If you have a bowl of cold, cooked rice, you have much.
In my book, there is no other food item that can present itself in as many satisfactory guises as rice does. The humble, willing workhorse of the food world, it argues with very little. A few chopped spring onions, eggs, veg and soy sauce heralds the far-east into your home. Chucked into a pot of steaming, aromatic stock and you have spoon-and-slurp comfort. Coat it luxuriously with curd, add some tempered spices and curry leaves and a pickle will need no other accompaniment for this Tamilian staple, thair sadam (curd rice). Cook it thickly with jaggery sweetened coconut milk and add toasted cashew nuts for a nursery food like, sweetly nostalgic end to the day. Better yet, begin your day with the caramelised yet savoury undertones of an Indonesian Nasi Goreng.
Despite my most conscientious efforts, I never manage to get a dinner’s serving of rice quite right. Either I am left with an abundant quantity of the airy, puffed grains, or I am scrambling through the freezer, mid-meal, to quickly top-up the threatening, replenishing levels of the bowl on the table. Most of the time, I err on the side of greed, and cook generously, not only because, I will have a bowlful or two to turn into something wonderful the next day. The peskiness, of the universal question every home cook asks themselves – “What to make for dinner?” – is taken out of the cooking when decisions are already made for you. I like the assertiveness of that quiet bowl of rice.
This Indonesian breakfast, may come across as odd. I however, find it perfectly suited to that suspended time between morning and afternoon, around ten closing in on eleven. When the morning has marched past milk soaked cereals (ugh..not a fan), but rocket leaves and vinaigrettes would be to brutal on the tastebuds. Here, the soft grains of the rice, flavoured only with the sweetness of sweet Indonesian soy sauce, bolstered by a fried egg, sits in perfect balance with the position of the clock’s hands. Brunch then.
Shrimp paste is one of the key ingredients here. To use it, it must be gently roasted over a flame until toasted, emitting a pungent smell. Don’t scrunch your nose. The effect it has on the dish is akin to the salty – savoury effect of anchovies when used in a considered measure. You could leave it out, if you choose. Make a spice paste (very simple), fry that gently a wee bit, chuck in rice, add Indonesian soy sauce, and you are basically done. I didn’t detect fishiness, but I did get that salty depth of flavour that made it so moreish and balanced, against the sweet soy. The wonderful, earthy, smoky, caramel flavour of the soy coated rice, peppered with the fresh zing of coriander and spring onion, made for a robust and in-tune partner to a simple firm fried egg (runny yolk does not work well here).
I can understand that this might not be your breakfast of choice. For me however, the carbohydrates and the protein really buoyed me up for the hours ahead. Consider this too, for a lunch with seafood, such as grilled prawns, pieces of grilled fish, even stronger ones like mackerel (stiff and fresh please). A dipping sauce made of light soy, chillies and something acidic such as lime juice/rice vinegar would be a perfect salty, piquant accompaniment.
Rice. Truly versatile.