Malaysian Nasi Lemak Recipe| How To Make Vegetarian Nasi Lemak

I am here today to share with you how to make vegetarian Nasi Lemak, an utterly delicious Malaysian dish.

I love Asian food. Period. I absolutely adore the way simple, regular ingredients find their way into dishes from Asian countries like, say, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia or Singapore. I’m in awe of the riot of flavours most Pan-Asian dishes prove to be. While I make Thai food quite often at home, I tried my hands at Malaysian cuisine for the first-ever time, recently, making the famed Nasi Lemak.

Nasi Lemak is believed to have originated in Malaysia, though one will also come across versions of the dish in neighbouring Singapore, Thailand and Indonesia. It is, in fact, considered to be the national dish of Malaysia. For the uninitiated, Nasi Lemak refers to rice cooked with coconut milk or cream, with pandan leaves and lemongrass added in for fragrance. In Malay, ‘Nasi Lemak‘ actually translates to ‘creamy rice’, which is served with a spicy, tangy and slightly sweet sauce, called sambal. Chopped carrots and cucumber, fried fish, eggs, pan-fried tofu and/or peanuts are some of the things that accompany Nasi Lemak, which is typically served in a banana leaf. What I present to you today is a vegetarian version of the Malaysian Nasi Lemak recipe.

I have sampled Nasi Lemak at a few Pan-Asian restaurants in Bangalore and loved it. When I saw this vegetarian Malaysian Nasi Lemak recipe on Poonam’s blog, I jumped at the chance to make it at home. Poonam has got an authentic recipe, which she learnt from a Malay friend of hers – how lovely is that?!

I prepared the dish for dinner recently, with only a few minor variations to the original recipe. The result was brilliant – the Nasi Lemak turned out finger-lickingly delish and went on to be a huge hit at the family dining table. It’s not at all tough to make this flavour bomb of a thing, too!

This is an entirely plant-based, vegan dish, when you aren’t using cottage cheese (paneer) or fried eggs as accompaniments. It is completely gluten-free as well.

Here’s how to make vegetarian Nasi Lemak.

Ingredients (serves 3-4):

For the rice:

  1. 1 cup jasmine rice
  2. 1 cup thick coconut milk
  3. 1-1/2 cups water
  4. Salt to taste
  5. 2-3 strands of lemongrass
  6. 2 pandan (screwpine) leaves or 1/2 teaspoon pandan essence
  7. A 1-inch piece of ginger

For the sambal:

  1. 10 dry red chillies
  2. 5-6 cloves of garlic
  3. 2-3 strands of lemongrass
  4. 1 medium-sized onion
  5. 5-6 shallots or small onions
  6. 2 tablespoons oil
  7. A small piece of tamarind
  8. Salt to taste
  9. 1 tablespoon jaggery powder or to taste
  10. Water, as needed

For the accompaniments:

  1. 2 small English cucumbers
  2. 2 small carrots
  3. 4 tablespoons peanuts
  4. 1/2 tablespoon oil


We will first prepare the ingredients for the sambal.

  1. Soak the dried red chillies in water for at least 15-20 minutes.
  2. Peel the garlic cloves and the shallots. Chop them up roughly. Keep ready.
  3. Chop the onion finely. Keep ready.
  4. Chop the lemongrass strands for the sambal, roughly. Keep ready.
  5. Soak the tamarind in hot water for 15-20 minutes.

Next, we will prepare the rice for the Nasi Lemak.

  1. Wash the jasmine rice a couple of times under running water, draining out the water each time. Transfer the drained rice to a wide vessel.
  2. Add in the thick coconut milk, water and salt to taste.
  3. Knot the pandan leaves (if using) and the lemongrass strands to form a ball, and add it to the vessel. If using pandan essence, add it to the vessel.
  4. Peel the ginger, and chop it roughly. Add it to the vessel too.
  5. Mix all the ingredients in the vessel gently, and place it in a pressure cooker.
  6. Cook for 4 whistles on high flame or till the rice is well cooked. Let the pressure release naturally.

Now, we will get the sambal ready.

  1. Drain out the water from the soaked dry red chillies. Add them to a mixer jar.
  2. Add the chopped garlic cloves and shallots to the mixer jar.
  3. Add the chopped lemongrass strands to the mixer jar.
  4. Grind the soaked dried red chillies, garlic, shallots and lemongrass together to a paste, using a little water. Keep aside.
  5. 5. When the tamarind is done soaking, extract a thick juice out of it. Keep aside.
  6. Heat the oil in a pan, and add in the ground paste to it. Cook on medium flame for a minute.
  7. Now, add the tamarind paste to the pan, and a little more water to get the consistency you desire.
  8. Also add salt to taste and jaggery powder, along with the chopped onions. Mix well.
  9. Cook on medium flame for 4-5 minutes or till the raw smell of the onions and tamarind goes away. Switch off gas. The sambal is ready to be used.

We will now get the accompaniments ready.

  1. Heat the 1/2 tablespoon oil in a pan, and add in the peanuts. Fry them on medium flame till they are crisp, ensuring that they do not burn. Keep aside.
  2. Peel the carrots and chop them into 1-inch pieces. Keep aside.
  3. Similarly, peel the cucumbers and chop them into 1-inch pieces. Keep aside.

The Nasi Lemak is now ready to be served.

  1. When the pressure from the cooker has gone down completely, remove the rice from it. Fluff up the rice gently. Pick out the lemongrass and pandan leaves (if using), and the ginger.
  2. Use a small cup to shape the rice and invert it on a large serving plate or banana leaf.
  3. Place some of the sambal on the rice.
  4. Arrange the chopped carrots and cucumber and the fried peanuts around the rice.
  5. Serve immediately.


1. Nasi Lemak isn’t the same without the fragrance of pandan aka screwpine. Since I couldn’t find fresh pandan leaves anywhere here in Bangalore, I used some of the pandan essence I picked up on our holiday in Thailand. You can use either of the two ingredients, depending upon what you can get your hands on.

2. You can use coconut cream to cook the rice, instead of coconut milk. I have used undiluted store-bought coconut milk from Dabur Home-Made.

3. I picked up the jasmine rice on our holiday in Thailand too. It is critical to use jasmine rice in this recipe, but in a pinch you can use basmati rice instead too.

4. I have cooked the rice in a pressure cooker instead of using a pan, as is traditionally done.

5. Adjust the quantity of coconut cream/milk and water, depending upon the texture of rice that you require. Allow the pressure cooker to whistle accordingly too.

6. Adjust the quantity of dried red chillies you use, depending upon how spicy you want the sambal to be. I used 5 spicy Salem Gundu red chillies and 5 of the less spicy Bydagi red chillies to make the sambal.

7. I served the Nasi Lemak with only chopped cucumber and carrots as well as fried peanuts. In hindsight, I think pan-fried tofu or paneer would have been a beautiful addition.


This post is for the Recipe Swap Challenge Facebook group that I am part of. Every alternate month, the food bloggers who are members of this group pair up, and the pairs then go on to cook from each other’s blogs.

This month, I was paired with the very talented Poonam, who blogs at Annapurna. Poonam’s blog is a treasure trove of recipes, Indian and international. I chose this Malaysian Nasi Lemak recipe owing to my love for Asian food.

I’m also sharing this recipe with Fiesta Friday #279. The co-hosts this week are Liz @ Spades, Spatulas & Spoons and Jenny @ Apply To Face Blog.

Did you like this recipe? Do tell me, in your comments!

32 thoughts on “Malaysian Nasi Lemak Recipe| How To Make Vegetarian Nasi Lemak

  1. I feel nostalgic when I see this dish as I have many fond memories associated with the food of Malaysia during our stay in Penang. I love how beautifully you have recreated this Vegetarian Nasi Lemak dish.


  2. Any particular reason why you mostly pressure cook rice in your recipes? As it is said that this method makes the rice more starchy rather than cooking on an open pan.


  3. mmmm, lovely flavours in there. I love lemon grass and a dish made using all those veggies along with rice, just yum


  4. I have never tried Malaysian cuisine, but it sounds delicious. I am sure it will be a super hit in our family. The addition of lemon grass really elevates the flavour in whole dish.


  5. The name of the recipe sounds really diff n delicious. Just love this one pot meal with jasmine rice tends an aromatic flavor.


  6. I love tyhe flvours of jamine rice ,coconut milk and Lemon grass. Such a flavourful and delicious dish.


  7. The only time I had vegetarian nasi lemak was when I bought some from the representatives from ISKCON Malaysia. The ingredients was simply but well apportioned.
    Nasi lemak used to be my “must have” breakfast but I am cutting it down due to health reasons (too much santan), ha ha. But on weekends, I take the trouble to drive out to meet the old Aunty in a beat up van who serve nasi lemak in the morning. Adding to the side dish is the sambal sotong (squid sambal) and telur mata (half cooked egg).
    Sambal for me must be spicy and never sweet and I don’t mind paying extra if the seller got the spiciness just right.


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