vegetarian nasi lemak
Months ago I was groaning myself over the simplicity of this Malaysian national dish. While the rice and vegetable sides are usually accompanied by meat (usually a fiery beef rendang or a chicken curry) I’ve eaten some vegetarian versions that make an equally fine and groan-worthy meal.
While I’ve endeavoured to keep this vegetarian the one hiccough is the shrimp paste in the sambal. Though I’ve read about “vegetarian belacan” I’ve yet to find it. Vegans and vegetarians feel free to improvise but for those who can eat seafood, belacan gives it that illusive umami depth of flavour that makes me swoon at the smell. (Adding that to my list of tofu and durian loving and I have to accept I’m some kind of freak when it comes to food).
While this really is a simple yet stunning dish, it is a bit fiddley preparing all the parts. I’ve had a couple of goes at creating it now and found it’s most enjoyable to prepare in a leisurely manner – roasting the peanuts, boiling the eggs and making the sambal all ahead of time. Once all the grinding, roasting, boiling and chopping is done it’s just a matter of moulding the rice by patting it into a small bowl, upturning it prettily upon the plate and assembling all the vegetarian a compliments.
Almost vegetarian nasi lemak
Coconut rice (I do a light version using 1 part rice, 1 pt water, 1 pt coconut milk cooked by the absorption method)
OR brown rice (if you want a more wholesome meal)
Tempeh, thinly sliced
kecap manis (Indonesian sweet soy sauce)
Eggs, boiled and halved
Sambal (see below)
Kangkung, cut into 3” lengths and boiled for 2 minutes (green beans are a nice substitute if you can’t get it)
Peanuts, roasted and lightly salted
serves 3, double if you need more
(I know it’s my Balinese recipe but it works really well)
1 tsp shrimp paste
2 large red chilies (more if you like it spicy)
1 medium red onion (or 2-3 shallots, or half a brown onion if need be)
3 cloves of garlic
A small handful of nuts (I tend to use cashews)
A tsp or 2 of palm sugar
Sea salt, to taste
Coconut oil (any mild vegetable oil will do)
Prepare the shrimp paste in the usual way. I wrap it in a double layer of aluminum foil and dry roast in a hot fry pan for a few minutes.
Throw all the sambal ingredients (except the oil) in a food processor and blitz.
Heat a fry pan or wok; add enough oil to lightly cover the bottom of the pan. Fry the sambal over a medium to high heat for about 5-8 minutes, stirring frequently, until it is reduced by nearly half.
Reserve 1/2 – 2/3 of the sambal and put aside, to use as a side dish when assembling the meal. Toss the boiled, drained kangkung in the remaining sambal and cook for a further minute or two.
Fry thin slices of tempeh in vegetable oil until crisp. While still on the heat add 2-4 teaspoons of kecap manis and toss through the tempeh until lightly covered. It’s sticky; so don’t bother draining it on kitchen paper.
Now assemble your meal – a nice mound of rice surrounded by boiled egg halves, tempeh, roasted peanuts, kangkung tossed in sambal, cucumber and a nice big dollop of extra sambal on the side.
I can’t promise this is an authentic dish but I can assure you it tastes so good, it’s addictive.