Thursday, September 27, 2007

Nasi Lemak ('Oily Rice')

P1150333Nasi lemak, with all the trimmings including the best home-made acar and simple fried chicken wings served on a piece of banana leaf--no washing of dishes later!

Nasi lemak is Malaysia's national dish, I think. If it isn't, I'm declaring it so alongwith satay. This recipe is in response to a request from an Angie. So Angie, make sure you cook nasi lemak soon.

Nasi lemak is a breakfast dish although for me it's more for lunch or dinner because it is quite a meal. It is simple, inexpensive and VERY delicious. I usually buy rather than make it because it is easily available and cheap, at RM1.50 (US$0.44) per small packet. But most commercial nasi lemak scrimp on the ingredients (come on, a sixth of an egg??) and the rice is usually cold and lumpy. And then I found out something that totally put me off shop-bought nasi lemak. Shall I spoil it for you too?

If you, like me, only buy nasi lemak wrapped in banana leaves because it tastes so much better, then know this: snakes love banana trees! I was going to plant some pisang raja (king bananas, my favorite) but many friends warned me, because they know my greatest fear is snakes, that little green snakes live among the banana leaves! I had forgotten that when I was researching for this post last week, and was happily shoving a mouthful of nasi into my mouth when I noticed the powdery leaf (a sign that it hadn't been washed) I was eating from. I threw my lunch away.

Anyway, I made nasi lemak two days ago but it got too late for taking good pictures so I heated the leftover for lunch yesterday, made Hub (back for lunch, a luxury many of you big city folks can't have) go to a neighbor's house and cut me a banana leaf. I washed it and even thought of boiling it. We then sat down in front of the TV to eat lunch, and you know what was on? African mambas! Hub flipped to another channel at my screams, and I screamed even louder. This other channel was showing rattlesnakes! Unbelievable. Another flip brought us the Discovery channel, showing some cute penguin babies. I was totally shaken but forced myself to eat anyhow. Moral: don't eat in front of the TV.

To me, nasi lemak is only worth eating if the rice has a strong coconut milk fragrance and the sambal is good.

The sambal ingredients. I substituted kaffir lime leaves with zest from the fruit because I had the fruit but not the leaves.

Nasi Lemak

The Rice (7 to 8 servings)
5 cups uncooked rice, washed
1 large coconut, shaved finely
4 pandan leaves, roughed up and tied into two bundles

1. Add 1 cup water to the shaved coconut, 'massage' the coconut shavings well to release the milk. Squeeze coconut milk (called santan) over a sieve. Add another cup of water to the squeezed coconut shavings, do the same as before to get more milk .

2. Put rice into rice cooker, add all the coconut milk and top up with more water to your usual level of water for cooking 5 cups of rice (usually that would be at level 4 1/2). Push the pandan leaves into the rice. Some people add a bit of salt but I think it's unnecessary. Cook rice as usual.

The Sambal
10 red shallots, peeled & sliced
1 large bulb garlic, peeled
1 large bombay or brown onion, diced
20 dried chilies, soaked or use 'chili boh'*
1 large ripe tomato
1 large knob of lengkuas, in slices
5 buah keras (candlenuts)
3 T sugar (or more to taste)
salt to taste
2 T blacan (shrimp paste), toasted till slightly burnt
3 T tamarind paste + 1 cup water, mixed well
1 pc kaffir lime leaf, torn coarsely
3 T tomato sauce or paste
msg (optional)

This sambal recipe is from Selmi, maid of my friend B and one ingredient she listed was daun salam, some kind of leaf, which is something I've never seen before and couldn't find in the neighborhood market. I have included the blacan, tomato sauce and tamarind. I was unable to find daun salam so I omitted it. You can prepare the sambal and peanuts days ahead and keep them in bottles in the fridge.

1. Pound or whiz the shallots, onion, garlic, chilies, lengkuas (can be left whole), candlenuts and blacan together till fine.

2. Put 1/2 cup (or more but I don't for health reasons) oil into a wok and fry the pounded ingredients under low heat till oil seep out from the ingredients. That'll take 7 minutes at least. Add the tomatoes, tamarind juice (to your taste), tomato sauce and season with sugar and salt. You can add msg if like. Add more water if too thick. Let it cook without cover for another 10 to 15 minutes. Add lime leaf and let mixture bubble to a thick consistency.

* Chili boh is convenient and will give a nice red color to the sambal but I am wary of the words 'mengangdungi awet yang dibenar' which basically means there's additives so take your own risk.

The Ikan Bilis/Dried Anchovies
Get the medium-sized ikan bilis. Wash several times. Try one. If it's still salty, rinse or soak them a little while. You want to get rid of the 'dead salty' taste but yet keep the umami. Let ikan bilis dry on a piece of kitchen paper.
Heat 2 cups of oil in a wok till smoking, add the ikan bilis and fry over medium heat till very crispy and golden but not burnt. You can add the ikan bilis to the sambal or serve it separately.

The Peanuts
Get the uncooked unskinned peanuts. Pick them over. Wash, drain and let them dry. Add a little bit of oil to wok, add the peanuts and fry over low heat, stirring all the time, for about 5 to 8 minutes. Let them cool and sprinkle some salt over.

Other Accompaniments
Hard-boiled eggs
Cucumber slices
Fried chicken wings or meat curry


Anonymous said...

Marie: ur pic of nasi lemak looks delicious... i bet it is thousand times better than those sold outside :p...
one good thing of making our own coz we're 100% sure that the food is clean and healthy rite?
hope i will have the time to try this out soon... :):)
good job terry!

Terri @ hungerhunger said...

pics can lie!but do try it out n tell me :):)

Rasa Malaysia said...

OMG, that is the best looking nasi lemak ever! The banana leaf looks so fresh, but most of all, your nasi lemak looks absolutely delicious. :)

Terri @ hungerhunger said...

wow, coming frm m'sia's most popular food blogger, tt's so encouraging!TQ 4 giving me tips on how to take good pics (i don't know if u rmber, i asked u months ago); u r very approachable n helpful n ur blog sets a high standard for all d rest of us in m'sia!
:D d leaf was still alive!

Anonymous said...


I've used your nasi lemak pic. if u regret with it, please reply to me at

If no reply within 7 days, i thought u had no problem with it...i hope so...hehehe


p/s : sorry very poor english

terri@adailyobsession said...

anon: tt's not nice. you ask permission first. you do not take n give 7 days notice. it's very rude.

Annysse Sophiellea said...

is nasi lemak also knowned as greasy rice???? Just curious.

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