Nasi Lemak

Nasi Lemak from The Lotus and the Artichoke MALAYSIA vegan cookbook

In the five weeks that I spent exploring Malaysia, Singapore, and Borneo there were a few dishes that I just had to try whenever I had the chance.

Nasi Lemak is a national favorite – and one of my favorites, too! The name technically means “fatty rice” but “creamy rice” sounds a least a little bit better. Traditionally, as with this recipe, Nasi Lemak is rice cooked in creamy, coconut milk – often along with fresh herbs and spices such as pandan (which you can replace with bay leaves if that’s what you’ve got.) The bright yellow hue comes from turmeric. Though it’s a breakfast dish, it can be eaten at any time of the day, and many variations cross firmly into Savory Culinary Territory. I eat this all times of the day: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner, Snack, whatever!

I tried Nasi Lemak in lots of places: Kuala Lampur, Penang, Malacca, and Singapore.

Inspired by those dishes and their accompaniments – and my own imagination, I’ve created a complete meal set: Coconut Pandan Rice served with stir-fried Lemongrass Ginger Tofu, crunchy, charred Spicy Nuts, and a delicious sweet-chili sauce known as Sambal Belacan.

These are actually four different recipes from The Lotus and the Artichoke – MALAYSIA which I’ve put together in this one post. You can of course substitute or simplify the dishes for a less involved meal set designed how you like it. Nasi Lemak is equally awesome even when it’s just served with the fresh cucumber, lime slices, and nuts. I love going all out and doing the Lemongrass Tofu cubes, too. Also, I find the hot, spicy Samabal Belecan completes the dish fantastically.

How to eat it? Mix it up and eat it with your hands!

Serve this meal set up on a banana leaf, wash your hands, mix everything together, and dive in… wild and forkless. (By the way, frozen banana leaves are often available at your local Asian import grocery shop. Just thaw them, rinse them, and eat off of them.) If you prefer a more modern approach: Make it all, arrange it perfectly on plates, eat it with a fork and spoon. It’s up to you!

Nasi Lemak

Malaysian Coconut Pandan Rice with Lemongrass Ginger Tofu, Spicy Nuts & Sambal Belacan

recipes from The Lotus and the Artichoke – MALAYSIA

serves 3 to 4 / time 60 min

Coconut Pandan Rice:

  • 2 cups (375 g) broken jasmine rice or basmati rice
  • 1 2/3 cup (400 ml) water
  • 1 2/3 cup (400 ml) coconut milk
  • 1/2 tsp sea salt
  • 1/2 tsp turmeric ground
  • 2 pandan leaves or bay leaves
  • fried onions for garnish
  • 1/2 small cucumber sliced
  • lime slices for garnish
  1. Rinse and drain rice thoroughly.
  2. Bring water and coconut milk to low boil in a medium pot with good lid. Stir in rice, salt, turmeric, and pandan (or bay leaves). Return to simmer. Cover and steam until most liquid is absorbed, 12–15 min. Remove from heat. Stir a few times. Cover and let sit 10 min. Remove and discard leaves before serving.
  3. Garnish with fried onions, cucumber, and lime slices.

Lemongrass Ginger Tofu:

  • 14 oz (400 g) firm tofu cut in cubes or strips
  • 1 1/2 cups (200 g) pineapple chopped
  • 1 Tbs oil
  • 2 shallots finely chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic finely chopped
  • 2 stalks lemongrass finely chopped
  • 3/4 in (2 cm) fresh ginger finely chopped
  • 1 tsp coriander ground
  • 1 Tbs lime juice or lemon juice
  • 1 Tbs soy sauce (Shoyu)
  • 1/4 tsp sea salt
  • fresh coriander or parsley leaves chopped, for garnish
  1. Cut tofu in slabs and wrap in clean kitchen towel. Weight with a heavy cutting board and press out extra moisture, 15–20 min. Unwrap and cut in cubes or strips.
  2. Heat oil in a large frying pan or wok on medium high heat. Add chopped shallots, garlic, lemongrass, ginger, and ground coriander. Fry, stirring constantly, until shallots being to soften and brown, 2–3 min.
  3. Add tofu cubes. Mix well. Fry, stirring regularly, until tofu cubes are golden brown and crispy on the edges, 5–8 min.
  4. Add chopped pineapple, lime (or lemon) juice, soy sauce, and salt. Fry, stirring regularly, another 5–10 min. Remove from heat.

Spicy Nuts:

  • 1/2 cup (50 g) peanuts
  • 1/2 cup (50 g) cashews
  • 1/2 tsp chili powder or paprika ground
  • 2 tsp coconut sugar
  • 1/4 tsp sea salt
  1. Heat a medium frying pan on medium heat. Dry roast peanuts and cashews, stirring regularly, until light golden brown and dark spots begin to appear, 4–7 min. Do not burn.
  2. Add chili powder (or paprika), sugar and salt. Mix well. Continue to cook another 2–3 min, stirring constantly, until sugar has melted and nuts are well coated. Remove from heat. Allow to cool.

Sambal Belacan:

  • 2–3 Tbs vegetable oil
  • 5 large (90 g) red chilies chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic chopped
  • 1 Tbs soy sauce (Shoyu)
  • 1 Tbs rice vinegar
  • 1 Tbs lime juice or lemon juice
  • 1 Tbs coconut sugar
  • 1/4 tsp sea salt
  1. Blend all ingredients in a small food processor or blender until smooth, adding more oil (or some water) as needed.
  2. Heat a small frying pan on medium heat. Add blended spice paste to pan and fry, stirring regularly, until sauce darkens, thickens, and oil separates, 8–12 min.
(available as printed cookbook & ebook in English & German)
Malaysia vegan cookbook cover blockprint

Watalappam

Wattalapam - Sri Lankan Spiced Coconut Custard Pudding

Watalappam is a traditional coconut dessert enjoyed in Sri Lanka.

This luscious custard is spiced-up with cinnamon, cloves, and cardamom, often with a hint of vanilla, and a smattering of nuts or dried fruits. The taste reminds me of a spicy, aromatic Indian cup of chai. But cold, coconutty, and soft! As with all recipes, everyone has their very own version. The Tamils make it different than the Singhalese, and the Muslims have another delightful variation.

I invented a vegan version of the coconut custard, and I added some variations of my own– including fresh (or frozen) berries. I often top it with dark, rich, sweet coconut blossom syrup (AKA palm syrup) which is extremely popular in Sri Lanka – and recently gaining popularity in Europe and the Americas. Sometimes I top the custard with blackstrap molasses or dark agave syrup, or some fresh fruit and nuts and maybe a bit of homemade fruit syrup, like I do with my vanilla muffins (also in The Lotus and the Artichoke – SRI LANKA cookbook.)

There’s actually a good story with the first time I had Watalappam in Sri Lanka. It highlights the need to stay cool, and remember that how we react in unexpected situations always influences how others perceive not just us as people, but whatever groups of people with whom we are associated – as foreign tourists, guests, citizens of particular countries, …and as vegetarians and vegans. In my travels, I try to be modest and respectful, and traveling vegan certainly comes with challenges here and there. Usually it’s much easier than others imagine, but I guess experience, a fair amount of luck and communication are all important factors.

One night I was invited to dinner at home with a Sri Lankan family in the small, charming town of Midigama.

Midigama is on the south west coast of Sri Lanka, and known for several great surfing spots, and I wanted to check it out. Sharani and her husband, a local tuk-tuk driver, lived with their two small children – and a funny green parrot that could talk – on a narrow, unpaved road a few minutes walk from the beach. She cooked for the better part of an afternoon, and by time dinner was ready, we were super hungry and totally curious what kind of deliciousness awaited us. Everything smelled fantastic! And then dinner was served: 5 Sri Lankan curries… including stir-fried Bonchi (green beans), spicy sautéed Brinjal (eggplant/aubergine), Carrot Curry, Dal (lentil) Curry, Soymeats Curry, and of course papadam, rice, and a simple salad of cucumbers and tomatoes.

After we finished eating, Sharani asked, “Do you like Watalappam? Sweets? Want to try?”

I was immediately curious, and asked her to describe it. “Made with coconut. Like a pudding. But very special flavors!” I tried once more, politely, to find out how it was made. “With eggs? Milk?” “No, no. Coconut!” “Butter?” “No, no. Coconut. And sugar! Palm syrup.” At this, she slid her chair back from the table, dashed to the kitchen, and returned with a chilled tray covered with plastic foil, which she was peeling back as she walked. Continue reading

Sri Lankan Jackfruit Curry

Jackfruit Curry Dinner from The Lotus and the Artichoke - SRI LANKA!

Sri Lankan Jackfruit Curry

This is absolutely one of my favorite dishes and recipes from my SRI LANKA vegan cookbook & ebook! I make it often at home, and have cooked it up for many dinner parties, cooking shows, and it’s regularly featured at the cooking classes I do, too. It’s really easy to make and it’s one of those dishes that’s a real crowd-pleaser, for vegans, vegetarians and non-vegetarians alike.

Strangely, Sri Lankan food is still not really that well-known in the world culinary scene — and the vegan scene, but it’s popularity and visibility has improved in the last few years. It’s kind of like jackfruit itself, which only recently has started to get really hyped and celebrated outside of Asia, where it has a long tradition and has been enjoyed for… well, practically forever! I suspect as Sri Lanka becomes more popular as a travel destination, more people will fall in love with the cuisine. Admittedly, I fell in love with Sri Lankan food about 10 years before my trip to Sri Lanka — there are some amazing Sri Lankan and South Indian eateries in Paris and Berlin that blew me away!

This Sri Lankan Jackfruit Curry is made with coconut milk, and it’s really creamy and intense. Jackfruit, kind of like plain tofu or tempeh or soy chunks (TVP), takes on the flavors of the sauce and marinade. The texture and freshness are amazing, and I enjoy it much more than the soy and faux-meat variations. (Which all work in this curry mix, too, btw!) You can use all kinds of coconut milk, or even make your own. If I buy coconut milk, I always try to get organic coconut milk with no weird additives and preservatives. In Germany, my favorite coconut milk is from Dr Goerg. It’s super rich and creamy, and combined with a little hit of coconut blossom syrup in the curry, this dish gets crazy delicious!

The main thing to know about cooking with jackfruit outside of Asia is: It’s easy to find! It’s inexpensive and really nothing bizarre. Almost every Asian import grocery store I’ve been to in the US, Canada, Germany, France, England, Holland and other parts of Europe, whether big city or little town, has Green Jackfruit (unsweetened!) in a can… but the yellow jackfruit which is primarily for sweet dishes and desserts is also usable, if you rinse off the syrup and adjust the spices / salt accordingly. Green jackfruit is the unripened, slightly tougher, less sweet fruit.

I had Jackfruit Curry in at least 10 different places in the 10 weeks I spent in Sri Lanka. Each restaurant and every family make it a bit different. I’ve also made lots of different variations on this one– sometimes sweeter, sometimes spicier, sometimes creamier, sometimes with other fun stuff like greens… or even pineapple! Continue reading