A Bowlful of Rice


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.

Nasi Goreng

recipe from Cradle of Flavour by James Oseland

For the flavouring paste

1 teaspoon dried shrimp
2 shallots, coarsely chopped
1-2 fresh red long chillies, coarsely chopped
2 tablespoon palm sugar, thinly sliced or dark brown sugar
4 tablespoons peanut oil
4 eggs
5 cups cooked jasmine rice made from 2 cups of uncooked rice, fridge cold
1 1/2 tablespoons Indonesian sweet soy sauce
4 kirby cucumbers or 2 small seeded cucumbers sliced thickly, to serve, optional

To make the flavouring paste – Place the shrimp paste in the centre of a 5 inch square of foil. Folk the edges over to form a parcel. Flatten it slightly. Put a burner on medium flame and with tongs, hold the parcel over the flame, until it smokes and releases a burning, shrimpy smell. Turn over and do the same. Set aside to cool for half a minute. When opened, the paste should be black brown at the edges with a golden centre and maybe some black brown patches there too. Place the shrimp paste, garlic, shallots, chilli and palm sugar into a food processor and blitz to a smooth creamy mashed potato sort of consistency. If too thick, then add water, juidiciously. Keep aside Heat the oul in a non stick pan and fry your eggs until the edges are crisp and the yolk is firm. Set aside. Let the pan cool a bit, then add your paste, frying gently, for five minutes until the oil separates from it and the garlic and shallots don’t smell raw. Even if the oil doesn’t separate, don’t brown or worse, burn it. Just go on to the next step. Add the cooked rice to teh pan, breaking up any clumps, raise the heat and cook while stirring constantly until every grain is well coated in the paste. Add the the soy sauce, stir thoroughly for 30 seconds. Check for seasoning. Serve onto four plates, top with the fried egg and serve with the cucumbers, if using. Serve immediately.

48 thoughts on “A Bowlful of Rice

  1. August McLaughlin

    Mmm.,, Looks and sounds scrumptious and nutritious.

    It’s nice to know I’m not alone in my rice struggles. Took forever to get it right. ;)

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  3. Rushi!

    Wow, now I’m craving for a big bowl of nasi goreng. Yum. Carrie your recipe reminds me of a dish that my mom makes, the only addition she made was to add more shrimps because I have a bit of a weakness for you. Mmmmm rice cooked with coconut milk and juggary, that’s another trip down memory lane and one of my friend’s mom made the best version of it and would send some over on Thai Pongal if I’m not mistaken. You are a cooking inspiration :)

  4. Marnelli

    love rice :) I’d love to try this. We usually have rice for breakfast during the weekends because we wake up late in the morning. And rice just goes well with a lot.

    1. The Patterned Plate

      Pretty much goes with everything, and I have to admit, I will eat it plain too, without any complaint. After seeing my son with both his hands in the rice bowl, stuffing his mouth, I’d say he has the same affliction! We love rice!

  5. nengmega

    ^indeed. I can eat Nasi Goreng for breakfast, lunch and dinner at the same day. Makes me remember, my today’s breakfast was Nasi Goreng, too :)

  6. Sublime Palate

    Nasi Goreng reminds me of a trip we took to Indonesia with friends a few years ago. We were traveling with a hectic schedule and in that part of Indonesia, the best meal that we could get was Nasi Goreng! :-) We ate it over and over again!

  7. Heidi

    Oh my goodness, my mouth is watering. I love nasi goreng (or any type of Indonesian rice for that matter–nasi kuning is especially delicious). Whenever I feel homesick I’ll just whip up a batch of nasi goreng and I’ll instantly feel better. Thanks for sharing this :)

    1. The Patterned Plate

      Are you from that part of the world? I like the thought of it making you feel better. I have that with rice, as a rule anyways,as it was the staple starch on the table growing up.

  8. Jacqueline @howtobeagourmand

    It’s amazing how a simple bowl of rice can be turned into that perfect brunch! I’ve never tried the sweet Indonesian soy sauce before but I’m sure it’s available in supermarkets here in HK.
    Also, nice tip about the firm fried egg Caroline. I’m sure that could make a difference to the dish. It’s now approaching brunch time here in HK. What will I have :-)

    1. The Patterned Plate

      Jacqueline, it also goes under the name Ketchup manis I think. You shouldn’t have a problem sourcing it and you will definitely find loads of use for it. The black pepper tofu recipe from ottelenghi on the blog here, also uses it, to fantastic effect. I think the egg is a staple and really did make the dish, which sounds odd, but is completely true. Hope you like it. ;-)

  9. Meenakshi

    It has been a while since I visited! The naso goreng looks super yummy and fragrant. I love it! It is one of my favourite meals. I agree with you about cooked rice, in fact I was planning to put up the coconut rice I made this afternoon as a post! So much you can do with day-old rice. One of my favourite comfort foods is warm white rice with some small red onions fried in ghee or coconut oil (ulli moopichathu.) I feel it represents the simplicity of Kerala life!

    1. The Patterned Plate

      We never had that, but just judging from the ingredients, it’s probably best that I don’t or I’d be the size of the door! One of my favourite meals really, is moru curry with either kondattam (havent had a decent on in years! ) or chummundhi podi. Droooooool!

  10. ntepper

    beautiful pictures, and your writing has me sold. i love the little details that you describe rice and your mid morning meal with, and i definitely can’t reason with your reasoning–although rice is forever going to seem more like a dinner dish to me! beautiful post, beautiful picture and beautiful writing! thanks for sharing. this has been moved to the top of my to-try recipe list thanks to you haha

  11. Big Sis Little Dish

    What a wonderfully useful post! I avoid making rice because I never know what to do with the leftovers. It sounds silly I know, but I am not big grain person. I love the sound of this breakfast! Thank you!

    1. The Patterned Plate

      Hey Erin, welcome back from your travels :-). Considering you love Indian food so much, it does surprise me a touch, though I suppose, rice is such a southern staple that it’s home for me. Seriously, it’s a kick ass grain! Ha!

      Oh, finally got round to getting the Bhel Poori ingredients. Can’t wait!

      1. Big Sis Little Dish

        I know! I am a piglet, so I’ll just eat whole bowlfuls of curry strait up that are supposed to be eaten in small amounts with bread or rice. Shameful I know! I really do love the sound of this rice though.

  12. christyharcourt

    Ohhhhhhhh hunger groan. How do you always have what I want? The other day I was looking for a chocolate truffle recipe, and I thought “I know who will have one of those” and I was right. Now this.

  13. thelittleloaf

    I always cook too much of everything! I think it’s inherited from my Mum who always liked to make sure there was more than enough to go round. But in the case of rice, it’s a blessing in disguise – as you say, it’s so versatile and can be made into so many delicious dishes – just like this one :-)

    1. The Patterned Plate

      Erhem…my measure is usually right, in that, there isn’t usually a lot of leftovers. It has been said that my hand measure is a bit tight Lol! It’s not intentional. But when it comes to rice, I do tend to go overboard by a few handfuls!

  14. Pingback: The Things You Can Do With Cooked Rice: Lemon Tomato Rice « Masala Art

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  16. eat, little bird

    Ooh I love nasi goreng … it takes me back to when I was a child when we frequently went out for this dish. Though I never knew that shrimp paste or dried shrimps were such a vital ingredient! We have rice once or twice a week and I’ve managed to work out exactly what we need for two people. If only I could say the same about noodles and pasta!

    1. The Patterned Plate

      Am hopeless when it comes to starch quantities. At least there is always something that can be done with it!
      I’d say, for me, that the shrimp paste is vital, because it gives it that salthy, earthy depth which balances the soy’s sweetness. Wouldn’t do it without :-)

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