"When I was still living in Malaysia and in primary school, nasi lemak is what I had for recess every day. Traditionally, these are packaged in banana leaf, but at school it was plastic-lined newspaper. I’m always amazed when I eat this dish because it shows how little you need to create mammoth amounts of flavour. It’s such a great example of traditional eating, with rice at the centre of every meal. The accompaniments are designed to be punchy and well-seasoned, so you need very little to bring the rice to life, a clever device for a humble existence." Poh Ling Yeow, Poh & Co.
- 3 cups (600 g) jasmine rice
- 10 pandan leaves, fresh or frozen (found in Asian grocers)
- 1-2 stalks lemongrass, white part only, dry outer layers removed and discarded, bashed
- 1 red eschallot, peeled and halved
- 2 x 5 mm slices of fresh ginger (skin on is fine), bashed
- 1 ½ tsp salt
- 2 tsp sugar
- ¾ cup (180 ml) coconut cream
Bits and pieces
- ¾ cup ikan bilis
- 2 cups (500 ml) vegetable oil
- banana leaves (found in Asian grocers)
- 1 continental cucumber, halved lengthways, sliced into 5 mm pieces
- ¾ cup (110 g) salted beer nuts
- 4 hard-boiled eggs
Oven temperatures are for conventional; if using fan-forced (convection), reduce the temperature by 20˚C. | We use Australian tablespoons and cups: 1 teaspoon equals 5 ml; 1 tablespoon equals 20 ml; 1 cup equals 250 ml. | All herbs are fresh (unless specified) and cups are lightly packed. | All vegetables are medium size and peeled, unless specified. | All eggs are 55-60 g, unless specified.
Soaking time overnight
You will need to begin this recipe 1 day ahead
Wash the rice then soak overnight in plenty of water. Drain for 10 minutes in a sieve.
Line a bamboo steamer or steaming pot with pandan leaves. Sprinkle the lemongrass, eschallot and ginger over the pandan leaves and position steaming vessel snuggly over a pot or wok. Combine the rice with the salt, sugar and coconut cream and pour over the aromatics. Cover and steam for 15-30 minutes or until the rice is tender. If you are using a bamboo steamer lid, place a piece of foil over the rice to help keep more steam in. An alternative to steaming is the normal absorption method (do not soak the rice for this method. Simply rinse and drain just before cooking). The grains won't be as nicely separated but you will get a more intense coconut flavour.
Preheat the oven to 180°C or 170°C fan-forced.
To fry the ikan bilis, heat the oil in a small saucepan over medium-high heat. To check if the oil is ready, drop in a few ikan bilis and if they turn golden in about 10 seconds, the oil is good to go. Fry all the ikan bilis at once until crispy and golden. Scoop out with a slotted spoon, then transfer to a sieve lined with plenty of paper towel to drain. Set aside.
For an authentic Malaysian touch, line dinner plates with banana leaves basted with vegetable oil for gloss. Divide all the ingredients into individual portions or sharing plates to have at the centre of the table.
• Nasi lemak accompaniments are very much up to you. Try eating it with kunyit fried chicken as one of the accompaniments and for a super authentic experience, eat with your hands... it's more fun and tasty!
Photograph by Randy Larcombe Photography.
Reproduced with permission from the book Same Same But Different by Poh Ling Yeow, published by ABC Books/HarperCollins Publishers Australia, 2014.