July 29, 2014

Lazy Ex-Pat’s Nasi Lemak. {Vegetarian Recipe}


I feel the need to be upfront here.

Nasi Lemak is a South East Asian dish, a traditional food in Singapore. And Singaporeans are nothing if not particular about their food.

But I am an American.

I came to Singapore with my boyfriend (who originates from this awesome place) and fell in love with the food culture here. It is truly a food paradise. The food here is excellent, and the authentic Nasi Lemak is both simple, economical and profoundly delicious. However, the real deal requires more time than my lifestyle back in the United States will permit, and also requires some ingredients I will not easily find.

And so, the recipe that follows is my Americanized, bastardized, and lazified version of the real thing. But I promise, even this version will make your taste buds sing.

Nasi Lemak is a dish built around rice, coconut rice to be precise. And around the base of rice you can add all kinds of toppings and sides. This makes it a very versatile dish, which can come in handy if you want to cook for a bunch of people with varied diets or tastes. You can make the rice and any combination of the toppings and side dishes and then let people assemble it as they like. This means you can have carnivores, vegetarians, vegans and gluten-free people sit down to one table and they can all eat something delicious!

To Make Coconut Rice for Four People:

  • 2 cups of rice
  • 1 cups of coconut milk
  • 2 cups of water
  • Ginger, 3 thumb sized pieces
  • 6 pandan leaves (if you can find them)
  • Salt to taste

To cook the rice, just add the ingredients to one pot and boil until the liquid is all absorbed. You’ll be left with fragrant, delicious, coconut rice. Now comes the fun part!

The Toppings and Sides:

  • Eggs: One fried egg or boiled egg cut into slices is an excellent and traditional topping.
  • Cucumber: As simple as it gets, slices of cucumber are a ubiquitous ingredient in Nasi Lemak. One large cucumber should be enough for four people.
  • Peanuts: Add just a few roasted peanuts to each plate for an awesome nutty crunch or you can crush them up and sprinkle on top.
  • Okra: This is not the most traditional addition to Nasi Lemak, but it’s one of my favorites. Just cut some okra into one inch pieces and lightly stir fry in sesame oil before adding along side the rice. One cup of okra should give a nice side portion to four people.
  • Green Beans: Just like the okra, this isn’t super traditional, but green beans are a more conventional American veggie that works well in the dish. Plus it will be easy to find in the grocery store. To add them as a side or topping, just cut them into one-two inch chunks and stir fry them lightly in sesame oil. One cup provides enough for four people to have a side of green beans.
  • Kangkong: If you’re lucky enough to find this veggie, because you’re in South East Asia or because you have an awesome Asian grocer locally, this is one of my favorites. It is a kind of water spinach, a nutritious dark leafy green with a texture a little bit like okra. If you can get your hands on it, just wash it, give it a rough chop and stir fry lightly in sesame oil before adding to the plate. One cup should be enough for four people to give it a try.

So far, everything here is gluten-free and vegetarian. Honestly, I love it with just the above ingredients. It’s nutritious, delicious and oh-so-comforting. The carnivores among us can try adding chicken wings, fried fish, or even chicken curry along side all the other good stuff.

And last, but by no means the least, its time for the sambal chili paste! Sadly, for the vegetarians and vegans among us, the authentic stuff contains shrimp and anchovy paste. It can also be really hard to find in American grocery stores. So, for the lazy among us, whatever Asian chili you can find will have to suffice.

There are literally hundreds of ways to combine ingredients to make Nasi Lemak. I haven’t even scratched the surface here. Everyone, every little subculture, and every family has their own version. But this is my lazy American version, centered around what is easy to find and easy to make, with a few extra suggestions for the culinary adventurers.

Enjoy, and happy cooking!

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Apprentice Editor: Kathryn Muyskens / Editor: Travis May

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

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