It’s hard not to love nasi (rice) lemak (coconut), so popular that its greatest advocates insist on calling it Malaysia’s national dish. Growing up, I would savor nasi lemak wrapped in green banana leaves, bundled and lined with plastic, at least three times a week throughout my school years. Inside the bundle was warm coconut rice infused with the vanilla-like aroma of pandan leaves and citrusy ginger, accompanied by a hard boiled egg, crispy fried anchovies and peanuts, a few slices of cucumber, and a dollop of sambal (a spicy chili-based sauce). The flavors are still etched in my mind: every sublime spoonful was warm, creamy, crunchy, spicy-sweet, and with just the right amount of sambal.
In this recipe, all the side condiments can be served at room temperature and made well in advance. For instance, you can fry the peanuts and anchovies and store them in an airtight container or canning jar. I always prepare more of these side condiments than I need, as it makes it easier to enjoy this dish whenever I want. They bring complexity and crunch to the dish. The sambal, the key player, can also be made in advance and stored in the refrigerator or freezer; then just heat the portion you need in a microwave.
When all of the main preparations are done ahead of time, you are only left with cooking the coconut rice. This is important because the dish works best when the rice is served piping hot, along with warm hard boiled eggs and fresh slices of cucumber. The assortment of these dishes coming together on a plate for a palate of flavor makes an evocative nasi lemak, that is sure to become a favorite.
For more dishes featuring luscious coconut milk, get our Eggplant Curry with Lemongrass and Coconut Milk recipe, or our Coconut Rice Pudding recipe.
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For the Sambal: