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

Vegetable Pad Thai

Vegetable Pad Thai with tofu - The Lotus and the Artichoke - Vegan Recipes from World Adventures

In the last few weeks I’ve been so super busy getting the design finished for the printed The Lotus and the Artichoke vegan cookbook, I’ve hardly had any time to get new recipes up on the website. The good news is: The cookbook is going to print this week, and I’ve got another time-tested favorite recipe inspired from my travels. This one is also in the cookbook, and it’s just too good not to share!

Along with the pineapple pancakes I recently posted, today’s dish has always been one of my favorite culinary memories of Thailand. I ate Vegetable Pad Thai at the street carts, at nice restaurants, in back alley neighborhood restaurants, and at the simple beach resort on Koh Chang. All over Bangkok you can get street food Pad Thai a dozen different ways. I always got the vegetarian stuff, which usually had tofu and vegetables, but sometimes just vegetables. For about thirty to fifty cents I’d get a steaming bowl of noodles and veg topped with sauce, crushed peanuts, and a lime slice or two. I usually dosed it with some more hot sauce and then sat down on the sidewalk somewhere to chow down.

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Blintzes

Blintzes . The Lotus and the Artichoke - Vegan Recipes from World Adventures

I grew up with blintzes. I have always loved the funny little things. My grandmother, originally from Chicago, made huge batches of them for our family dinners when we visited. She learned how to make blintzes from my great grandmother. She also passed down family recipes for borscht and all kinds of other Russian/Ukrainian classics.

From them, my mother learned the art of blintzes. She, too, often made them for special occasions. It was a common request for birthday dinners among my brothers and I. Some of my earliest kitchen memories are of my grandmother and mother at the stove cooking up tall stacks of blintz pancakes in a special crepe pan. I remember being just a bit taller than the kitchen counter, looking at eye-level into a big bowl of cottage cheese and mashed crackers. I’d watch the blintzes being filled, rolled, fried in vegetable shortening, piled up on plates, and put on the dining table with bowls of sour cream and jars of cherry preserves.

When kids at school asked me what my favorite food was, I’d usually tell them: BLINTZES! All too often I had to explain what they were. That seemed pretty weird to me. Didn’t everyone’s mother and grandmother know how to make awesome cheese-stuffed crepes?

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German Zwiebelkuchen

German Zwiebelkuchen with smoked tofu - The Lotus and the Artichoke - Vegan Recipes from World Adventures

When I announced that I would be adding 5 traditional German recipes to the cookbook, including a recipe for vegan Zwiebelkuchen, one of my Kickstarter backers wrote to me with a special request.

His birthday is tomorrow and he asked if I’d share the Zwiebelkuchen recipe earlier so he could make it and serve it with traditional Federweißer (“new wine”) for a birthday party. I told him I’d get to work on testing and finishing the recipe and would get it to him today. I made it last night and it turned out even better than I hoped!

Zwiebelkuchen is sort of like a cross between French quiche and Italian thick-crust pizza, but it’s also reminiscent of German Flammkuchen, which has a thinner crust and less toppings. This is a tasty savoury cake which actually has a lot less onion flavor than one might expect. The result is a delicious and hearty meal which stirs memories. It takes some time and involves a lot of steps, but it’s well worth the effort!

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Vegan Paneer Makhani

Vegan Paneer Makhani - North Indian - The Lotus and the Artichoke - Vegan Recipes from World Travel Adventures

I could talk about Paneer Makhani for hours. I have so many stories about and memories of this dish, mostly from my visits to India, but also from great Indian restaurants around the world and the many variations of it.

This dish actually parades about under many names. This is true with many incredible Indian recipes. Anyone who’s been to more than two Indian restaurants or eaten at home with Indian families understands this. In fact, I’ve found myself in passionate debates and confusing conversations revolving around these naming issues! Every family has their own idea of what a dish is and isn’t, what it’s called, and what it contains. Or doesn’t. Imagine trying to get a concise definition of pizza, with all it’s shapes, colors, toppings, and flavors – You start to get an idea how complicated the naming game is.

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Mutter Tofu Paneer

Mutter Paneer Tofu - North Indian - The Lotus and the Artichoke vegan cookbook

Mutter Tofu Paneer is the vegan Mutter Paneer – a peas and homemade cheese-cube curry, one of the most famous and popular North Indian vegetarian recipes and dishes. It’s on almost every menu of every Indian restaurant everywhere. But every cook makes it their own special way.

I experimented with this dish several times a month for the year that I lived in India. Even if you aren’t a numbers whiz, you probably have the idea: Yes sir, Yes ma’am, I’ve cooked this dish a lot. I’ve also sampled dozens of different variations across the subcontinent and at Indian buffets throughout North America and Europe.

The best Mutter Paneer ever? No question, no doubts: at homes eating with the family as an honored guest. Indians know how to make you feel like the most welcome guest in the world. Amazing food makes it easy.

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Zucchini Lasagna

Zucchini Lasagna with smoked tofu and mushrooms - The Lotus and the Artichoke vegan cookbook

One of the most embarrassing moments in my life involved a giant baked vegan lasagne and the evil oven of a Jersey Shore rental apartment.

I was seventeen, living in Ocean City, New Jersey with about 5 (sometimes 10+) friends in a one-bedroom apartment a block from the beach and the boardwalk. It was the summer before my first year of college. I’d invited a girl I’d just met and was eager to impress, and I’d prepared this mega lasagna — enough to serve the roomful of people hanging out, too.

As I was pulling out the oven tray to remove the finished, steaming-hot lasagna, the tray popped out of the slots, forming the perfect slope aiming my giant lasagna right at the floor. I watched in horror as it slid — in slow-motion and way too hot to grab — tumbled off the metal tray, flipped over and landed top down. On the carpet. In front of everyone.

Did we eat it anyway? Heck, yeah. It was like a lasagna upside-down cake. I had to trash of the top layer, but managed to save the rest. Once I got over my initial embarrassment, we all laughed. And if my memory is correct, the lasagna was pretty tasty and we all liked it.

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Eggplant Basil Thai Curry

Eggplant Basil Coconut Tofu Curry : Thai - The Lotus and the Artichoke

This recipe for Eggplant Basil Thai Curry is based on one of my favorite dishes from the takeaway Thai counter at the family-style, super authentic, sometimes dicey Boston Chinatown Eatery. I hear it has since closed, but my artist friends and I used to hang out there all the time in the 90s when we were doing the art studio loft thing in Boston downtown, working in Fort Point’s emerging web design studios, and in the days I was running Gallery Insekt, an experimental not-for-profit artspace.

In my travels in Thailand I had many excellent similar dishes with basil and eggplant, mostly in bustling Bangkok back alleys and on the then mostly-undiscovered paradise Ko Chang island. The coconut spin is actually my doing, making this sort of a hybrid dish with more classic Thai coconut curries.

I’ve also experimented with more tomato and no coconut milk. This results in more of a stir-fry and less of a creamy coconut curry. See what works for you! If unfamiliar with salting eggplant prior to cooking, I suggest looking it up online or in any comprehensive cookbook discussing vegetable cookery. Cooks have debated endlessly on whether or not salting eggplant is necessary. I learned the trick ages ago from my mother and stand by it. Using Asian aubergine is a way around it – they naturally have a milder, less bitter flavor. If you don’t like eggplant, it can be replaced with squash or zucchini.

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