyonya cuisine, a marriage of traditional Malay flavours and Chinese techniques. Coconut-rice: the fuel of South East Asia, and a reminder that a tropical beach is never too far away!

On a recent visit back to Kuala Lumpur, I made Nasi Lemak with a good friend of mine. The sweet, spicy, and almost fruity flavours of the sambal took me back to the days of eating Nasi Lemak on the steps with my mum, although this time round the flavours and textures seemed more complex. A boiled egg turned this snack into a more substantial meal, whilst salted penults and fried anchovies added texture and a depth of flavour. A few slices of crisp, cool cucumbers and a honey melon and cardamom milkshake served as the perfect palate cooler from the fiery heat.

The following day, I chased these flavours again at a night market, served just the way I remembered; still warm and wrapped in a banana leaf. It was at this very moment I realised just how much I missed the country from which I have fond memories.

The fragrant flavours and aromas of Nasi Lemak help take me back when I miss Malaysia. Reminiscing never tasted so good!

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