Nasi Lemak

March  5, 2021
1 Ratings
Photo by Photographer: Julia Gartland Prop Stylist: Amanda Widis Food Stylist: Anna Billingskog
  • Prep time 30 minutes
  • Cook time 1 hour 20 minutes
  • Serves 4
Author Notes

While my seven favorite pantry ingredients can serve as a jumping-off point for getting into Malaysian cooking, to experience the punchy flavor explosion that is Malaysian food, there’s one dish you should definitely try your hand at making: our national dish, nasi lemak. It’s an everyday dish eaten all across the country. You’ll find it served everywhere from humble roadside stalls for a mere RM2 (around 50 cents in the U.S.), to more elaborate settings, like weddings and festivals, where it’s the centerpiece of a larger spread of food. The dish itself is a medley of many seemingly disparate ingredients—rice cooked in coconut milk, fried anchovies and peanuts, fresh slices of cucumbers, a hard-boiled egg. Still, when tied together with lip-smackingly spicy sambal, it makes a meal you want to go back to over and over. Just like Malaysia’s spicy mix of cultures, when combined (in the recipe, and in your mouth), these flavors turn up into a party—to quote our singsong tourism slogan, a “truly Asian,” truly Malaysian party. —Jun

What You'll Need
  • Coconut Rice & Nasi Lemak Assembly
  • 2 cups jasmine rice
  • 3 cups water
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened coconut milk
  • 2 to 3 pandan leaves, knotted (optional)
  • 1 stalk lemongrass, bruised with the back of a knife
  • 1 (2-inch) piece of ginger, peeled and roughly bruised with the back of a knife
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 2 cups plus 1 tablespoon canola oil, or any neutral oil
  • 1/2 cup raw peanuts
  • 1/2 cup dried anchovies
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 cucumber, halved lengthwise, then sliced on the diagonal into 1/4-inch-thick pieces
  • Sambal, for serving (see below recipe)
  • Sambal
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 4 shallots
  • 1 red onion, peeled and quartered
  • 10 to 15 dried red chiles
  • 2 fresh Thai red chiles, seeds removed
  • 1 bird’s-eye chile (optional)
  • 1/4 cup dried anchovies
  • 3 tablespoons sunflower oil, or any other neutral oil
  • 1 teaspoon belacan, or fermented shrimp paste (optional)
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
  • 1 tablespoon tamarind pulp, soaked in 1/4 cup of water for 2 minutes then strained to remove any seeds
  1. Coconut Rice & Nasi Lemak Assembly
  2. Make the rice: Put the rice in a large pot and fill it with water until the rice is covered. Swirl the rice in the water to tease away the excess starch coating the surface. Drain out the milky, starchy liquid and repeat.
  3. Add the 3 cups of water to the pot, along with the coconut milk, pandan leaves (if using), lemongrass, ginger, and salt. Give it a quick stir and bring it to a boil over medium heat. Reduce the heat to a simmer and let the rice cook, covered, for 15 to 20 minutes, until the rice is soft and fluffy and no liquid remains. (Alternatively, cook the rice in a steamer or rice cooker.) Remove the rice from the heat, pick out the pandan, lemongrass, and ginger, and keep the rice warm.
  4. Fry the peanuts: Heat a tablespoon of oil in a medium pot or saucepan over high heat until the oil starts to shimmer and give off the barest whiff of smoke. Stir in the peanuts and fry them over low heat for 5 to 6 minutes, until golden brown, stirring constantly to prevent any burning. When the peanuts are done, transfer them to a bowl or tray to cool to room temperature.
  5. Fry the anchovies: Pour the 2 cups of oil in the same pot or pan you fried the peanuts in and heat it until it reaches 350°F. Carefully stir the dried anchovies into the oil and deep-fry until golden brown, around 2 to 3 minutes. Fish out the anchovies using a metal sieve or a slotted spoon and transfer them onto a tray lined with paper towels to absorb any excess oil.
  6. Hard-boil the eggs: Place the eggs in a small pot and fill it with water until the eggs are covered by at least an inch. Bring to a quick boil, then reduce heat to a slow simmer and cook for 10 minutes. Remove the eggs from the water and place them in an ice bath to cool down. When they’re cool to touch, peel the eggs and slice them in half.
  7. Assembly: First, take a small bowl (around 4 inches in diameter) and pack it with the cooked rice. Invert the bowl onto the center of a plate, then remove the bowl to reveal a mound of rice. Place all the other components of the dish around the rice. I like putting the cucumbers and egg halves next to each other, then mixing the crispy anchovies and peanuts and nestling them next to the egg, finally dolloping a tablespoon of sambal on the side. Nasi lemak is best eaten warm and can be served on its own, or with some chicken curry or sambal prawns on the side to make it a fuller meal.
  1. Sambal
  2. In a food processor, combine the garlic, shallots, onion, dried chiles, Thai chiles, bird’s-eye chile (if using), and dried anchovies. Pulse until totally smooth.
  3. Heat the oil in a medium skillet or wok, then add in the belacan (if using), smooshing it out and frying it over medium heat for about a minute, until it starts to release its aroma. Stir in the blended chile paste and fry until fragrant, 2 to 3 minutes, then stir in the salt, sugar, and tamarind pulp with its soaking water.
  4. Simmer over low heat for 20 to 25 minutes, stirring frequently so the sambal doesn’t burn, until thick and darkened into a deep crimson red. (It will look a little split, too.) Transfer the cooled sambal into a glass jar or container. If not using immediately, store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.

See what other Food52ers are saying.

7 Reviews

Polly March 9, 2021
I agree with NOOZ! Can @food52 please fix the typo at the top of the recipe? It says “panty” when it means to say “pantry!”
Jun March 9, 2021
OH DEAR! Hahah what a typo, sorry about that, I'll request to get it changed right away. Thanks for pointing this out!
Nooz March 6, 2021
Sorry but did you mean panty ingredients or pantry ingredients
Jun March 9, 2021
OH sorry about that terrible typo, haha! I'll get it changed ASAP. Thanks for pointing it out Nooz!
Nooz March 9, 2021
All good 🤭
Nooz March 6, 2021
Sorry but for you mean favourite panty ingredients or favourite pantry ingredients 😬
[email protected] March 5, 2021
This is a beautiful dish. After visiting my daughter in Malaysia, I am trying dishes back here at home. I don't think I'll make sambal from scratch, but I'll try assembling the other ingredients from our global market. Thank you for putting this recipe online!