When I'm in Malaysia, I could eat nasi lemak every day and not get tired of it. The fragrant coconut rice is served everywhere from humble roadside stalls, where it costs the equivalent of 50 US cents, to five-star hotels, where it's available on the breakfast buffet.
This recipe is quite involved, so I will understand if you buy the sambal goreng (stir-fried chilli paste) and fried ikan bilis (dried anchovies) from a shop specialising in Malaysian/Singaporean products. While you're there, pick up the other ingredients needed for this dish such as belacan (fermented dried shrimp paste), tamarind pulp, ikan bilis and pandan leaves. If candlenuts are unavailable, substitute macadamia nuts.
If you make your own sambal goreng, a high-speed blender (such as a NutriBullet) works very well at grinding the ingredients, although traditionalists would insist on using a mortar and pestle. The sambal goreng keeps in the fridge for several weeks. Ideally, 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 fried ikan bilis can be made a couple of days in advance and stored in an air-tight container.
Make the sambal goreng. Roughly chop the garlic, shallots, candlenuts and dried chillies, then put them in a mortar or food processor (a high-speed blender). The mixture should be a moist paste; if necessary, add some water.
Put the tamarind pulp into a bowl, add 200ml (¾ cup plus 1tbsp) of warm water and stir well. Strain the liquid through a small sieve, pressing on the pulp to extract as much flavour as possible. Set aside the tamarind liquid.
Heat the oil in a wok placed over a medium-low flame. When the oil is very hot, turn the flame to low. Add the garlic/shallot/candlenut/chilli paste and stir constantly until it's thick, fragrant and shiny. Stir in the tamarind liquid, tomato paste, sugar and about 1½tsp of salt. Stir well then taste the mixture and adjust the seasonings, if necessary. Cook until the mixture is thick, then transfer to a jar. When the sambal is cool, cover the jar and refrigerate. The oil that floats to the surface should be stirred into the mixture before use.
Prepare the ikan bilis. Pull the heads from the anchovies.
Pour oil to the depth of about 5cm (2in) in a pan, then heat it over a medium-low flame to 170°C (340°F). Add the peanuts and fry until golden, stirring constantly. Use a slotted spoon to remove the peanuts from the oil, then drain them 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.
Crumble the belachan onto a square of foil. Place the foil on a skillet set over a medium-low flame. Toast the belachan until very fragrant (or more fragrant than usual), then remove from the heat and allow to cool.
Roughly chop the banana chillies, shallots and garlic then put them in a mortar or food processor (or high speed blender). Add the belacan and grind to a rough paste, adding a little water, if necessary.
Mix the tamarind pulp with 60ml (¼ cup) of warm water, stir to dissolve then strain the liquid through a sieve.
Heat 60ml (¼ cup) 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.
Make the rice. Rinse the rice in several changes of water until it runs almost clear. Drain well then put the rice in a rice cooker and stir in the coconut milk and 100ml (¼ cup and 2tbsp and 2tsp) of water. Cut the pandan leaves into 10cm (4in) lengths, tie them into a knot and add them to the rice. Let the rice soak for 30 minutes then stir in the salt and cook the rice until tender.
Put the eggs in a pan just large enough to fit them in one layer. Add enough water to cover the eggs by about 2.5cm (1in). 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 minutes. Drain the eggs then put them in a bowl of iced 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 200g (7oz) 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.
Mix some of the belachan/shallot sauce with the anchovies and peanuts to lightly coat them. Put the remaining sauce into a bowl.
To serve, scoop some of the rice onto the banana leaves or plates. 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.