The inspiration for today’s Sambal Okra with Coconut Saffron Brown Rice recipe is essentially twofold. First, I was inspired by flights of deliciousness found in a couple of fabulous cookbooks: Ottolenghi‘s Plenty (vegetarian) and My Cooking Hut blogger Leemei Tan‘s Lemongrass and Ginger.
Secondly, I was spoiled by my cousin who just got back from living in Singapore, as she’s the one who always brought me delicious spice pastes from Asia. That’s how I got addicted to a Malaysian chili condiment called sambal.
I miss living in Asia, hobnobbing around that continent, and feasting on spice-laden street foods. Chilies bring me to my knees (in a good way), and my mantra is and will always be, “the spicier, the better!” So of course, I found myself, one day, rolling up my sleeves to make my own sambal here in Toronto.
I once read somewhere that eating spicy food increases metabolism and stimulates sweating, therefore, enhancing fat loss. This article here talks more about the phenomenon. Since, I have another 15 pounds or so that I ought to lose from my recent pregnancy, I thought I would kick start my “diet” with a spicy vegetarian meal that reminded me of my younger (and skinnier) days living in Asia.
Driven in part by a desire to recreate Malaysia’s nasi lemak, and in part, to adapt it to Western tastes, I came up with this dish that was slightly bastardized – yet thoughtfully combined – from recipes found in the above-mentioned cookbooks. While I used saffron – rarely seen in Malay cooking – to impart a vibrant yellow hue to Canadian brown rice, I also stayed true to the coconut milk and ginger more commonly found in Malaysian nasi (rice) dishes.
All these lovely spices and herbs come together in a symphony of exploding flavours (yeah, what a cliché I have become). Truth be told, I couldn’t have orchestrated a better meal than this!
A quick warning, though. This is probably not for the kids. The rice, they will enjoy. The sambal chili okra…well, unless your kids have iron palates, then it’s best avoided by the little ones.
A dish like this, specifically nasi lemak, is usually eaten for breakfast in Malaysia – a fact that my husband and I learned when we were in Kuala Lumpur and Kota Kinabalu (that’s in Sabah, Malaysian Borneo). So, if you are craving a substantial and exotic meal today, this is justifiably a good choice!
- ~~ For the Sambal ~~
- 2 teaspoons roasted shrimp paste* (skip this if vegetarian or see note below on how to roast)
- 5 red fresh red chilies (1 oz), seeded
- 3 green bird's-eye chilies (1/2 oz), seeded
- 20 baby shallots (4 oz), peeled
- 1 garlic clove, peeled
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ½ cup vegetable or grape seed oil
- 2 tablespoon water
- 1 tablespoon thick tamarind water (seedless tamarind pulp whisked with a little water, then strained)
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- ~~ For the Coconut Saffron Rice ~~
- 2 cups short-grain brown rice
- 1 teaspoon saffron threads
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 1 cup coconut milk
- 3 cups water
- 6 thin slices of fresh ginger, unpeeled
- 6 kaffir lime leaves or regular lime leaves (optional)
- ~~ For the Okra ~~
- 1¼ pounds (6 cups) okra, trimmed and cut into short segments
- 1 white onion, finely diced
- lime wedges, for squeezing juice (optional)
- To make the Sambal using mortar and pestle, place the roasted shrimp paste (if using), chilies, shallots, garlic, and salt in the mortar, crush and grind the spices until a thick paste forms, then add the oil and water to smooth out.
- If making Sambal in a food processor, place the roasted shrimp paste (if using), chiles, shallots, garlic, salt, 2 tablespoons of the oil, and water in the bowl and blitz for about 1 minute, or until you get a smooth, fine paste. Add more water by the teaspoon, if needed to smooth out the paste.
- Set a wok or pan on high heat. Once hot, add the remaining oil and heat up well. Add the chili paste and stir, reducing the heat to low at once to prevent burning. Stir constantly for 5 to 10 minutes, or until you get a dark red oily paste.
- Remove from heat and stir in the tamarind water and sugar. Set aside.
- To make the Coconut Saffron Rice, heat the rice up a little over medium high heat, about 30 seconds.
- Add the saffron threads, salt, coconut milk, water, ginger, lime leaves (if using), then stir and bring to a boil.
- Reduce heat to low, cover and leave to simmer for 30 to 40 minutes, or until brown rice is done. Alternatively, follow cooking time instructions on your rice package. Before serving, remove ginger slices and lime leaves, then fluff up the rice with a fork.
- To make the Okra, set a large pot of water on high heat until it boils. Throw the okra in boiling water and cook for 2 to 3 minutes only, so it remains firm. Drain, rinse under cold running water, and leave to dry.
- When you are ready to serve, reheat your pot or pan with a little bit of oil, add the diced onion and cook until fragrant. Put the okra back in the pot or pan, stir in the sambal just to warm it up, about 2 to 3 minutes.
- Spoon sambal okra over rice and squeeze some lime juice to finish.