Malaysian Monday 29: Nasi Lemak and the art of “bantai”.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Hi everyone, hope the weekend went well. I spent one day of mine putting together this dish. Nasi lemak hardly needs an introduction - it’s been dubbed the “national” dish of Malaysia, probably due to it ubiquitousness (is that a word?). If you stood on a street corner in Malaysia and picked a direction at random, start walking and chances are you’d soon stumble upon a stall/shop/restaurant/ that sold nasi lemak*.

But just in case you’re not familiar with it, nasi lemak is literally translated as “creamy rice”. The dish is built up from a base of coconut rice with a few simple condiments like half a boiled egg, deep fried anchovies, peanuts and cucumber. A fiery sambal (chilli relish) is a must.

The “simple” nasi lemak is usually eaten for breakfast. But one can eat this dish anytime of the day, and when having it for lunch or dinner, more substantial accompaniments are included – usually a rendang (dry curry) of some sort, but really, anything goes. I jazzed up our meal with a prawn sambal and fried chicken.

Each separate component of nasi lemak is relatively easy to make, but because there are so many things to prepare, it can be time consuming. I’d actually forgotten how much time it involved.  I started early in the afternoon, but even with a few shortcuts thrown in, it was close to dinner by the time I’d finished cooking!

Our nasi lemak included the following dishes :
Coconut rice (recipe follows)
Fried anchovies
Fried beancurd slices
Peanuts (cheated by using storebought)
Hard-boiled eggs
Blanched spinach
Sliced cucumber
Fried chicken (a wonderful recipe from Malaysian blogger Love2Cook. Her blog is full of the most mouthwatering recipes)
Sambal tumis (chilli relish) which was then used to make sambal udang (chilli prawns)
(The sambal tumis recipe is by fellow blogger 3 Hungry Tummies whose cooking is enough to make me cry – with delight)

 Anchovies, beancurd slices and english spinach ready to be cooked

These beer nuts taste and look exactly like the peanuts the nasi lemak vendors use. Bonus find!
As for the sambal udang (chilli prawns) , herein lies the fine art of bantai cooking. Bantai is a hard word to describe – there are a couple of different meanings, but in this context, it means “having a go”. But it’s more than just having a go, it also implies jumping in without really knowing how to do something but doing it anyway. In fact, it’s probably a good word to describe my style of cooking ☺.

So, I’m sure there are “proper” ways to make a prawn sambal, but in the spirit of “bantai", I stir fried about 10 green prawns (deveined) with a little oil in the same pan that I made the sambal tumis in. Once the prawns started sizzling, I added about three tablespoonfuls of the sambal tumis and a crushed kaffir lime leaf. Once the prawns were cooked, I squeezed a quarter of a lemon over the whole thing to finish. Very tasty if I do say so myself!

Have a great week ahead, I’m sure there’ll be more “bantai-ing” happening in my kitchen ☺

Creamy coconut rice (for nasi lemak)
I always cook my rice in the microwave (which horrifies my mother), but this method will work for the stovetop absorption method as well.

Also, I don’t usually measure out my rice but for the purpose of writing this post, I did. Usually, I use the “knuckle” method of working out how much water to use – rest the third finger against the cleaned rice, and make sure the water level comes up to just past the first knuckle. Hand needs to be straight up. Obviously this method will have huge variations depending on the length of your fingers, but I find it works satisfactorily enough).

2 ½ cups long grained rice (eg. jasmine) – washed and drained. Washing removes the excess starch
3 ½ cups plus 1 tablespoon water.
3 pandan (screwpine) leaves, knotted. I used a few more because they were frozen and I wasn’t sure if the fragrance would still be strong enough, luckily it worked. If pandan is unavailable, a chunk of peeled ginger (thumb sized) can be used instead. The purpose of the pandan is to scent the rice, obviously with ginger it will smell different.
About 2 large tablespoons thick coconut cream (more if preferred)
Pinch of salt (mix into the cooking water).

Place rice and water(and salt)  into the cooking container.  Push the pandan leaves into the rice so it doesn’t float. Cook rice as usual. About 5 minutes before the end of cooking time, use a fork to carefully stir in the coconut cream into the rice, making sure it’s well incorporated . Cook until the rice is done.

I can’t really give you cooking times because each microwave is different).

Serve warm.

*assumption based on no research at all.


3 hungry tummies said...

Oh that is what I need right now! I think "having a go" is the right expression for bantai ;)
Thanks for the shout :)

Ellie (Almost Bourdain) said...

Haven't use the word "bantai" for a long time. HAHAHAHA!! Can't stop laughing reading your post. Always a joy.

MaryMoh said...

Oooh....this is always my favourite. I am so happy I just had it yesterday at the Malaysian Hall.

grace said...

hey, if you have a microwave, use it. saves time and energy, so what's not to appreciate? your coconut-happy rice would satisfy my coconut needs quite nicely. :)

shaz said...

No problems 3 Hungry Tummies - the sambal was excellent, I still have half a jar in the fridge.

Thanks Ellie, glad you liked it :)

Sounds yummy Mary!

Right on grace! Actually Mum's not so much horrified at the "cheating" aspect...she's just worried that microwaves can contribute to growing an extra limb or something.

Hungry Dog said...

Oh man, this looks so good to me! Too bad we don't live close by (or at least on the same continent)--I'd love to engineer a casual drop in while you were preparing this amazing meal!

Juliana said...

Wow, everything looks so the idea of coconut in rice...super tasty :-)

shaz said...

Hungry Dog, if you lived closed by, you wouldn't need to engineer a drop-in, you'd be invited over with open arms and force fed!

Thanks Juliana, it's very rish but oh so tasty.

Erica said...

That looks amazing!Coconut rice is popular in Colombia.....It is delicious.

Barbara said...

I love the de-constructed way you presented this dish. And the coconut rice looks divine! Can't wait to try it....maybe with just some shrimp!
You always have such marvelous combinations and flavors!

msmeanie said...

Wow, Malaysian food sounds so flavorful and unique. Looks like you had a lovely feast there.

Lorraine @NotQuiteNigella said...

I love this dish Shaz! All those little components-it's my favourite way of eating! :D

shaz said...

Erica - I like the sound of that :)

Barbara- thanks! Actually it is usually served quite "deconsturcted" like this although I did try to leave the rice pristine for the photos.

msmeanie - you're so right, Malaysian food is usually very strong on flavours.

Lorraine - thanks! I love this too, but it is a bit fiddly.