Nasi Goreng

Nasi Goreng from The Lotus and the Artichoke MALAYSIA vegan cookbook

I couldn’t even tell you how many times I had Nasi Goreng while I was in Malaysia.

It was definitely often. Like, really often. Not only is this traditional vegetable fried rice dish usually totally delicious, it’s also usually easy to find and (with little to no effort) a great vegan option.

Pretty much everywhere I went in the five weeks in Malaysia, this dish was on the menu or easy to order at almost any restaurant. Especially out of the big cities and in the countryside – and particularly on the islands and beaches – this is a vegan/vegetarian stand-by that is never hard to find.

(By the way, based on my travels, this is true for most of Southeast Asia, including Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, and Myanmar… but the dish is found under other names and with local flavors.)

This becomes an almost daily meal, if vegan options are limited.

On Pulau Pangkor, there were two food places (more shacks than restaurants) that served fantastic Nasi Goreng and vegetable fried rice. And in Borneo, staying in the Permai rainforest, the local restaurant and the nearby food court had vegetable fried rice, or Nasi Goreng. There were also many breakfast or lunch buffets at hotels and restaurants that had rice dishes like this. Contrarily, when in Penang and Kuala Lumpur I was usually so blown away by other vegan choices that I didn’t eat Nasi Goreng as often.

Nasi Goreng’s flavors and textures forge powerful memories for anyone who’s been to Malaysia or Indonesia – or even just a Malaysian or Indonesian restaurant – whether vegan, vegetarian, or neither.

Just as with so many classic recipes – from region to region and family to family this dish is made a million different ways. This is mine… inspired by so many excellent meals on my adventures.

When I created this recipe for the Malaysia cookbook, I made sure to hit all the best, unique flavors in a good Nasi Goreng:

Fresh galangal root (or ginger), lime juice, spicy chili, and a thin, tangy sauce provided by the mix of Shoyu soy sauce, vinegar, and citrus zest. I also round out the savory flavors with some sweetness. Traditionally in Malaysia, this dish would be served with just a bit of chopped vegetables (and way more rice). For my recipe, I’ve got a lot of the good stuff, included the crumbled tofu – which, by the way, replaces scrambled egg – sometimes found in traditional Nasi Goreng.

By the way, I have many similar recipes inspired by other travels and other countries and cuisines – including: Cambodian Fried RiceMexican Magic Rice, and Vegetable Fried Rice from my World, Mexico, and Sri Lanka vegan cookbooks. After you’ve tried my Nasi Goreng, check out the other recipes and decide which country’s classic fried rice is your favorite.

Nasi Goreng - LotusArtichoke Instagram

Nasi Goreng

traditional vegetable fried rice

recipe from The Lotus and the Artichoke – MALAYSIA available in English & German

serves 2 to 3 / time 40 min +

  • 3.5 oz (100 g) firm tofu
  • 1 cup (190 g) broken jasmine rice or short grain brown rice
  • 1/2 tsp sea salt
  • 1 2/3 cup (400 ml) water
  • 1 cup (100 g) chinese cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli or bok choy finely chopped
  • 1 medium (90 g) carrot finely chopped or sliced
  • 2–3 Tbs oil
  • 1 tsp sesame oil optional
  • 3 (50 g) spring onions chopped, separated into white ends and greens
  • 1 or 2 cloves garlic finely chopped
  • 1 large red chili finely chopped optional
  • 1/2 in. (1 cm) fresh galangal or ginger finely chopped
  • 1 tsp coriander ground
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper ground
  • 2 Tbs soy sauce (Shoyu)
  • 1 Tbs lime juice or lemon juice
    or 2 tsp rice vinegar
  • 1 tsp lime zest or lemon zest optional
  • 1 tsp sugar or agave syrup
  • 1/2 tsp sea salt
  • lime slices for garnish
  1. Cut tofu in slabs, wrap in clean kitchen towel. Weight with heavy cutting boards to press out excess moisture. Let sit 20 min. Unwrap tofu and crumble into a bowl.
  2. Wash and drain rice thoroughly.
  3. Bring water to boil in a small pot. Add rice and salt. Stir. Return to boil. Reduce heat to low and cover. Simmer 12 to 20 min as needed. After water is absorbed, remove from heat. Fluff rice with a fork. Cover and let sit and cool, ideally an hour or more.
  4. Heat oil in a large wok or frying pan on medium high. Add chopped spring onion ends, garlic, chili (if using), galangal (or ginger), ground coriander, and black pepper. Fry, stirring constantly, until lightly browned, 2–3 min.
  5. Add chopped carrots. Fry, stirring constantly, 2–3 min. Add crumbled tofu. Mix well. Fry, stirring regularly, until tofu begins to turn golden brown, 3–5 min. Add chopped cabbage (or other vegetables). Fry, stirring constantly, until vegetables start to soften, 4–5 min.
  6. Whisk soy sauce, lime (or lemon) juice, zest, sugar (or agave syrup), and sea salt in a small bowl.
  7. Add cooked rice to frying vegetables. Mix well. Add soy sauce mix and spring onions greens. Combine well. Fry, stirring constantly until liquid has been absorbed and rice and vegetables are moderately browned, 5–7 min. Remove from heat. Cover until ready to serve.
  8. Serve with lime slices.
vegan recipe for Nasi Goreng from The Lotus and the Artichoke – MALAYSIA
Malaysia vegan cookbook cover blockprint

Apam Balik

Apam Balik from The Lotus and the Artichoke MALAYSIA vegan cookbook

It was my first day in Kuala Lumpur…

I’d just arrived and was at the start of a 5 week culinary adventure to get a taste of Malaysia, Singapore, and Borneo. The sun shone bright and the sky was that deep, satisfying shade of blue. I was on a short morning walk from the Winsin Hotel on the edge of downtown Chinatown, heading towards the Indian neighborhood.

Just outside the subway station on a particularly more urban street corner was a line of shiny, silver food trucks. My eye was caught immediately by one in particular: A woman was spilling roasted, candied peanuts and then corn kernels from a can onto a golden, round, thin pancake. She folded it over – making sort of a sweet taco – and placed it on a rack on the chrome counter of her street food cart. She caught me watching and smiled.

“Hey Mister! You try Apam Balik!”

Well, what could I say? I got closer and watched her make another two crepes. First, she stirred a simple batter of mostly rice flour and coconut milk and poured and spread the crepe on the sizzling griddle. Moments later, she pried up an edge, slid her spatula tracing under the circle, and flipped it over. I watched her again top the thin, crunchy crepes with peanuts and corn before folding them in half and setting them on the rack just in front of me.

Just then, a colorfully dressed Indian woman parted from a few family members and approached the cart from my side. She reached out an anxious hand in a dance-like gesture, rattling rows of wrist bangles, and scooped two of the Apim Balik pancakes from the rack. She rattled off a few sentences in Malay to the seller, they exchanged some money, and both giggled briefly. The Indian woman turned to me and extended one of the crepes until it was right in my face. She said to me in melodic Indian English:

“This one for you. Apam Balik. Peanut Pancake!”

It was in my grasp and between my teeth before I knew it. The crepe was crunchy on the outside but then soft and chewy, quickly giving way to the delightful combination of sweet and salty flavors from the roasted peanuts, punctuated by bursts of fresh corn juiciness. It was perfect. I devoured the rest of it.

Weeks later, back in Berlin, I set about to re-create the deliciousness.

For the vegan recipe in my MALAYSIA cookbook, I made a simple, sure-fire formula for making Apim Balik at home in the kitchen. I didn’t have to veganize anything. It’s a pretty much straight-up thin pancake batter based on rice flour, coconut milk and sugar, lending a crunchy thin crepe. For the filling, I simplified it going with just candied peanuts. My variations (below) include optionally topping it with a sweet syrup and going authentic street food style with sweet corn kernels.

Apam Balik

crispy, crunchy peanut-filled pancakes

recipe from The Lotus and the Artichoke – MALAYSIA

makes 4 to 6 / time 30 min +

  • 3/4 cup (100 g) peanuts crumbled or very coarsely ground
  • 2 Tbs sugar
  • 1/4 tsp sea salt
  • 1/2 cup (60 g) flour (all purpose / type 550)
  • 1/2 cup (50 g) rice flour
  • 1/4 cup (45 g) sugar
  • 1 Tbs corn starch
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp sea salt
  • 1 cup (240 ml) coconut milk
  • 2 Tbs water
  • agave syrup or coconut (palm) syrup optional
  • vegetable oil for frying pan
  1. Crumble or coarsely grind peanuts and dry roast in a pan on medium heat until golden brown and dark spots appear, 4–5 min. Add sugar and salt. Mix well. Stirring constantly, roast until sugar melts and mix starts to stick together, 1–2 min. Remove from heat.
  2. Combine flour, rice flour, sugar, corn starch, baking powder, and salt in a large mixing bowl. Whisk in coconut milk and water gradually. Mix until mostly smooth, but do not over mix. Cover and let batter sit 20–30 min.
  3. Heat frying pan on medium high heat. Put a few drops of oil on pan and rub it around with a paper towel. Do this before each pancake. When a drop of water sizzles and dances on surface, pan is ready.
  4. Pour about 1/4 to 1/3 cup (60–80 ml) batter in the center of the hot pan. Tilt and turn the pan to form a large, thin, circular pancake.
  5. After bubbles appear on surface and underside is golden brown (about 2–3 min), use a spatula to carefully peel up the edges around the pancake and then flip it over. Cook the other side for 1–2 min, then flip it back over. Put 2–3 Tbs of the sugary peanuts on the pancake and roll up or fold over. Transfer to a plate. Repeat with other pancakes.
  6. Serve plain, or drizzle pancakes with agave syrup or coconut syrup.

Variations:

Creamy: Use peanut butter instead of roasted, crumbled peanuts. Bananas: Add sliced banana to filling. Traditional: Add 1–2 Tbs sweet corn kernels to each pancake filling.

Apam Balik - Malaysian Peanut Pancakes on Instagram (The Lotus and the Artichoke)

vegan recipe from The Lotus and the Artichoke – MALAYSIA available in English & German

Malaysia vegan cookbook cover blockprint

 

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

Penang Laksa

Penang Laksa Noodle Soup

Incredibly, I’d been in Malaysia for almost two weeks before I got to try Laksa, the legendary noodle soup. Even before the trip, I’d read about the intensely loved, powerful and fiery, somewhat-sour soup in food blogs and food guides to Malaysia. I’d checked out plenty of recipes and seen lots of super tasty photos.

Once I got to Malaysia, whenever I asked locals what dishes I had to try, I heard again and again: Laksa! Okay, great, but where? And the answer was: Penang!

Penang was hands-down my favorite place to eat on the Malaysia trip. (Singapore was a fairly close second. Penang was just more artsy, soulful, and real). I collected maps with locations of the best street food in Georgetown (Penang) and scoured the web and my travel guides for addresses of must-try vegetarian restaurants. On my second day in town, I had lunch at the vegan restaurant Sushi Kitchen, and met the chef/owner, who made a list for me of Must-See places and dishes.

That night I went to Luk Yea Yan, a vegetarian Chinese restaurant known for fantastic flavors and inexpensive eats. I ordered up the Laksa soup. Three minutes later my oversized bowl of hot, steaming, bright red soup arrived – with countless ingredients and toppings piled up to the rim. There were at least three kinds of noodles, tofu cubes, soya and seitan chunks, numerous vegetables, about four kinds of fresh herbs – and balanced on top: a soup spoon with a thick, red curry paste on it. I’d read about this…

Traditionally Laksa is usually served with a generous spoonful of rempeh – spicy red curry paste for you to stir in to the hot red broth yourself. I knew what to do. I did it.

A half dozen flavors immediately exploded in my mouth: tamarind, chili, lime, pineapple, cilantro, mint. This was followed by a second wave of flavors: an army of vegetables, tofu, and seitan slices. I slurped down the noodles and paddled pieces of everything with my chopsticks into my hungry jaws. I had to take a break a few times to catch my breath and cool the spice alarm with generous draws on my lemon iced tea. When I was done, my forehead was light with perspiration and my lips and tongue were tingling and alive.

There was never a doubt whatsoever that I would include a vegan recipe for Penang Laksa in my new Malaysia cookbook. Several weeks later (after having tried vegan Laksa soup at least three other times in Malaysia) I was back in my kitchen in Germany and set to work. It took a few attempts to master the recipe, each try better than the last. And then I had it: my own epic Laksa recipe!

Since then, I’ve made it probably ten more times, including for several dinner parties large and small, and plenty of times for lunch. It’s best on cold, cloudy days to fire up your mood and open you up! But I’ve also made it lots of other times, even in the summer, well… just because it’s so awesome and is always a dish guests talk about long after the meal.

Penang Laksa

classic Malaysian noodle soup

recipe from The Lotus and the Artichoke – MALAYSIA

serves 2 to 3 / time 45 min

  • 5 oz (150 g) seitan sliced
  • 3.5 oz (100 g) smoked tofu sliced
  • 1/3 cup (45 g) pineapple chopped
  • 1 Tbs vegetable oil 
  • 1 Tbs soy sauce or Vegan Fish Sauce
  • 7 oz (200 g) udon noodles (cooked)
  • 2 1/2 cups (600 ml) water 
  • 2/3 cup (150 ml) coconut milk 
  • 1 kefir lime leaf or 1 tsp lime zest 
  • fresh mint leaves chopped
  • fresh coriander leaves chopped
  • fresh thai basil leaves chopped
  • bean sprouts for garnish

laksa spice paste:

  • 4 candlenuts or 2 Tbs cashews soaked 20 min in hot water, drained
  • 1 stalk lemongrass chopped
  • 1/2–1 large red chili chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic chopped
  • 1 shallot chopped
  • 3/4 in (2 cm) fresh galangal or ginger chopped
  • 1/2 tsp paprika ground (more as desired, for red color)
  • 1/2 tsp fennel seed ground
  • 1/2 tsp coriander ground
  • 2 tsp coconut sugar or agave syrup 
  • 3/4 tsp sea salt 
  • 1 tsp tamarind paste (seedless)
  • 2 Tbs lime juice or lemon juice 
  • 2 Tbs vegetable oil 
  1. If using dried Udon: Cook, rinse, and drain 3.5 oz (100 g) noodles according to package instructions.
  2. Blend spice paste ingredients in a small food processor until smooth.
  3. Heat 1 Tbs oil a large pot or wok on medium high heat. Add sliced seitan and smoked tofu. Fry, turning regularly until edges are browned and crispy, 3–5 min.
  4. Stir in chopped pineapple. Continue to stir-fry, 2–3 min. Add soy sauce (or Vegan Fish Sauce). Fry 2–3 min. Transfer to a plate or bowl.
  5. Return pot or wok to medium high heat. Fry blended spice paste until it darkens and oil starts to separate, stirring constantly, 3–5 min.
  6. Gradually stir in water, coconut milk and kefir lime leaf (or lime zest). Bring to simmer. Add cooked udon noodles. Return to simmer. Cook until noodles have slightly softened, 3–5 min.
  7. Stir in fried seitan, tofu, and pineapple. Turn off heat. Cover until ready to serve.
  8. Portion soup and noodles into bowls. Garnish with chopped herbs and bean sprouts. Serve.

My first Laksa in Penang, Malaysia

Penang Laksa - Instagram

Penang Laksa Malaysian Noodle Soup by The Lotus and the Artichoke - Instagram (Jan 2017)

Panang Laksa vegan recipe from The Lotus and the Artichoke – MALAYSIA

(available as printed cookbook & ebook – in English & German)

Malaysia vegan cookbook cover blockprint