I’ve decided that some of my most favourite Malaysian dishes are some of the unhealthiest dishes I make. I guess that’s what makes them so tasty. But you’ll have to forgive me – my eating habits are dictated so much by the weather, and the day I made this was blustery and stormy again. (I know, I’ve already complained about the unpredictability of Auckland springtime, but this is just getting ridiculous. You’re just not supposed to wear shorts and jandals and then have to pull on trackies and socks half an hour later.) And so when it’s cold, I love to eat warming and filling dishes like this.
Nasi lemak is a popular Malaysian rice dish, made up of several components including sambal, anchovies (ikan bilis), peanuts, cucumber and egg. It may be hard for a Western palate to fathom, but it is commonly eaten for breakfast, sold by hawkers, wrapped in banana leaf packages. It is eaten at any time of day though, and I only have it for dinner really. To make it a more substantial dish, it is often served with a curry of some kind such as a rendang.
This post isn’t a recipe, but a food idea, explaining the different components I typically include in my own attempts at nasi lemak. You don’t have to include everything, but the dish all balances out nicely in terms of flavour and texture – the rice is fragrant and rich, the sambal is spicy and sweet, the peanuts and ikan bilis are crispy and salty, the boiled egg provides a creamy, bland protein and the cucumber is fresh and cooling.
Even if you aren’t keen to have a go making this dish yourself, perhaps it will shed some light if you’ve seen it on menus at Malaysian restaurants here in Auckland, but haven’t been sure what it was exactly. Definitely give it a go!
The rice is a really important part of the dish, and it’s not just steamed white rice. The rice is supposed to be flavoured with coconut and pandan leaves (though if I don’t have pandan leaves handy, I’ll still sometimes cook it with just coconut). I make it in a rice cooker, replacing at least half of the water with coconut milk, sprinkling some salt over it and then placing some pandan leaves on top. Then I just turn it on. Not difficult at all.
You want the chilli sambal to be very spicy and quite sweet. I used a basic chilli sauce I had made earlier (similar to the recipe for this chilli sauce in my char kuay teow post, except I added more shrimp paste, but you can easily buy sambal pastes from Asian supermarkets if you can’t be bothered making your own). I fried it with a sliced onion, some dried anchovies (also can be purchased from Asian markets), a bit of water and sugar. You can see from the photo that the texture is quite soft. You can, if you wish, replace the anchovies with prawns or shrimp instead. Or, you don’t have to have any seafood in it at all – you can just cook it with onion.
Your nasi lemak also needs some sliced cucumbers and egg – this can be fried, but I think it’s more commonly boiled. As well as this, you need some peanuts (apparently they are usually deep fried but I don’t bother with this – I just buy roasted salted peanuts from the supermarket and use those).
I also included some crispy ikan bilis (anchovies). Firstly, I reserve some of the anchovies before cooking the sambal. Then all I do is fry them in a bit of oil until they turn into crunchy and salty little morsels of yumminess. However, I think that this part is optional – if you don’t want it, don’t include it. The peanuts will add enough crunch.
The last component in our meal (which is the most optional part actually) was a simple Malaysian chicken and potato curry. And no, I didn’t make this from scratch – I used a good quality paste to make things easier for myself. And also as you can see from the photos, I didn’t have any banana leaves handy to make the dish look all pretty and authentic.
So to summarise, your nasi lemak is composed of most, if not all, of the following:
- rice cooked with pandan leaves and coconut
- sliced cucmbers
- egg (boiled or fried)
- crispy anchovies/ikan bilis
- chilli sambal
- you can also include a curry (such as chicken or lamb curry, or a rendang if you like), but this isn’t essential
If you want more specific details on making your own nasi lemak, check out this drool-worthy post over on Guai Shu Shu.
And if you don’t finish it all, you’ll have some delicious lunch boxes the next day!