A recipe for nasi ulam, a Malay herb rice salad

Nasi ulam is a heritage Peranakan herb rice salad. PHOTO: ST VIDEO
Ingredients for nasi ulam include herbs such as turmeric leaves, kaffir lime leaves and torch ginger flower. PHOTO: ST VIDEO
All the herbs and vegetables, including the bunga kantan, which is also known as torch ginger or rojak flower, must be cut by hand. PHOTO: ST VIDEO

(SINGAPORE) - Nasi ulam is a traditional Malay herb rice salad and in Peranakan culture, it is usually served at special occasions including birthdays and Chinese New Year.

The most important thing when it comes to making Peranakan-style nasi ulam, says executive sous chef Shirley Tay of The Peranakan, a Peranakan restaurant at Claymore Connect, is to make sure the rice is cool when tossing the salad.

Hot or warm rice will cook the herbs and make the dish bitter, she says.

Recipes for nasi ulam differ from family to family.

Some recipes call for the addition of grago or baby krill and chopped prawns, while others include herbs such as betel leaves. Personalise the dish by adjusting the proportion of each herb to taste.

SPH Brightcove Video
Nasi ulam, a Peranakan herb rice salad, is a tedious dish that is usually enjoyed on special occasions such as birthdays and Chinese New Year. The dish comprises herbs such as turmeric leaves, kaffir limes leaves and torch ginger flower.

Chef Tay shares The Perankan's recipe for the dish.


2 cups white jasmine rice

A few stalks of pandan leaves, knotted

Water to cook the rice

1 whole ikan selar (yellowtail scad)

60g salted fish, adjust to taste

Oil, for deep-frying the fish and salted fish

120g fresh grated coconut

2 turmeric leaves (daun kunyit)

2 stalks lemongrass (serai), outer layer peeled

2 kaffir lime leaves (daun limau purut)
3 stalks laksa leaves (daun kesum), leaves plucked

1 torch ginger flower (bunga kantan)

4 long beans, finely sliced

For the sambal tumis:

30g dried chilli, soaked, softened and drained

10g belachan, toasted

100g shallots

15g candlenut

¼ tsp salt, adjust to taste

¼ tsp sugar, adjust to taste

Oil for frying the sambal tumis


1. Cook the rice with the pandan leaves. Discard the leaves once the rice is cooked and leave the rice to cool until it is room temperature.

2. While the rice is cooking, heat some oil in a wok, and deep-fry the ikan selar. Drain, remove the skin, debone and and flake the fish carefully. Set aside.

3. Fry the salted dish, and chop finely. Set aside.

4. In a dry pan, toast the grated coconut over low heat until it turns golden brown. Stir continuously so as not to burn the coconut. Set aisde.

5. Prepare the sambal tumis. Place all the ingredients for the sambal tumis into a food processor and blitz until smooth. Heat about 3 to 4 Tbs of oil in wok over medium heat and fry the sambal tumis until it is fragrant and the oil begins to seep out. This will take about 20 minutes. Add more sugar and salt to taste. Set aside. The sambal tumis can also be made a day or two in advance, and stored in the refrigerator.

6. Prepare the herbs. Julienne the turmeric leaves. Set aside
7. Chop the lemongrass finely. Set aside.

8. Remove the centre vein from the kaffir lime leaves. Julienne and set aside.

9. Chop the laksa leaves finely. Set aside.

10. Chop the torch ginger flower finely. Set aside.

11. Slice the long beans finely. Set aside.

12. To serve: In a large mixing bowl, add the cool cooked rice, followed by 3Tbs of sambal tumis (adjust to taste). Mix well. Add the chopped salted fish, flaked ikan selar, and all the other herbs and vegetables, and mix well. Adjust to taste.

Lastly, add the toasted coconut.
13. Serve with additional sambal tumis.

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