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Nasi Lemak

It’s one of the world’s most famous rice dishes… and now you can make it at home! I’ve got all the substitutions to make this awesome Malaysian favourite totally accessible.


Nasi Lemak

20 minutes
50 minutes

2 cups jasmine rice 

400g (14 fl oz) can coconut milk 

1 lemongrass stalk* 

fried peanuts, to serve 

hard boiled eggs, halved, to serve 

sliced cucumber, to serve 

ayam goreng (Malaysian Fried Chicken), to serve (optional) 


Spicy ikan bilis sambal: 

10 dried long red chillies 

fresh long red chillis 

2 red shallots, roughly chopped 

garlic clove, chopped 

1 tsp shrimp paste 

¼ cup peanut oil 

1 cup dried anchovies (also called ikan bilis)* 

1 small red onion, sliced onto rings 

1 tbsp brown sugar 

1 tbsp tamarind puree

  • Step 1

    To cook the rice, add the rice, coconut milk and lemongrass into a saucepan. Settle the rice evenly into the bottom of the saucepan. Place your finger on top of the rice and add enough water so that the liquid comes up to your first knuckle. Place over a medium-high heat and simmer for 10 minutes or until most of the liquid has evaporated. Then place a lid on and reduce the heat to low and cook for another 2 minutes. Then turn the heat off and allow to sit, covered, for 10 minutes. 

  • Step 2

    For the spicy ikan bilis sambal, soak the dried chillies in hot water for 15 minutes to soften. Drain the chillies squeezing out the excess liquid. Reserve the soaking liquid. 

  • Step 3

    Place the soaked chillies in the bowl of a small food processor along with the fresh chilli, shallot, garlic and shrimp paste. Process until a coarse paste forms

  • Step 4

    Heat the oil in a wok over high heat. Add the anchovies and cook, stirring often, for 5 minutes or until crisp. Use a slotted spoon to transfer to a plate lined with paper towel. Add the onion to the pan. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes. Transfer to the plate with the anchovies. Add the chilli mixture to the wok. Reduce heat to low. Cook, stirring often for 5 minutes or until the red oil rises to the surface. Add the sugar, tamarind and 2 tablespoons of the chilli soaking liquid. Simmer for 5 minutes or until reduced. Stir in the anchovies and onion. Transfer to a bowl.  

  • Step 5

    When ready to serve, use a fork to fluff up the coconut rice. Serve the rice with the spicy ikan bilis sambal, peanuts, egg, cucumber and ayam goreng (if using). 

  • Notes

    – Typically, this rice is infused with pandan leaves, but I use lemongrass or ginger slices when I can’t find pandan leaves at my Asian grocery store. You could also just do coconut milk without the extra aromatics. 

    – Ikan bilis are a dried anchovy fish that are sold through Asian grocery stores. They can be sold ‘fresh’ frozen (in which case you need to cook them as I have here) or they can be bought shelf-stable and already fried, in which case you can just add them into the sambal without having to fry them first. 

What is nasi lemak?

Nasi lemak is a dish that originated in Malay cuisine, it is actually widely considered the national dish of Malaysia. Nasi lemak is a rice dish that consists of fragrant rice cooked in coconut milk and pandan leaf. It is then served with various sides and condiments.

How to serve nasi lemak?

Nasi lemak is served commonly with ikan bilis sambal, sliced cucumber, boiled eggs, fried peanuts and ayam goreng (Malaysian fried chicken). You commonly serve nasi lemak by plating a large portion of the fragrant rice, adding the ikan bilis sambal on top and the other nasi lemak components around the rest of the dish. Nasi lemak is truly one of my all time favourite Malaysian dishes, and I am so thrilled to have made the substitutions to make nasi lemak accessible at home!

What is nasi lemak in English?

Nasi Lemak translates in english roughly to fatty/oily rice – but don’t let this scare you off! Whilst this is the direct translation of nasi lemak, nasi lemak actually means creamy rice, which is much more appetising, and super delicious – trust me!

Marion's Kitchen is for everyone who finds joy in flavour and happiness in every bite. Marion's Kitchen is for everyone who finds joy in flavour and happiness in every bite.

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