Lemongrass-scented Coconut Rice

Makes four to six servings

2 cups jasmine rice
3 thick stalks fresh lemongrass, tied into a knot
1 1/2 cups water
1 cup unsweetened coconut milk
1 tsp. kosher salt
10 whole daun salam leaves* (optional)
2 tbs. crisp-fried shallots (optional)

*Daun salam leaves are an important herb in Indonesian cooking. They have a subtle spicy, woodsy flavor.

  1. Place the rice in a 1 1/2- to 2-quart saucepan. Fill the pot halfway with cold water. If any rice hulls or small twigs float to the surface, scoop them aside and discard. Gently swirl your fingers through the rice until the water becomes cloudy from the surface starch on the rice grains, about 20 seconds. Be careful not to massage the rice aggressively. You don’t want to crack or break the grains. Allow the rice to settle for a few seconds. Tilt the pot over a sink and drain out all the water, cupping the rice with your hand to prevent it from spilling out of the pot. Repeat this process with three more changes of water. The water after the first two rinses will be quite cloudy; by the fourth rinse, it will be much less so. The water need not run completely clear by the final rinse. Slightly cloudy water is fine. Leave the rinsed rice in the pot.
  2. Add the lemongrass, cooking water, coconut milk, salt and daun salam leaves (if using) to the rinsed rice. Stir well to combine, making sure that the lemongrass stalks and daun salam leaves are as fully submerged in the rice as possible.
  3. Place the pot on high heat, and bring the liquid to a boil, stirring with a large spoon to prevent the rice at the bottom from scorching or burning. Don’t worry if the liquid thickens considerably as it comes to a boil, a result, in part, of the fats in the coconut milk combining with the starch in the rice. Also, don’t worry if the lemongrass knots become unraveled from stirring. The finished rice will be fine. Allow the rice to boil for 15 seconds, continuing to stir to prevent the rice at the bottom from scorching or burning. Immediately reduce the heat to the lowest possible setting and cover the pot tightly with the lid. Continue cooking for 15 minutes. Don’t be tempted to lift or remove the lid during this time. You’ll lose essential cooking steam if you do.
  4. Meanwhile, if you’ll be using fried shallots, make them now and set aside.
  5. Remove the pot from the heat and allow the rice to continue to steam, covered, away from the heat for an additional 10 minutes.
  6. Open the pot and discard the lemongrass and daun salam leaves (if used). Gently fold the rice over with a spoon, evenly distributing the aromatic flavors that may be concentrated in pockets in the rice. Transfer the rice to a deep serving bowl and fluff it well with a fork, lifting it into a peaked mound. Top with fried shallots (if using). Serve hot or warm. (If serving the rice warm, keep it covered with aluminum foil until serving them.)

Recipe excerpted from Cradle of Flavor: Home Cooking From the Spice Islands of Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore by James Oseland (W. W. Norton and Co., 2006).

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