This dish is inspired by my recent trip to Kuala Lumpur and my quest to find the perfect Nasi Ulam. Everywhere I went, I looked for Nasi Ulam and/or Nasi Kerabu. I went to several places, and I would say that it was an incomplete/unsatisfactory quest. I did manage to eat Nasi Kerabu, and a Kerabu Fried Rice, but I felt like it could be better. I managed to buy a few herbs (but did not take any pictures, silly me!) from the supermarket in Malaysia before I left – Ulam Raja, Vietnamese Coriander or Daun Kesum (pictured below) and Daun Pegaga. I couldn’t find any Bunga Kantan (Torch Ginger Flower), and according to my mother, Nasi Ulam without Bunga Kantan is incomplete and not authentic. So, no Nasi Ulam post anytime soon (unless I can find Bunga Kantan here in Athens in the next few months… say I wonder if there is a way for me to grow these here?), so I will have to make do with an ad-hoc Nasi Ulam-inspired dish.
The trick is to use several types of fragrant herbs and salads. The essential ones (that you can easily find in most Western supermarkets) that you would most certainly HAVE to have are:
- Rocket (Arugula)
What I would recommend as extra herbs and salad (totally optional, and only if you have them on hand) are:
- Coriander (Cilantro)
- Kaffir Lime Leaves (a slice or 2 finely sliced would be fine)
- Lemongrass (a stalk, finely sliced)
- Chicory (Italian ones like Radicchio would do great, or even the bitter Belgian endive)
I have not included any of the hard-to-get asian herbs and salads because I will save them for the actual Nasi Ulam recipe.
Flavours are quite strong and fragrant for this side dish – and the rice used should also be fragrant. I recommend jasmine or basmati rice. You will need to season the rice when you are cooking it. Additional salt and seasoning may be required when you mix the rice with the finely chopped herbs and salad.
- a handful of parsley, sliced fine and thin
- a handful of basil, sliced fine and thin
- a few mint leaves, sliced fine and thin
- a large handful of rocket salad leaves, chopped fine
- 1 cup of basmati or jasmine rice, rinsed clean.
- 1 1/2 cups of hot water
- 2 -3 tbsps of olive oil
- Optional salad and herbs can be added, just make sure that they are sliced thin and fine.
- Cooking the rice: In a pot, heat the olive oil on medium low. Once hot, gently fry the uncooked rice, coating all the rice grains with olive oil. Season generously with salt, and stir continuously until the grains get slightly translucent.
- Add the hot water to the pot, and stir.
- Cook until you see the little crater holes appear at the top of the rice, and turn off the heat. Cover with a lid, and let the rice steam for about 10 – 15 minutes.
- In a big bowl, combine all the herbs and salads that you plan to use, and mix thoroughly.
- Once the rice is ready, add the rice to the vegetable mixture, and mix thoroughly.
- Taste, and add more salt if you need more seasoning. Alternatively, you can use an Umeboshi (pickled plum, chopped fine) as I did in this version (I had a few extra, after all)
- Serve as a side to a main dish – it goes very well grilled meats and fish, or as I did with Chicken Umeboshi.
Hope you’ll like it!