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It’s way too easy to fall in love with the Malaysian dish Nasi Lemak, a coconutty rice bowl topped with crispy-crunchy crumbles of teeny little fried anchovies dressed in a sweet-spicy sambal. This recipe is from Kopitiam in New York, No. 6 on 2019’s Hot Ten list. Look for the smallest dried anchovies (ikan bilis) you can find: They’re known for their superior flavor and texture. We’ve provided a few options for dried chiles below, but any thumb-size red chile you can find at an Asian market will get the job done.
Sambal Ikan Bilis
- 3½ oz. dried paper lantern chiles, dried bird chiles, or dried chiles de árbol
- ½ cup red-skin Spanish peanuts
- 2½ cups small dried anchovies
- 2 medium shallots, halved
- 2 Holland chiles, stems removed, halved lengthwise
- 1½ tsp. tamarind concentrate
Rice and Assembly
- 3 pandan leaves (optional)
- ½ cup light unsweetened coconut milk
- ½ English hothouse cucumber, cut in half lengthwise, thinly sliced crosswise
- Paper lantern chiles can be found at Asian markets and themalamarket.com. Tamarind concentrate, often labeled “concentrate cooking tamarind,” can be found at Asian and Thai markets.
Sambal Ikan Bilis
Chop paper lantern chiles into ½" pieces, discarding most of the seeds that fall out. Place in a small bowl and pour in boiling water to cover. Let sit 30 minutes to soften, then drain.
Meanwhile, bring oil and peanuts to a gentle simmer in a small saucepan over medium heat; cook, adjusting heat as needed, until peanuts are golden brown, 6–8 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer nuts to paper towels to drain; set aside for serving. Immediately add anchovies to oil and cook until golden brown and crisp, about 2 minutes. Transfer to fresh paper towels; let cool. Set ¼ cup oil aside.
Pulse shallots, garlic, and ¼ cup fried anchovies (save remaining anchovies for serving) in a food processor until a smooth paste forms. Transfer to a medium bowl. Add paper lantern and Holland chiles to food processor (no need to clean) and pulse until very smooth and no visible pieces of dried chile remain. Transfer chile purée to a small bowl.
Heat reserved oil in a medium skillet over medium-high until shimmering. Add shallot mixture and cook, stirring, until slightly darkened in color and fragrant, about 2 minutes. Mix in chile purée and cook, stirring often, until it starts to stick to bottom of skillet, about 3 minutes. Reduce heat to low. Add sugar, tamarind concentrate, and ¼ cup water and cook, stirring often, until sambal is much darker in color and thickened, 25–35 minutes.
Do Ahead: Sambal ikan bilis can be made 1 week ahead. Let cool; cover and chill.
Rice and Assembly
Place rice in a medium saucepan and pour in cold water to cover; swirl with your hands to rinse away some of the starch. Drain and repeat process 2 more times. Water should be just slightly cloudy at this point. Place rinsed rice back into saucepan and cover with 2½ cups cold water; stir in salt. Gather pandan leaves (if using) together and tie into a knot; add to pan. Bring rice to a simmer over medium-high heat. Cover pan and reduce heat to low; cook 18 minutes. Remove lid and stir in coconut milk. Cover, remove from heat, and let sit 5 minutes.
Meanwhile, bring a small saucepan of water to a boil. Carefully lower eggs into water. Cook 10 minutes, then transfer to a bowl of ice water and let cool. Peel eggs and cut in half lengthwise.
Combine sambal ikan bilis, reserved fried peanuts, and reserved fried anchovies in a medium bowl and toss to evenly coat. Scoop a generous ½ cup sambal mixture into a 12-oz. bowl. Top with 1½ cups rice and pack into bowl with a rubber spatula to compress. The bowl should be filled to the rim. Place a slightly larger bowl upside down over bowl of rice. Invert so larger bowl is now on the bottom; lift off smaller bowl. You should have a dome of rice and anchovy mixture nestled in the center of the larger bowl. Arrange 8 cucumber slices around rice dome, overlapping slightly to make a semicircle. Add 2 egg halves to side of rice with no cucumber slices; season yolks lightly with soy sauce. Repeat with remaining rice, sambal mixture, cucumbers, and eggs to make 3 more bowls.
Nasi Lemak – Malaysian Coconut Milk Rice Recipe
Nasi Lemak is undoubtedly the national dish that represents Malaysia and most probably the most popular traditional dish in Malaysia, to locals and foreigners alike. It is one dish that binds everyone together, despite the wide diversity of cultures and cuisines in Malaysia.
Nasi lemak literally means ‘rice’ and ‘fat’. However, the ‘fat’ refers to the creaminess of the coconut milk which is used in cooking the rice. It is a very popular dish that is widely available at roadside stalls, markets, food courts in shopping malls and even in 5 stars hotels throughout Malaysia. It is highly popular in Singapore and Brunei too. Nasi lemak is also pre-packed and sold at ‘Mamak’ eateries too. The fragrance of this dish comes from the pandan leaves and the rice which is infused with coconut milk.
A truly remarkable Nasi Lemak (Coconut Milk Rice) is not to be taken lightly. It constitutes of good quality rice cooked in rich and creamy coconut milk with screw pine leaves infused during the cooking process. This is key to create the best flavours and texture in the nasi lemak rice. Hence, much effort is required to prepare this legendary dish.
Basic plate of nasi lemak
A basic plate of nasi lemak consists of coconut milk rice, ‘sambal’, fried anchovies, slices of cucumber and a slice of fried or hard boiled egg. Additionally, curry chicken, squids sambal, fried fish or chicken rendang may be added. The list could go on according to individual preferences. It is actually a wholesome meal by itself and often eaten throughout the day. Of course, do not forget the cup of teh tarik as it complements the dish fantastically.
Nasi Lemak - Recipes
Nasi Lemak Recipe (Part 4) - Coconut Milk Rice
Despite the broad diversity of cultures and cuisines in Malaysia, there is one dish that binds us all - Nasi Lemak.
But nasi lemak is more than a dish to me, it is a part of my family history.
First and foremost, you need the right amount of coconut milk. Too much or too little will make a world of difference. Then, the Southeast Asian beloved spice - pandan (screw-pine leaves). Distinct, almondy, milky sweet with a tinge of fresh floral notes, the leaves are commonly paired with coconut milk for many delightful Southeast Asian sweet & savory creations.
Most nasi lemak recipes stop here, but my grandparents’ formula features a few more surprises - fresh ginger, cardomom pods , cloves 丁香, and star anise . These spices, along with coconut milk and pandan leaves, are thrown into the rice before cooking.
But as my grandma and mom taught me, hard work always pays off, and no more so, than in making nasi lemak.
Grandpa & Grandma's Nasi Lemak Recipe
Part 4 - Coconut Milk Rice by Season with Spice
Serves 4 hungry stomachs
2 cups of rice - Thai fragrant rice or basmati rice
3 cups water
1 cup coconut milk
6 pandan leaves (screwpines), tied into a knot.
3 thin slices of fresh ginger or cut into matchsticks
2-3 of Season with Spice's cardamom pods (buah pelaga)
2 of Season with Spice's star anise (bunga lawang)
1-2 cloves (bunga chengkih)
1/4 tsp salt or to taste
1. Rinse the rice, then add in the 3 cups of water and soak for 30 minutes (without soaking, the rice may not cook properly the first time because of the added coconut milk).
2. In your rice cooker, add in the soaked rice and the water, and the remaining ingredients. Cook the rice, and when it is halfway done, open the cooker and stir well.
3. Continue cooking, and once finished, gently fluff the rice. Let it sit for 10 minutes.
4. Serve the rice with sides such as a hard boiled egg, roasted peanuts, fried anchovies, cucumber slices, and sambal (Part 1). This is the classic nasi lemak, which can be wrapped in a banana leaf and eaten later. To enjoy nasi lemak as a spread, add dishes such as tamarind prawns (Part 2) and sambal ikan bilis (Part 3).
-I noticed some confusion with the ratio of rice to water/coconut milk on many nasi lemak posts online, since some cooks use a 'rice cup' for rice, and a normal measuring cup for the liquid. It is best to use the same ratio of liquid that you usually use to cook rice (which should be around 2 parts liquid, 1 part rice). To prevent any mix-up on this recipe, 'Cups' refers specifically to a normal, dry ingredient measuring cup, which I used for both the rice and liquids.
-Pandan leaves and fresh ginger are the essential spices for the nasi lemak. Leave it at that, or have fun adding in some of your favorite spices.
Total Time: 1 hour 45 mins
- 100 gram dried red chilies, seeded (*)
- 200 gram onion, diced
- 25 gram garlic
- 3 candlenuts / 6 macadamia
- 1 1/2 cup water
- 1 1/2 cup oil
- 15 gram tamarind
- 200 gram onion, diced
- 25 gram shrimp paste (Indonesian: terasi, Malaysian: belacan), toasted
- 50 gram palm sugar, or to taste
- 1 tablespoon salt, or to taste
- 5 kaffir lime leaves, remove the ribs (optional)
- Boil chilies in a small sauce pot with water. Simmer for 10-15 minutes until chilies are soft. Drained
- Puree boiled chilies, 200 gram onion, garlic, candelnuts/macadamia, and water in a blender until smooth.
- Transfer blended chili mixture into a wok or a large frying pan. Cook on medium heat until the chili mixture turns into a thick paste.
- Add oil and tomato paste (if using, see *) to the wok/frying pan, stir to mix well. Add tamarind, and stir again. Continue cooking for 30 minutes, stirring every so often.
- Add the remaining 200 gram onion, toasted shrimp paste, palm sugar, and salt. Cook and stir for another 30 minutes, or until the chili sauce is dark red, and the oil separates from the chili mixture.
- Adjust the amount of sugar and salt to suit your taste. Once you are satisfied with the taste, add the kaffir lime leaves, and stir for 30 seconds. Turn off the heat, and transfer the chili sauce into clean jar(s). If you use sterilized glass jars for canning and store the unopened jars in the fridge, they can easily last for 2-3 months.
- (*) We prefer a much milder sambal in our home, so I typically use only 20 gram of chilies. And to boost the red color, I add 1 can (6 oz / 170 gram) tomato paste, which makes it even milder and should be very kid friendly.
- 1 cup fresh coconut milk
- 1 cup uncooked white rice
- ½ cup water
- 1 slice ginger
- 2 pandan leaves, or more to taste
- 1 pinch salt
- 4 fresh red chile peppers
- 1 tablespoon vegetable oil, or as needed
- 1 large onion, chopped
- ½ cup anchovy fillets, or more to taste
- ½ cup finely chopped peanuts, or more to taste
- 4 hard-boiled eggs, halved lengthwise
- 1 cucumber, peeled and sliced
Combine coconut milk, rice, water, ginger, pandan leaves, and rice in a rice cooker and stir a few times. Cover and cook according to manufacturer's directions until rice is tender and water has been absorbed, about 15 minutes.
Put chile peppers in a blender or food processor and grind into a paste.
Heat oil in a pan over medium heat. Add onion and cook until fragrant, about 3 minutes. Add ground chile peppers and cook until incorporated, about 2 minutes more.
Heat another pan over medium heat. Add anchovies and peanuts and roast until golden brown, about 5 minutes.
Divide cooked rice into 4 individual serving bowls in a rounded shape. Add 2 tablespoons of spicy paste, a pinch of anchovy-peanut mixture, 2 hard-boiled egg halves, and a portion of sliced cucumber to each bowl.
Nasi lemak is an authentic dish originated from Malaysia wherein you cook the fragrant rice in coconut milk with screwpine leaves. Nasi lemak is considered a national dish of Malay cuisine and is prepared in various parts of Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand and Indonesia. In Indonesia, Nasi means Rice and Lemak means Fat (the coconut milk fat). The rice is cooked in coconut milk fat and is served with fried anchovies, anchovy hot chile sauce, sliced cucumber or tomato, hard-boiled egg, fried peanut and chicken or fish.
1 piece fresh ginger, peeled and sliced
2 cups long grain rice, rinsed and drained (preferably jasmine rice)
1 package white anchovies, washed
3 tablespoons white sugar
1 (4 ounce) package white anchovies, washed
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
- On a medium flame heat the pan, then add coconut milk, water, ground ginger, ginger root, salt, bay leaf, and rice and stir. Bring to a boil then reduce heat, and simmer for 25 to 30 minutes, or until done.
- Meanwhile, let the rice cook side by side.
- Cover the eggs in the pan with cold water and let them boil. After a boil, immediately remove from heat. Let the eggs soak in hot water for 12 minutes. Remove eggs from hot water to cool, peel and slice the eggs in half. Slice cucumbers too.
- On a medium flame, heat the vegetable oil in a large skillet. Stir in peanuts until lightly browned. Remove peanuts and soak the excess grease with a paper towel.
- On the same skillet, add in the contents of one package of anchovies. Cook & stir until crisp. Remove it and soak it with a paper towel. Clean the skillet
- Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in the skillet. Add onions, garlic, and shallots. Cook & stir until fragrant, for about 2 minutes. Mix in the chile paste, and cook for 12 minutes, stirring occasionally and add water if it’s too dry. Add in the remaining anchovies Cook & stir for 5 minutes. Add in salt, tamarind juice and sugar simmer until sauce is thick, about 5 minutes.
- Garnish the warm rice with the onion and garlic sauce with a side of peanuts, fried anchovies, cucumbers, and eggs.
Your nasi lemak is ready to be served! We hope you experience the best of Malay cuisine and for more authentic recipes from new cultures stay tuned!
Have a look at our Korean style Rice Bowl – Bibimbap recipe to try out new delicacies!
Key Components Of A Plate Of Traditional Nasi Lemak
Sambal ikan bilis is a very important component for the cooking of Nasi Lemak. It is a vital accompaniment and a MUST have dish for Nasi Lemak (Coconut Milk Rice).
To make the sambal, first fry the dried anchovies and then cook them with a spice paste, tamarind juice and the flavourful shrimp paste. And what we have is a much craved for anchovy dish, sambal ikan bilis.
RECIPE: How to make nasi lemak with fragrant coconut rice
Hankering for some good ol’ fragrant coconut rice for your nasi lemak? Or crispy fried chicken ? Here’s how to whip them up.
Photography Frencheschar Lim Art Direction & Styling Diane Ng
J65 Restaurant Hotel Jen Tanglin Singapore, 1A Cuscaden Road (6831-4374)
NASI LEMAK WITH COCONUT RICE, FRIED CHICKEN AND SAMBAL
Recipe by Executive Chef Frederick Kho
For the fried chicken:
4 tbsp curry powder
1 tbsp chilli powder
1 tbsp turmeric powder
2 cups plain yogurt
2 tbsp sugar
2 tbsp salt
½ tsp black pepper
8 chicken drumsticks
For the coconut rice:
2 cups basmati rice
6 pandan leaves, knotted
8cm knob of ginger, bruised
270ml coconut milk
2 cups hot water
Salt, to taste
For the sambal:
30 dried chillies, seeds removed and soaked in hot water
5 shallots, 3 quartered and 2 thinly sliced
12 cloves garlic
5 tomatoes, quartered
1 tsp belacan, roasted
1 tsp dried shrimp, soaked in hot water
5 tbsp canola oil
1 lemongrass, white part only, thinly sliced
10 shallots, thinly sliced
1 green chilli, thinly sliced
1 tbsp ginger or garlic paste
Salt, to taste
3 tbsp kecap manis (sweet dark soya sauce)
8 prawns, boiled and shells removed (optional)
For the fried chicken flour mix:
1 cup all-purpose flour
½ cup rice flour
½ cup cornstarch
1 tbsp black pepper
1 tsp baking powder
Salt, to taste
½ litre vegetable oil
2 cups ikan bilis, deep-fried until crispy
1 cup peanuts, deep-fried until crispy
4 hard-boiled eggs, sliced
½ cucumber, sliced
Prepare the chicken:
1 In a bowl, whisk the curry, chilli and turmeric powders with some water into a paste.
2 Combine 4 tbsp of the paste with the yogurt, eggs, sugar, salt and black pepper in a ziplock bag. Add the chicken, combine well and chill overnight. Set aside the remaining curry spice mix to fry the chicken.
3 Remove the chicken from the fridge and set aside for it to reach room temperature before frying.
Prepare the coconut rice:
1 Soak the basmati rice for 30min, then drain.
2 Add the pandan leaves, ginger, coconut milk, hot water and salt to the rice and cook in the rice cooker for 15-20min, or until fluffy.
Prepare the sambal:
1 In a blender, whizz the dried chillies, quartered shallots, garlic, tomatoes, belacan and dried shrimp with a little water until fine to make a chilli paste.
2 Heat the canola oil in a wok. When it starts to splutter, add the lemongrass and green chillies.
3 Add the sliced shallots and saute until golden brown, and then add ginger or garlic paste and fry until fragrant.
4 Mix in the chilli paste and salt, and cook over low heat, covered, for 25min. Stir occasionally to prevent burning.
5 Add the kecap manis (you can add more if you like it sweeter). Take off the heat and cool.
Fry the chicken:
1 Remove the drumsticks from the marinade and allow the excess to drip off.
2 Make the flour mix by combining 2 tbsp of the curry spice mix with the all-purpose and rice flours, cornstarch, black pepper, baking powder and salt.
3 Dredge the chicken in the flour mixture, pressing it with your hands to make a thick layer before gently shaking off excess flour. Rest the chicken on a wire rack set over a baking sheet.
4 Heat the oil in a wok. Drop a bit of the chicken marinade into the oil – it is hot enough when it bubbles.
5 Place 3-4 drumsticks at a time into the hot oil. Don’t overcrowd it or allow the chicken pieces to touch to avoid the coating coming apart. Fry for 5-8 min until golden brown, gently turn them over and fry for another 5-8min, or until golden brown.
6 Rest the chicken on a wire rack before serving.
7 Serve your nasi lemak with the sides as pictured, or arrange everything but the sambal on a platter and dig in!
Vegan Nasi Lemak with the Works
In my version of vegan nasi lemak, we have vegan otak-otak (otah), sambal long beans, ayam goreng-style tofu, and an onion omelette.
Nasi lemak literally translates to “rice fat”. Why is it fat? Because we cook the rice in fragrant coconut milk. Is it really fattening? Probably, but I can’t say I care because it tastes amayzang.
As it is quite involved, check out the separate post I have for the vegan okara otak-otak recipe. And here is the recipe for my basic sambal.
I usually make the ayam goreng-style tofu because I really enjoy having something deep-fried with the nasi lemak. And because I hate waste, we also cook the remaining marinade and turn it into a topping that goes great with rice.
Of course, in a nasi lemak there should always be some sort of egg. So, I also add a nice vegan chickpea omelette. Then we finish off this epic vegan nasi lemak plate with cucumber, roast peanuts, and a nice dollop of sambal.