How to Cook Malaysian-Style Nasi Lemak (Fragrant Coconut Rice)
Malaysia's National Dish
People who have traveled to Malaysia and Singapore will be familiar with nasi lemak. It is recognized as a national dish in my homeland, Malaysia. I remember when I was in elementary school, my mom cooked this delightful dish in the morning. She would pack it in my lunch box so I could eat it during recess. In fact, many schools in Malaysia serve nasi lemak in their cafeterias.
Nasi lemak, or fragrant coconut rice, is known for the aromatic smell of fresh, green pandan leaves and the light flavor of sweet and creamy coconut milk. For those who never heard of pandan leaves, they are used for coloring and flavoring in Southeast Asian cooking. After I moved to the U.S., it was quite hard to find fresh leaves. I finally found them at an Asian market, and I was excited to make nasi lemak.
Nasi lemak is served with spicy anchovies (known locally as sambal ikan bilis), fresh cucumber slices, and hard-boiled or fried eggs. Don't worry if you don't like anchovies, you can replace those with chicken or shrimp. There are always options. The best thing about this dish is that it is can be served as breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Nasi lemak is perfect comfort food for me and my husband because we love the delicious fragrant rice and the spicy sambal paste.
Let's see the full ingredients.
- 2 cups rice
- 2 pandan leaves, tied into a knot
- 2 cups diluted coconut milk
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 shallot, thinly sliced
- 1 inch ginger, thinly sliced
- 2 cups peeled anchovies, soaked in water and drained
- 10 dried chilies, soaked in warm water and drained
- 3 shallots
- 2 cloves garlic
- 1 small red onion
- 1 inch shrimp paste (optional)
- 1 tablespoon diluted tamarind juice
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- Vegetable oil, for frying
- Prepare the rice: Rinse rice twice and drain. Combine rice, coconut milk, salt, shallots, ginger, and tied pandan leaves in the rice cooker bowl. Cook rice as you would normally cook steamed rice.
- Prepare the sambal paste: In a blender, combine dried chilies, shallots, garlic, onion, shrimp paste, and some water. Blend until it makes a paste. Set aside.
- Heat oil in a wok over medium heat.
- Fry the anchovies until they become crispy and golden brown. Take the cooked anchovies out of the pan and set aside.
- Using the same wok, fry the paste until it is fragrant.
- Throw in the fried anchovies, tamarind juice, salt, and sugar. If you tasted the sambal was a little bit spicy, add some water and sugar.
- Let it simmer on a lower heat. It should be cooked when the sambal thickens.
- Serve with hard-boiled eggs and fresh cucumber slices.
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Dried anchovies are much needed Southeast Asian ingredient. They are commonly used as a garnish or as a side dish. However, dried anchovies are one of the main elements in making nasi lemak.
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