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Directly translated as “rice salad”, Nasi Ulam is a Nyonya (a combination of Malay and Chinese cultures) rice dish infused with a mix of raw herbs. Back then, this dish was prepared with 100 different exotic herbs, such as daun kadok (wild betel leaf), daun kunyit (turmeric leaf), cashew nut leaves, basil leaves and more. These herbs provide bursts of aromatic and earthy flavours to the rice.
Nasi Ulam is not meant to be drowned in curries but relished with a side of fried fish or chicken, completed with sambal belacan (shrimp chilli paste) for a spicy kick. It can also be enjoyed on its own with its strong herbal taste. Dried shrimp and salted fish are also incorporated into the dish for some protein.
Not all Nasi Ulam is the same, safe for three main ingredients that mostly remain constant—rice, shallots and kerisik (fried coconut paste). The herbs used in the rice depend on accessibility, but many of them are widely available here in Southeast Asia.
Making this dish can be quite tiresome, but we’ve simplified this recipe to make your lives easier! Just remember; this delicious Perakanan dish is undoubtedly worth the time and effort.
Nasi Ulam Recipe
300g of long grain rice (Basmati or Jasmine rice)
140g of grated coconut
130g of salted fish
130g of dried shrimps
¾ tsp of ground pepper
1½ tsp of salt
¾ tsp of sugar
1 lemongrass stalk
5 turmeric leaves
9 daun kesum (Vietnamese coriander)
5 kaffir lime leaves
7 mint leaves
9 Thai basil leaves
1½ chilli peppers (optional)
- Wash and drain the rice thoroughly. Add 2 cups of water with the rice in a rice cooker and allow it to cook.
- While the rice is cooking, prepare the kerisik. Using a dry frying pan, fry the shredded coconut on medium-low heat until it turns brown. Let it cool slightly. Pound the contents in a pestle and mortar until it has the consistency of brown sugar.
- Add a tablespoon of cooking oil to the pan and fry the salted fish and dried shrimps with ½ teaspoon of salt and ¼ teaspoon of ground pepper until it turns golden brown. Pound the contents finely.
- Julienne the lemongrass stalk and shallots. Slice the turmeric leaves, daun kesum, kaffir lime leaves, Thai basil leaves and mint leaves into thin pieces.
- Transfer the rice into a big bowl and mix the ingredients accordingly:
– Add the kerisik, salted fish and dried shrimp. Stir them into the rice thoroughly.
– Add the other ingredients like lemongrass, shallots and last but not least, the leafy herbs!
– Mix it well.
- (optional) Garnish the dish with some sliced chilli peppers or a splash of lime juice.
- Serve at room temperature with side dishes of your choice.
- Since Nasi Ulam is typically served at room temperature, it’s advisable to prepare the ingredients and cook the rice a day before.
- Search for your desired herbs at Asian markets or grocery stores. You can also substitute some of the harder-to-come-by herbs with betel leaves, sweet basil or Indian pennywort.
- You can substitute kaffir lime leaves with a bay leaf.
- You can easily make this dish vegetarian by skipping the dried shrimps and salted fish and serve it with vegetarian sambal belacan.
This Perakanan dish is jam-packed with distinctive flavours and health benefits. Don’t hesitate to make Nasi Ulam for celebratory events or even if you’re just craving some good ol’ fashioned Nyonya food.
Check out Lokataste Recipes for more delicious Malaysian recipes!