Healthier Nasi Lemak & Sambal Tumis That CANNOT Be Compromised

I love to eat.

I’m sure family and friends who have seen me chomping on alfalfa sprouts (yes I have been called a grass-grazing goat though I look nothing like one) and adding salad greens to my meals will contest this declaration.

But I really do love food!

Like how I want to have my cake (and it MUST be a cake worth eating!) and eat it, I also want to live a happy, fulfilling and healthy life with the people I love. Plus the legacy of my late mother-in-law’s legacy of to love is to feed cannot be ignored. Hence the decision to healthify a family all-time favourite: Nasi Lemak. For those unfamiliar with this Malay dish, “Nasi Lemak” translates literally to “rice” and “fat”. Rice is cooked with a generous amount of coconut milk, spices and pandanus leaves, fluffed up and served with a variety of condiments. I like mine simple with omelette, fried chicken wings, cucumber slices and a generous dollop of sambal tumis (a sweet, fiery chill jam).

A friend had shared earlier that when she tossed Virgin Coconut Oil into piping hot basmati rice cooked with ginger and garlic, the aroma and taste that resulted were very much like rice cooked with coconut cream. WOW! That conversation led to another one about the possibilities of healthier sambal tumis. With dried chillies, onions, garlic and asam (tamarind) juice forming the foundation of the sambal it is actually quite healthy. The ingredients of concern are: belachan (fermented ground shrimp mixed with salt and shaped into round cakes), oil, sugar and salt. To figure out substitutions for these ingredients will take time. Tweaking proportions of one ingredient to another is a far more appealing venture. Excited by the possibilities I, decided to labour away on my healthier Nasi Lemak on Labour Day.


Preparation of the day’s meal began the day before. The dried chillies were cut, deseeded and soaked in hot water to soften. The onions and garlics were peeled and chopped. This time round I added a lot more onions for their sweetness so I can cut down on sugar to balance the spiciness of the dried chillies. Into the blender the chillies, onions and garlics go, along with the belachan and water, to be churn into a paste. The paste was then sautéed in some oil. Eventually asam juice was stirred in, with sugar and salt to taste. What’s left is to just let the paste simmer, and simmer, and simmer. You see, the trick to great sambal tumis is patience. The more one simmers it, the better it tastes. Hmmmmm. The smells permeating the house that day are coming back to me. Love them. Here’s the recipe for sambal tumis that I have tweaked from Remembering My Mother-In-Law, My Teacher.

Sambal Tumis:
Set A (To be blended)
@ 6 large red onions cut into smaller pieces
@ 8 large cloves of garlic cut into smaller pieces
@ Two fists full of dried chillies (for a less fiery sambal, use the wrinkly instead of the smooth-skinned variety)
@ A 2-inch (diameter) piece of belachan (dried shrimps made into cake form)
@ Water (sufficient to cover all ingredients to be blended)
Set B
@ 1/3 cup Asam (tamarind paste) soaked in water
@ 1/3 cup cooking oil (Alternative: Olive oil)
@ Sugar to taste (You will use a lot more of this than salt. Add it slowly.)
@ Salt
1) Cut the chillies diagonally into smaller pieces and remove the seeds.
2) Sift the cut chillies in a colander with bigger holes to get all the seeds out.
3) Rinse the dried chillies and soak them in hot water until soft.
4) Place all ingredients in Set A in the blender and blend till smooth.
5) Heat a wok/pot before pouring the oil into it.
6) When the oil is hot, slowly pour the blended mixture into the wok/pot. Be careful of splatters!
7) Stir the mixture a few times before covering the wok/pot and simmering it for about 30 minutes. Keep an eye on the simmering mixture and stir it every now and then. This is where a glass cover is useful.
8) After 30 minutes, or when you have observed a layer of oil has risen to the top (undetectable since I used too little oil), add the tamarind water into the mixture while stirring it all the time. Take care to not let the sediments from the tamarind get into the sambal.
9) Add sugar(begin with 1/3 cup first) and salt to taste and let it simmer some more over really low fire.
10) Simmer the mixture for at least one hour. Like I said, the longer you simmer the tastier the sambal gets. I probably simmered mine for three to four hours.
11) Continue to keep an eye on the simmering sambal to prevent burning. If the paste looks like it is getting too dry, add some more tamarind juice and/or water to it.
12) Turn off the fire and set the sambal aside to rest.

Not sure if this is helpful. Now I know why it is so difficult for the maciks (Malay aunties) to provide me with exact measurements and methods of making a dish. It really is difficult with a dish that one must develop the feel for cooking it. The amounts of ingredients I have listed above are estimations and make a very large pot of sambal that lasted a month. Reduce the quantities accordingly.


The healthier Nasi Lemak is much easier.

Healthier Nasi Lemak (serves 8):
@ 4 cups of basmati (long-grained) rice
@ 4 large cloves of garlic smashed and skin removed
@ 2-inch knob of ginger with skin removed and smashed
@ 3-4 pandanus leaves tied into a knot
@ 1 tsp salt
@ 6 cups water
@ Virgin Coconut Oil
1) Throw the first 6 ingredients into the rice cooker, turn on electricity and wait.
2) When rice is cooked and piping hot, toss in 4-6 tbsps of VCO depending on how coconut-ty you like your rice.
3) Serve the rice hot with sambal tumis, omelette, chicken wings and cucumber slices.

And I’m done!

Thank goodness I had the sambal prepared and out of the way for little Miss V. came along to play that day 🙂

Vera Collage



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s