International cooking for the youthful malcontent.

Nasi Lemak / Coconut Rice

Nasi Lemak / Coconut Rice

Nasi Lemak translates literally to “rice in cream”. Nasi means rice and lemak is the cream. Due to it’s relative simplicity and versatility, it can be served on it’s own as a breakfast, accompanied by sambals, or paired with heavier curries for later meals. Hence it’s designation as the national dish of Malaysia.

The cooking process is nearly as simple as its name – all we do is cook rice in coconut cream, or something close to that. We’re also going to add some complexity to the dish with distinct aromas: pandan leaf and lemongrass. The end result is a fairly rich coconut-tasting rice with a perfume of jasmine, floral/grassy pandan and the light citrus of lemongrass. Mmm. The interesting thing here is that the pandan and lemongrass are used more for aroma than actual flavour (neither are actually consumed). It may seem a little strange that ingredients are added that won’t be tasted or chewed, but if you can find them, they should not be overlooked. Your nose will thank you.

I have a rice cooker. If you don’t have one, I suggest you get yourself one. The one I have is not particularly fancy – it has one button (COOK) and it cost me $19.99 at Home Depot. They are so widely available now, and for so little, that there’s really no excuse for not owning one. No more Uncle Ben’s Minute Rice, either, ok? Anyway, I am writing these instructions for use in a rice cooker. If you are used to cooking rice in some other way, by all means, do it your way – this is essentially the absorption method of cooking rice, using coconut milk instead of water.

Ingredients (produces about 2 cups of cooked rice):

  • 1 cup of jasmine rice
  • 1 cup of coconut milk (the normal kind, not the thicker brands – if you have very thick coconut cream, make the cup roughly 50%-70% coconut and the rest water)
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1-2 pandan leaves, tied into a knot (optional)
  • 4″ base of 1 stalk of lemongrass, crushed (optional, see note)

Crushing Lemongrass: to prepare lemongrass for scenting rice, cut the very bottom and the dry top of the stalk off, leaving about 8″ of the stalk’s base intact. Cut this piece in half, giving you two 4″ pieces. We’re only using 1 piece here, so you can save the other piece for something else (more rice!). Lay the flat surface of a wide knife blade over the piece, and with your hand press down onto the stalk, cracking the stalk open. Repeat this process across the length of the stalk. It doesn’t need to be totally mashed, just broken open so the stalk can infuse the cooking liquid with its scent and flavour. You could also use a flat kitchen mallet for this, if you have one. I don’t.

Serve with: almost anything you’d normally serve with rice, but particularly SE Asian curries, hot sambal, etc.

What you will need: rice cooker, measuring cups and spoons, knife and cutting board (if using lemongrass)


  1. Rinse the rice: In the rice cooker’s basin, measure out the cup of rice and fill up the basin with cool/cold water (about 4 cups worth of water, but there’s no need to measure it precisely). Swirl the rice grains around in the water. The water will get cloudy. Carefully pour out the water, and repeat this process about 3-4 more times. Read more here if you’d like to know why you are doing this.
  2. Now that we’ve got rinsed rice, make sure you’ve drained the rice as best you can without losing too many grains down the sink. Into the rice cooker basin, add the coconut milk and the salt, and gently mix the ingredients into the rice grains. If the coconut milk doesn’t cover the rice grains completely, top up the mixture with a bit of water. Generally the ratio of rice to liquid in a rice cooker should be 1:1. The packages of rice will say the ratio should be 1:2 (2 cups of water per 1 cup of rice) but that is because the typical pot allows more steam to escape than any decent rice cooker would. To each their own, though – if you know how your specific rice cooker is unique, or are using the stove-top method, adjust accordingly.
  3. Into the mixed rice grains, stick the knotted pandan leaves and/or crushed stalk of lemongrass.
  4. Insert the basin back into the main unit of the rice cooker, put the lid on and start the cooking cycle. This is where I press the “COOK” button and walk back to my simmering curry pot. Man, I love my rice cooker.
  5. My rice cooker turns itself off when it’s done cooking, so that’s all I have to do, besides eat.

Easy. Delicious. Goes well with just about everything. Coconut rice. You know you want some.


2 responses

  1. Wonderful 🙂 Want to make some red curry paste in the near future, now I have an excuse. Sort of , anyway.

    May 23, 2010 at 2:57 pm

  2. Pingback: Rendang Daging « No More Microwaves

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