When I'm in Malaysia, I could eat nasi lemak every day and not get tired of it. It's served everywhere from humble roadside stalls to five-star hotels and is slightly different from place to place. The constants are coconut rice, sambal, ikan bilis (fried anchovies with peanuts) and boiled egg; it's sometimes wrapped in (or served on) a banana leaf and accompanied by spicy seafood, beef or chicken.
Nasi lemak with spicy prawns
This recipe was developed by food stylist Vivian Herijanto. The sambal goreng keeps in the fridge for a few weeks - it should be made at least a few days before you cook the rest of the dish so the flavours have time to develop. The sambal is stirred into the prawns at the last minute. The ikan bilis can be made a couple of days in advance and stored in an air-tight container.
For the sambal goreng:
6 garlic cloves, peeled
300 grams shallots, peeled
4 candlenuts (sold at shops specialising in Indonesian, Malaysian or Singaporean ingredients)
10-15 dried chillies, roughly chopped
30 grams tamarind pulp
200ml warm water
90ml vegetable oil
30 grams tomato paste
10-15 grams sugar
Fine sea salt, to taste
Finely grind together the garlic, shallots, candlenuts and chillies in a mortar or food processor. The mixture should be a moist paste; if necessary, add a little water. Stir 200ml of warm water into the tamarind pulp and break it up with a spoon to dissolve it as much as possible. Strain the liquid, pressing the pulp through the sieve to extract as much flavour as possible. Set the liquid aside.
Heat the oil in a wok or skillet set over a low flame. When the oil is very hot, add the garlic/shallot/candlenut/chilli paste and stir constantly until it's thick, fragrant and shiny. Stir in the tomato paste, tamarind liquid, sugar and about two teaspoons of salt. Stir well then taste the mixture and adjust the seasonings if needed. Continue cooking until thick then transfer to a bowl or jar. When the sambal is cool, cover the bowl or jar and refrigerate. The oil that floats to the surface should be stirred into the mixture before use.
For the ikan bilis:
Oil, for frying
40 grams dried baby anchovies
80 grams raw red-skinned peanuts
30 grams red finger chillies
200 grams shallots, peeled
4 garlic cloves, peeled
1 tsp belachan (shrimp paste)
15 grams tamarind pulp
10-15 grams sugar
15 grams tomato paste
Fine sea salt, to taste
Soak the anchovies in warm water until they're pliable. Drain them then pull the heads straight off the bodies - if you do it with the right motion, this should also pull out their innards. Lay the anchovy bodies on a layer of paper towels and let them air-dry.
Pour oil to the depth of about 4cm in a wok then heat it over a medium-low flame until the oil ripples on the surface. Add the peanuts and stir-fry constantly until golden. Remove them from the oil with a slotted spoon, drain on paper towels and sprinkle lightly with salt. Turn the flame to low and fry the anchovies, stirring constantly, until they're golden brown and crisp through. Remove the anchovies from the oil, drain on paper towels then mix them with the peanuts.
Grind the finger chillies with the shallots, garlic and belachan to a paste in a mortar or food processor. Mix the tamarind pulp with the water, stir to dissolve then strain the liquid through a sieve. Heat 60ml of fresh oil in a clean wok over a medium-high flame and when it's hot, add the spice paste and fry, stirring constantly, until it's thick and fragrant. Add the tamarind liquid, sugar, tomato paste and salt to taste and stir to blend well. Bring the sauce to a simmer then remove from the heat. Mix some of the sauce with the anchovies and peanuts to lightly coat them. Put the remaining sauce into a bowl.
For the rice:
300 grams jasmine rice
400ml coconut milk (canned is fine)
About 2 tsp fine sea salt
2 pandan leaves, tied into a knot
Rinse the rice in several changes of water until it runs clear. Drain well then put the rice in a rice cooker and stir in the coconut milk, water and pandan leaves. Leave for 30 minutes then stir in the salt and cook the rice until tender.
4 large eggs, at room temperature
About 500 grams fresh prawns, with bodies about 6cm in length
1 cucumber, peeled, halved and cut on the diagonal into 5mm thick slices
Fresh banana leaves, cut into sheets about 30cm square (optional)
Put the eggs in a pan just large enough to fit them in one layer. Add enough water to cover the eggs by about 2cm. Place the pan over a medium flame, bring to the boil then remove from the heat. Cover the pan with the lid and leave for 10 to 12 minutes. Drain the eggs then put them in a bowl of ice water. When the eggs are completely cool, peel them and cut in halves or quarters.
Peel the prawns but leave the heads intact, if desired. Slit the prawns down the back and remove the black vein. Heat about 200 grams of the sambal goreng in a skillet then add the prawns and simmer until they're pink, curling and cooked through. The prawns should be liberally coated with the sambal; if necessary, add more to the pan.
To serve, scoop some of the rice onto the banana leaves. Add some prawns, spiced ikan bilis, sliced cucumber and an egg to each portion. Serve the remaining sauce (used to coat the ikan bilis) and sambal on the side and let each diner add more to their portion, if desired.
Styling Corner Kitchen Cooking School