When I was growing up, fragrant yellow coconut rice was right at home sitting next to the roast beef, honey-baked ham and Yule log cake served during Christmas dinner.
Every year, my mom would make nasi tumpeng, a unique Indonesian rice combination. She would start by making rice flavored with coconut, turmeric and other herbs, which she would shape into a conical pyramid and place on a bed of folded banana leaves. Around the base of the cone, she would arrange various foods neatly in piles: fried chicken pieces, potato cutlets, fried tempe, salted fish, shredded egg omelet and a host of other items. The whole production would take her several days to complete!
Full of significance, nasi tumpeng is traditionally served to celebrate a special occasion, be it a birthday, a wedding or even a promotion at work. The height of the cone symbolizes the greatness of God or Allah, and the food at the base of the cone symbolizes nature’s abundance. The yellow tinge of the rice symbolizes wealth and high morals.
Nasi tumpeng fit perfectly into our holiday celebrations, a time of thanksgiving and hope for a prosperous New Year.
Yellow Coconut Rice (Nasi Kuning)
Nasi kuning, literally “yellow rice” in Indonesian, gets its festive golden color from turmeric. As the showpiece of a major celebration such as a wedding or anniversary, the rice is molded into an inverted cone and served on a bed of banana leaves together with a grand spread of meat and vegetable dishes. Yellow coconut rice is also a humble accompaniment for almost any dish usually served with white rice.
Time: 45 minutes plus frying shallots
Makes: 6 to 8 servings as a as part of a multicourse family-style meal
2-1/2 teaspoons ground turmeric
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup warm water
1-1/2 cups coconut milk
1 plump stalk lemongrass, bruised and tied into a knot
1 salam leaf
4 kaffir lime leaves, crumpled
2-1/2 cups long-grain rice
2 cups water
Fried shallots for garnish
Dissolve the turmeric and salt in the warm water.
In a large pot, bring the coconut milk, lemongrass, salam leaf, and kaffir lime leaves to a gentle boil over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat to medium-low. Add the turmeric water. Tip the rice into the pot and add the water. Bring to a gentle boil, stirring occasionally. Simmer uncovered until the liquid has just been absorbed, about 10 minutes. Reduce the heat to low. Cover and cook for 15 to 20 minutes, or until the rice is tender but not mushy; the rice grains should still be separated. If the rice is still hard, make a well in the center of the pot, add a little water, and cook a few more minutes.
Halfway through the estimated cooking time, gently fluff the rice with a fork or chopsticks.
Let the rice cool. Fish out the lemongrass, salam leaf and lime leaves and discard.
On a large serving platter, mound the rice into the shape of an inverted cone. Garnish with fried shallots.
From The Asian Grandmothers Cookbook—Home Cooking from Asian American Kitchens (Sasquatch Books, August 2012) by Patricia Tanumihardja