Coconut Rice with Sambal, Anchovy, Egg, Peanuts and Cucumber
(Nasi Lemak )
It’s hard not to love nasi (rice) lemak (coconut), so popular that its greatest advocates insist on calling it the country’s national dish. Growing up, I would savor nasi lemak wrapped in green banana leaves, bundled, and lined with plastic at least three times a week throughout my school years. Inside the bundle comprised warm coconut rice infused with the vanilla-like aroma of pandan leaves and citrusy ginger accompanied by a hardboiled egg, crispy fried anchovies and peanuts, a few slices of cucumber and a dollop of sambal. The flavors are still etched in my mind: every sublime spoonful was warm, creamy, crunchy, spicy-sweet and with just the right amount of sambal.
In this recipe all the side condiments can be served at room temperature and made well in advance. For instance, you can fry the peanuts and anchovies and store them in an airtight container or canning bottle. I always prepare more of these side condiments than I need as it saves time to enjoy this dish whenever I want. They bring complexity and crunch to the dish. The sambal, the key player can also be made in advance and stored in the refrigerator or freezer, then heat the portion you need in a microwave.
When all of the main preparations are done ahead of time, you are only left with cooking the coconut rice. This is important because the dish works best when the rice is served piping hot along with warm hard boiled eggs and fresh slices of cucumber. The assortment of these dishes coming together on a plate for a palate of flavor makes an evocative nasi lemak, that is sure to become a favorite.
For Coconut Rice
3 cups basmati rice
1 tablespoon salt
4 cloves of garlic, smashed
1 inch fresh ginger, peeled and thinly sliced
2 pandan leaves, tied in knot
3 cups coconut milk
1½ cups water
2/3 cup peanut or canola oil
1 cup raw peanuts with skin on
1 ½ cups dried anchovies, washed and drained
For Anchovy Sambal (Sambal Ikan Bilis)
6 tablespoons sambal ulek
4 cloves of garlic
1 inch fresh ginger, peeled and sliced
4 shallots, peeled and cut into half
6 tablespoons peanut oil
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon sugar
½ medium onion, thinly sliced
3 tablespoons tamarind water (page 000) or 2 tablespoons tamarind liquid concentrate
½ small cucumber, washed and sliced
4 hard boiled eggs, cut into half
6 (12″ x 9″) banana leaves, cleaned
1. Wash the rice by gently rubbing it with your fingers in a bowl filled with water. When the water becomes cloudy, drain the water and repeat the process until the water is clear.
2. Place the rice in a large saucepan then add salt, garlic, ginger, pandan leaf, coconut milk and water over medium heat. Let the rice boil uncovered until steam holes appear in the rice and the surface look dry, 10 minutes. Reduce the heat to low, cover with a tight fitting lid, and cook without stirring, for 20 minutes, or until all the coconut milk is absorbed and the grains are tender and fluffy. Alternatively put all the ingredients into a rice cooker and cook until done. When the rice is done, discard the garlic, ginger and pandan leaves and stir the rice. Meanwhile prepare the peanuts.
3. Heat oil in a wok or skillet over medium-low heat. When the oil shimmers, add the raw peanuts and cook until the peanuts turn brown, for about 5 minutes. Drain the peanuts with a slotted spoon and place on a paper towel. Set aside.
4. Next carefully add the dried anchovies into the same wok or skillet and stir-fry moving the anchovies back and forth until golden brown and crispy, about 7 minutes. Drain the anchovies with a slotted spoon and place on a piece of paper towel. Set aside. Discard the oil. Keep half aside for serving with rice and half will go into the sambal.
5. Prepare the sambal by blending the sambal olek, garlic, ginger, and shallots with ¼ cup water in a blender into a smooth paste resembling the consistency of apple sauce. Set aside.
6. Heat oil in a wok or skillet over medium heat. When the oil is hot add the sambal paste, salt and sugar and stir fry the sambal until fragrant and the oils separate on the surface, about 10 minutes. Add in the sliced onion and cook for another 5 minutes until the onions become soft.
7. Add the tamarind water and half cup of water and mix well to combine with the paste. Now add in only half the crispy anchovies (keep half for serving with rice) and allow to cook for 5 minutes in the sambal. Taste the sambal, add more sugar and salt if needed to balance a sweet salty taste. Turn off the heat.
8. To serve, line each person’s plate with a banana leaf. Place about 1 cup of the cooked coconut rice in the middle of the leaf. Put about three tablespoons of the anchovy sambal mixture on top of the rice. Place a few sliced cucumbers, half of a hard-boiled egg on the side and finally one tablespoon of the peanuts and fried anchovies around the rice. Serve warm.