“The kitchen is the heart of the home” — Jiemei Sisters
Looking back on my childhood, I am flooded with memories of the kitchen: our pantry in which we would sneak into to get little chewy sweets called sugus, sitting at the kitchen counter and having a cup of Milo and some biscuits after school, opening the fridge and exclaiming in disgust after sniffing an opened can of beer. As we grew older, we would stand in the kitchen and help our mom with menial tasks such as mincing garlic, chopping onions, cooking rice (ok, this one is not so menial) and other things.
Without fail, every night our family would have dinner together. Sitting around the dinner table, chatting about our day, what we did at school, and what we might want to do during the weekend – food was something that kept our family bond tight.
After I left home, it would take about 8 years before I would be reunited with my sisters in the same city. This time, while chatting about anything and everything in the kitchen, we started cooking dishes that are nostalgic to us.
We grew up partly in Brunei and partly in Malaysia. Our parents were well travelled and adventurous with food (a trait that they passed down to us). We like to try and cook everything from scratch (as much as we can), to try and replicate that taste of our childhood. That taste that brings back memories of our warm kitchen, with the black countertops and white cabinets, the pantry with the treasure trove of goodies, and the feeling of warm familial love.
Nasi Kerabu is a dish that we used to get only during Ramadan and Hari Raya. I don’t know if it was sold frequently at other times, but this was the time during the year where our mom would, after an exhausting day at work, pick us up from school and stop at a “gerai” (malay stall) on the way home. Nasi Kerabu was always a favourite. It reminds me of a salad. But, a good salad. None of that wilting leaves drenched in balsamic vinegar and oil. A good hearty salad with substance. The blue rice, fragrant herbs, refreshing vegetables, topped with the Kerisik Ikan (fish floss), accompanied by a good sambal sauce, along with keropok (fish crackers) – oh man. This dish is To. Die. For.
Last year, I moved away from the city I called home for the last 10 years. So, when my sisters came to visit, we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to cook together. Because I live in the interior, we were not able to hunt down some of the Southeast Asian herbs that are essential to the dish, but we made do. And it was still so very good.
PREP TIME 20 MINS | COOKING TIME 1 HOUR | SERVES 2-3
For the nasi kerabu
- 10 pieces butterfly blue pea flower (this is to give the rice its beautiful blue hue)
- 3 pandan leaves
- 3 cups hot water
- 2 cups Jasmine rice
For the kerisik ikan
- 1 mackerel fillet (we used the salted fillets that are popular in Korean grocery stores)
- 1 cup unsweetened coconut flakes
- 1/3 cup dried shrimp
For the kuah sambal
- 1/2 cup coconut milk
- 1/4 cup plus 1 tbsp oil
- 8 dried chilies (boiled in water for about 10 minutes)
- 5 garlic cloves
- 2 large red chilies
- 2 shallots
- 3 tbsp water
- 2 tbsp lemongrass
- 2 tbsp tamarind juice
- 1 tbsp sugar
- Salt, to taste
For the grilled fish
- Mackerel (we love mackerel in this household, but feel free to use whatever fish you like)
- 1 tbsp turmeric powder
- 2 tsp oil
- Salt, to taste
- Bean sprouts, cut in half
- Cabbage, diced
- Cucumber, sliced
- Mint, finely sliced
- Salted Egg
- Snake beans, finely diced
Other garnishes, if available, kaffir lime leaves, torch ginger flower, banana flower, and daun kesum. These are more herbs that you can add. We had to omit them due to the lack of variety in the small town I live in.
- Kerisik Ikan: Broil the mackerel fillet in the oven on high heat for 8 minutes. Let it cool down before removing the skin and bones.
- Toast coconut flakes in a pan over medium heat, stirring constantly until golden brown.
- Toast dried shrimp separate from the coconut flakes, in a pan over medium heat, stirring constantly until fragrant.
- Pound ingredients separately with a mortar and pestle until finely shredded. Mix everything in a bowl and set aside.
- Nasi Kerabu: Steep blue pea flowers in hot water for about 10 minutes.
- While waiting for the pea flower water to cool down, wash your rice. Clean the pandan leaves and tie it up in a bundle.
- When the pea flower water has cooled down, combine rice, pea flower water, and pandan leaves together and put it in the rice cooker and let it do its magic.
- Kuah Sambal: Blend shallots, garlic, chilies, lemongrass, 3 tbsp water and 1 tbsp of oil in a blender until it turns into a nice paste.
- Heat the 1/4 cup of oil in a pan and pour in the chili paste. Simmer over medium heat, stirring constantly for the first 3 minutes, and then every 2-3 minutes. Do this for about 10 to 15 minutes.
- The paste will start to pecah, which means “to break” in Malay. You’ll know it’s ready when the oil starts to separate from the paste. Sometimes it takes longer than 15 minutes. Your best indication to know when it’s ready is the separation of oil and paste.
- Add in the tamarind juice, sugar, and salt to taste. Then add in the coconut milk and let simmer for another 5 minutes. Take it off the heat and set aside, in the pan, once done.
- Grilled Fish: Marinate the fish with oil, turmeric, and salt.
- Broil on high for about 8 minutes. Note: this timing is for a fillet of mackerel. You will need to adjust accordingly if you use a different type of fish.
- Plating: Scoop the rice onto the middle of the plate. Surround the rice mound with your garnishes and grilled fish and top rice with kuah sambah and kerisik ikan. Serve and enjoy!
Like I mentioned above, this dish reminds me of a salad. Mix your garnishes and rice together. Top your spoonful of “salad” with a piece of fish and a little bit of the salted egg, and take a bite of the fragrant, harmonious, refreshing dish that is Nasi Kerabu.
Photo Courtesy & Recipe Copyright © 2020 | Jiemei Sisters (@jiemei.sisters)
– Jiemei Sisters