Coconut Rice

Nasi Lemak (Malaysian Coconut Rice)

 

It perhaps goes without saying, but we Asians do love our rice. From fried to steamed, fermented to ground; we work everyday miracles from this most humble grain.

Naturally my native Malaysia is no exception; in fact, in addition to an array of odes to rice, we have even concocted rice dishes of every colour and hue, covering the spectrum from a mellow yellow all the way to an alarming blue. The variety and choice are, frankly, dizzying. Nevertheless, ask a Malaysian what their favourite rice dish is and the most likely answer would be – nasi lemak!

Most commonly associated with breakfast, nasi lemak is arguably the nation’s favourite way to start the day. Fragrant with heady aromatics such as pandan leaf, this coconut enriched rice is the perfect soothing foil to the spicy condiments which are traditionally served alongside it.

At its most basic, nasi lemak bungkus (take-away) comes portioned into small mounds of rice, which are then topped with either a prawn, egg, or ikan bilis (dried anchovy), sambal. Each portion is then expertly wrapped up in a banana leaf and magicked into a three-sided dome – making for the ultimate Malaysian breakfast on-the-go. Aside from its simplistic bungkus variety, nasi lemak can also be an altogether extravagant affair. Served up each morning to queues of customers, a good nasi lemak place comes with a multitude of side dishes, from the classic beef rendang to assam prawns, and almost everything else in-between!

Regardless of the side dishes available, nasi lemak is almost always served with half a boiled egg, sliced cucumber, crunchy peanuts and a generous dollop of sambal goreng.

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Nasi Lemak with the basics: sambal goreng, peanuts, boiled egg & sliced cucumber

Substitutes: Pandan is scarce outside Asia, and although it can be found in some major cities around the world, it is still not widely available to most of us. In the absence of fresh pandan, there are “essences” you can use instead – at a push these are actually fine, though fresh is always best. Unfortunately there is no substitute for pandan, so if you can’t source either, but still want to make nasi lemak, please do. Just omit the pandan altogether and use the galangal and lemongrass instead.

Note: In this post I’m focusing solely on the basic nasi lemak recipe, but if you would like to know more about what else to serve nasi lemak with, please follow the links to my recommendations at the end of the recipe.

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Thai Candied Pork (Moo Wan), Green Papaya Salad (Som Tam) & Coconut Rice

There are some dishes that are just meant to be eaten together, their combined flavours amounting to something akin to culinary kismet – this is such a meal. Eaten on its own Moo Wan is almost unpalatably sweet, but when served with som tam (green papaya salad) the results are nothing short of stellar! Add coconut rice to the mix and you simply have heaven-on-a-plate.

imageAs with so many Thai classics, the key to the success of the overall meal is the balance each individual element strikes when combined. The sweet moo wan counters the tang of the salad, the coconut rice envelopes the fierce chilli kick of the som tam, whilst the salad adds texture and bite; every element has its own role to play in creating the perfect balance, resulting in an almost perfect Thai meal.

Whilst the idea of making the three separate dishes for this meal may seem daunting, the truth is that individually they are actually pretty easy. The trick to preparing multiple dishes for any Asian meal is preparation and timing. The moo wan will keep in the fridge for a good few days, so I would make this in advance if possible. You should start cooking the coconut rice at least 40 to 50 minutes before serving, as it will benefit from being allowed to stand for half an hour after cooking. The som tam must be prepared just before serving, so I recommend prepping your ingredients in advance. However, the papaya should only be shredded just before using. To find out how to make som tam (green papaya salad), please click here to find the recipe.

For more delicious Thai recipes please click here, or if you need tips on stocking your Thai Pantry please click here.

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