It was such a hot day today, we dropped the idea of going out for lunch. I decided to cook up a local dish, accompanied with “sambal” ladies fingers (bendi) and prawns. Nasi lemak which is coconut rice cooked with pandan leaves to give it the delicate sweet aroma and creaminess minus the dairy. Traditionally nasi lemak is served with fried anchovies, sambal prawns or cuttlefish, maybe a fried fish or chicken and a hardboiled egg and not forgetting a few slices of cucumber to cool you down! The nyonya version, will have the addition of tamarind prawns or fish with their own version of sambal belacan (spicy chilli paste).
I am not a purist but to get the real taste of nasi lemak, you do need the coconut milk and pandan leaves. It is easy to make, cook the rice (jasmin rice) as instructed on the package. For the liquids, instead of water, substitute the liquid portion in parts: 3/4 parts coconut milk and 1/4 part water. Wash the pandan leaves (about 3 leaves if you are making rice for 4 people), tie a knot and place it in with the rice. Add a pinch of salt to taste . Cook rice as per normal.
Now comes the interesting bit – sambal bendi and prawns. This dish usually requires “belacan” – fermented and dried shrimp paste , I omitted that for health reasons – mainly these days preserved foods are getting a lot of bad rep due to the little knowledge how it is prepared and what sort of preservatives being used. Because prawn paste is such a local produce, there is a lesser control on its quality. I used instead fresh tumeric root, kaffir limes leaves and lemon grass and 1 tbp of fish sauce.
Here is the recipe.
- 3-4 dried chillies , reconstituted in hot water for 30 mins
- 3-4 fresh red chillies, deseeded
- 1 inch long fresh tumeric, peeled
- 10 shallots
- 1 pip of garlic
- 1 tbp of tomato paste
- 2 tbp of oil
- 2 tsp of water
Blend the above into a paste
- 1 stalk of lemon grass, give a good pound at the bulb to release the oils when cooking
- 3 kaffir leaves
- 10 -12 ladies fingers or okra , washed and chopped
- 8-10 large prawns, shelled and deveined
- salt to taste and 1 tbp of fish sauce
Fry the chilli paste with 1 tbp of oil, together with the lemon grass and kaffir lime leaves until fragrant.. medium heat. Add the prawns and the okra/ladies fingers and stir continuously so the chilli paste does not get burnt. Lower the heat to a simmer for about 5-8 mins. Add salt/fish sauce to taste . If you like, a pinch of sugar too.
Serve the sambal bendi with the coconut rice and a few slices of cold cucumber.