Sunday, 3 August 2014

Nasi Lemak

One of my favourite Malaysian foods is Nasi Lemak. What is Nasi Lemak? It's essentially a serving of Coconut Rice accompanied by Ikan Bilis Sambal, fried Peanuts, fried Ikan Bilis, slices of Cucumber and a cooked Egg. I say 'essentially' because it can on one hand be less than that or a whole lot more.

My Perfect Nasi Lemak

Malaysians eat Nasi Lemak for breakfast, lunch, dinner and supper. Next to Roti Canai, it's usually even the food of choice in the wee hours of the morning to end a long night of clubbing. Not a food defined by a time of day. Because we love our Nasi Lemak, you can find it everywhere in all shapes, sizes and tastes. 

For instance, you can have a Prawn Sambal instead of the standard Ikan Bilis Sambal, or even a Dried Squid Sambal. Would you like a boiled Egg to go with that or a fried Egg? A piece of fried Chicken, Chicken Rendang or Beef Rendang? Extra fried Peanuts and Ikan Bilis on the side or none at all? Boiled Rice or Steamed Rice - you didn't know there was a difference did you?

I hope you're getting the picture. In Nasi Lemak-land anything goes. You eat it how you like it, usually bought from your favourite stall... and yes we all have our favourite stalls. Each and every Malaysian you know will be able to tell you which Nasi Lemak is their favourite if you would only ask.  

Even the price-tag differs from stall to stall and shop to shop. The more varied you like your Nasi Lemak, the more expensive it gets. You can pick-up a small packet for RM1 at stalls or coffee shops in the morning for your breakfast, or you can order it a la carte at a local bistro for RM12.90. Then there's the RM20 whopper of a Nasi Lemak from Dome!

I love the Nasi Lemak from the lady who runs the breakfast stall across the road from the office, (most mornings I pretend she's not there and successfully brainwash myself into believing that the Weet-bix waiting for me in the office fridge is better than anything she's selling), but there are times when I succumb to greed.

Still, as much as I love her Nasi Lemak, I love mine too. One cannot have just ONE favourite you know. Where's the fun in that? 

The key to any good Nasi Lemak is the Sambal. A great Ikan Bilis Sambal is better than a poorly made Prawn Sambal. It can make or break the dish. The Sambal is crucial. 

My Ikan Bilis Sambal recipe comes from the old Domestic Science recipe book Resipi Harian. It's a pretty straightforward Sambal that I've tweaked ever-so-slightly to suit me. (Have I ever left a recipe alone? No.) My homemade perfect is just enough sweet-sour-spicy with a balance of Ikan Bilis and Red Onions.

It's not something I make often. In fact, almost hardly ever since a good Nasi Lemak is always just a stone's throw away. So most of the time I think 'Why bother?' Though sometimes, on a lazy Saturday or Sunday morning it's the perfect thing to make... and eat for lunch... comforted by the knowledge that your bed is close by for the snooze that you know will follow.

For 4 servings

Ikan Bilis Sambal
1 medium Red Onion
1 teaspoon Tamarind Paste
Salt and Sugar to taste

Sambal Paste (to blend)
1 medium Red Onion
A knob of Ginger
2 stalks of Lemongrass
2 fresh Red Chillies
6 dried Red Chillies
1 Candlenut (optional)
1cm Belacan (optional) 

Coconut Rice
2 cups of Jasmine Rice
1/4 cup of thick Coconut Milk
2 stalks of Lemongrass
A knob of Ginger

1 Cucumber, sliced
4 Boiled Eggs, halved
2 handfuls of Peanuts, fried

2 handfuls of Ikan Bilis, fried (divided)

Boiling the Eggs
Bring a saucepan of water to boil. When just coming to boil, put in the Eggs. Boil for about 10 - 15 minutes depending on how firm you like your Eggs. When done, remove saucepan from heat, drain the hot water off and fill the saucepan with cold water. Let the Eggs sit in the cold water for about 20 minutes. Then, peel the shells. Halve the Eggs, place in a dish and set aside.

Frying the Peanuts and Ikan Bilis
Heat some oil in a wok. When hot, fry the Peanuts. Once done, remove the Peanuts with a slotted spoon and place on absorbent paper to drain off the excess oil. Add a little bit more oil in the wok and do the same with the Ikan Bilis. Once both Peanuts and Ikan Bilis have been drained off oil, place half the Ikan Bilis and all of the Peanuts in a dish together. Set aside.  

Reserve the other half of fried Ikan Bilis for the Sambal.

Slicing the Cucumber
Top and tail the Cucumber. Rub the ends you have cut-off onto the cut part until you see some white foam coming off it. Do the same for the other side. Throw away the topped and tailed ends. Wash the Cucumber in clean water, and slice. Store in a container until needed.

Cooking the Sambal
Ingredients for Sambal Paste - Slice Onions, Ginger and Lemongrass. De-seed and slice fresh Red Chillies. Soak dried Red Chillies in hot water for 10 minutes, drain (reserve the water). Slice the Candlenut. Place Onions, Ginger, Lemongrass, fresh Red Chillies, Dried Chillies; Candlenut and Belacan (if using) into a blender. Add a little of the reserved water from the Dried Chillies (just enough to get the blender going) and blend until you get a paste. Pour into a dish and set aside. 

Slice Onions. Mix the Tamarind Paste with 1 tablespoon of water to make juice.

In a large wok, heat a little Oil. Fry the sliced Red Onions until slightly transparent. Add in the Sambal Paste and cook until the Sambal is fragrant and the Oil floats to the top. Add in the Tamarind juice. Mix through and cook until you see the Oil floats to the top again. Then add in the reserved fried Ikan Bilis, as well as Salt and Sugar to taste. Dish out onto a serving dish and keep warm until needed. 

Cooking the Rice
Skin and slice the Ginger. Cut-off the tops of the Lemongrass and leave the bottoms whole. Gently bruise both Ginger and Lemongrass with a mallet. Set aside. 

Wash Rice in cold water 3-4 times to get rid of excess starch. Add just enough water to come up to half one-third of your finger (see photo). Add in the Coconut Milk concentrate and mix through. Place your palm flat on top of the Rice to level it out. Place bruised Ginger and Lemongrass on top of the Rice. Cook in the rice cooker with the lid ever-so-slightly open until done. Once done, remove and discard the Ginger and Lemongrass. Let the Rice cool in the cooker for 10 minutes. Then, using a wet fork or chopstick, lightly fluff-up the grains. Dish out onto a serving dish and keep warm until needed.  

Assembling the Nasi Lemak
Place 1 or 2 scoops of Rice in the centre of a plate. Arrange the Sambal either on the side or on the Rice. Then arrange the Egg, Cucumber slices, fried Peanuts and Ikan Bilis on the side.