Nasi Ulam, a Malay style rice salad, is the dish I created when Queensland Weekender visited Cooktown recently.
I love the balance of the mild nuttiness of plump brown rice and the intense kaleidoscope of herbal flavours in this dish. It is fabulous served with grilled fish which is how we’ll be eating it tonight (see my previous post here).
My favourite herbs to combine in this dish are wild pepper leaf (Piper sarmentosum) also called betel leaf; long leaf coriander (Eryngium foetidum); kaffir lime leaves; rice paddy herb (Limnophila aromatica); common mint; Thai basil; garlic chives; gotu kola (Centella asiatica) and maybe some Vietnamese mint.
It is the sort of dish that does not have strict guidlines – just roll up a balance of whatever Asian herbs you have in your garden or from the markets and chop them finely. The key thing is to use LOTS of herbs, as this is a herb salad, not a rice salad with a sprinkle of herbs!
I do also like to add a bit of something crunchy, diced really finely and often that will be the smaller stems of whatever is in the garden – Italian parsley, Gai Lan, mustard greens stems, snake beans, Chinese celery or jicama (also called yam bean). A dash of fresh lime juice and good quality fish sauce add the final touch.
This is a vegetarian (almost, if you omit the fish sauce) version of the Malay classic, which usually includes shredded dried fish and/or shrimps.
I have some fresh coconut today which I’ve toasted and used, but on the filming day for Queensland Weekender we didn’t have it and the dish is great without – it just adds another nutty element to the salad. Another common garnish is crumbled peanuts.
For those of us who live in the tropics and can grow such things at home, turmeric, young cashew, kencur (Alpinia officinarum ), cosmos (Cosmos caudatus), or young Tenggek Burung (Melicope denhamii or ptelefolia) leaves may also be added as well as finely diced lemongrass stalks and torch ginger flower. The rice can also be flavoured while cooking with one or two knotted pandan leaves.
Here it is!
1/3 cup shredded coconut, toasted and roughly ground (optional)
I cup raw brown rice, cooked and cooled
1 cup very finely shredded herbs – a mix of any of the following:
wild pepper leaf
long leaf coriander
rice paddy herb
Kaffir lime leaves
Chinese celery or Italian parsley
1/2 cup finely diced red onion or shallots (1/3-1/2 red onion or 2-3 red shallots)
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
2 tablespoons fish sauce
1/2 to 1 teaspoon coconut palm sugar (optional)
Cook the brown rice. I use a rice cooker with 2 cups water to one cup brown rice. When cooked, remove and spread out to cool, forking lightly every few minutes to help cool and keep grains separate.
Gently toast the shredded coconut in a dry pan until golden, then place into a mortar and bash until roughly ground. Put aside to cool down.
Mix the cooled brown rice with the finely diced red onion or shallots and finely chopped herbs. Mix the fish sauce and lime juice and taste – adjust so that the balance of salty and tart is right. This will vary according to the saltiness of the fish sauce brand you’re using. Add a little grated coconut sugar if needed, 1/2 a teaspoon at a time, just enough to mellow the salty/sour flavours a little (but not too much!). Dress salad a tablespoon at a time until just moistened. Top with toasted coconut and serve.
© Clare Richards 2012