A few years ago, I had to plan a special dinner for a foreign visitor. The first thing I had to do was to find out if there were dietary restrictions. There were none.
Foreign visitors to Singapore can be overwhelmed by some Asian dishes, especially if they are not used to the wide variety of spices that we use. Nasi lemak seemed a good choice of dish to serve. The spiciness of the dish depends on how much nasi lemak sambal chili one decides to take. In other words, the spiciness is in the sauce, which is optional. For a trained Asian palate, a good chili sauce is what makes a good nasi lemak dish. )Nasi lemak chili is more of a paste than a liquid sauce.)
I cooked a big wok of nasi lemak chili many years ago and it was finished in one dinner sitting! Unfortunately, I can’t find that recipe now. (I just remember that it had dried chili and desiccated coconut.) However, there are many good recipes on the internet. The basic ingredients are: 25 pieces of dried chili, 1 stalk of lemongrass, 1 red onion, 8 pieces of shallots and 4 cloves of garlic, 20g of dried shrimps and 10g of fried dried ikan bilis (anchovies) (Source: YouTube -Spice N’ Pans: Secret Revealed! Nasi Lemak Sambal Chilli). The ingredients are blended and fried in oil, and salt and sugar are added. It might be easier to buy a bottle of nasi lemak chili if you don’t have time to make it. I have to make sure that I have a bottle of nasi lemak chili without dried shrimps for those who are allergic to shrimps.
Nasi lemak is rice cooked in water and coconut milk, along with 1 pandan leaf and half a stalk of lemongrass. The rice is creamy and fragrant.
The simple version of Nasi Lemak is the Nasi Lemak rice served with fried ikan bilis, sliced cucumber and sambal chili. It was my favourite break-time food at school and it only cost 20 cents in the school canteen.
When you are serving Nasi Lemak to guests, it can be a special meal with fried chicken (marinated in tamarind pulp, ginger, cumin or turmeric powder and a bit of salt) or fried fish or a combination of both. This dish never fails to impress.
Gado-gado is a vegetable dish which goes well with Nasi Lemak. It’s easy to make because it’s just a matter of boiling vegetables (potatoes, beans, carrots, bean sprouts, cabbage) and serving them with a peanut sauce, which is available in supermarkets. (You only have to add water to the peanut sauce mix and boil) When I have time, I like to make it from scratch using peanut butter, coconut milk, red curry powder, soya sauce and soya sauce.
A cold sweet dessert goes well with a spicy hot dish. I like to serve cold Cheng Tng, a Chinese soup dessert made by boiling water with palm sugar, rock sugar, sugared melon strips, barley, longans, gingko nuts, pang da hai and white fungus.
If you have a guest who has a low fat and low cholesterol diet, you will want to skip the coconut rice, and serve white rice with marinated grilled chicken or fish instead. The sambal chili and cucumber with give it the Nasi Lemak flavour.
Nasi Lemak is an interesting dish because it can be served for breakfast, lunch or dinner and one never gets tired of it because it can be served as a simple dish or as a fancy dish, depending on what you decide to serve with the rice. It can be as simple as serving the nasi lemak rice with a boiled egg, what matters is that it should have: nasi lemak sambal chili, fried ikan bilis, peanuts and sliced cucumber.
Spicy hot nasi lemak and icy cold cheng tng are good for cheering everyone up at home during the upcoming holidays. I once watched a Japanese movie (with English subtitles) entitled Flavor of Happiness, about a Japanese lady who learnt to cook Chinese food from the owner of a reputable Chinese restaurant. She loved Chinese food, but the owner of the restaurant could no longer cook, so she persuaded him to teach her. It’s a good movie to watch on a public holiday and to learn the techniques of Chinese cooking.
By Chayo, HomSkil Editor 1, 18 July 2021