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Rice university

Malaysian, Caribbean, Nigerian, and Colombian variations.

Coconut rice anchors a popular Malaysian breakfast that includes egg, cucumber, peanuts, and more.

Photograph by Jim Scherer / Styling by Catrine Kelty

Coconut rice anchors a popular Malaysian breakfast that includes egg, cucumber, peanuts, and more.

SIMPLE COCONUT RICE

Serves 4

 I toast shredded coconut in a dry skillet over medium heat. Keep the coconut moving; it can burn in an instant. For a slightly leaner dish, use a whole 13.5-ounce can (1¾ cups) of light coconut milk in place of the combination of regular coconut milk and water.

 1 cup coconut milk

½ teaspoon sugar

Salt

1 cup jasmine or basmati rice, rinsed in several changes of cool water

½ cup lightly toasted unsweetened shredded coconut

In a medium saucepan over medium-high heat, bring the coconut milk and ¾ cup water to a boil. Add the sugar, 1 teaspoon salt, and rice, and, stirring constantly, bring to a simmer. Adjust heat to very low, cover, and simmer for 15 minutes. Off heat, rest the rice (don’t open the cover) until the grains are tender, about 15 minutes longer. Stir in the toasted coconut, taste, and adjust seasoning, if necessary. Transfer to a serving dish and serve at once.

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Variations 

 MALAYSIAN-STYLE COCONUT RICE (NASI LEMAK) WITH BREAKFAST FIXINGS

Coconut rice is the basis of a popular Malaysian breakfast. The rice is accompanied by hard-cooked eggs, cucumber, peanuts, dried anchovies fried until crisp, some sort of sambal (a spicy sauce), and various pickled vegetables. In this simplified version, I dispense with the pickles and use store-bought sambal oelek, a spicy chili paste, instead of a homemade sambal.

Follow the directions for Simple Coconut Rice, making the following changes:

1) Along with the coconut milk and water, add 3 stalks fresh lemongrass (pale cores only) and a 1½-inch piece fresh ginger (no need to peel), cut into chunks and smashed. When the rice has finished resting, remove the lemongrass and ginger. Along with the toasted coconut, add 3 scallions, sliced.

2) Meanwhile, clip a candy thermometer to the side of a small, heavy saucepan, add 1 cup canola or other high-smoke-point neutral oil, and heat over medium-high until the oil reaches 375 degrees. Add 1 cup Asian dried anchovies and fry, stirring, until browned and crisp, about 1 minute. Transfer to paper towels and set aside.

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3) Serve the rice, accompanying each serving with hard-cooked egg, chunks of cucumber, about 3 tablespoons of peanuts, a portion of the fried anchovies, about 2 tablespoons of sambal oelek, and a wedge of lime.

 

 CARIBBEAN-STYLE RICE AND PEAS

Follow the directions for Simple Coconut Rice, making the following changes:

1) Before adding the coconut milk and water to the saucepan, heat 1 tablespoon neutral oil in the pan over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add 1 medium onion, chopped, and saute until softened, about 4 minutes. Add 2 minced garlic cloves, 1 teaspoon dried thyme, 1½ teaspoons grated lime zest, and half a Scotch bonnet or habanero chili pepper (do not chop), and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the coconut milk and water and proceed with the recipe.

2) When the rice has finished resting, remove the chili pepper. Along with toasted coconut, add 1 15-ounce can green pigeon peas, small red beans or pink beans, drained and warmed in microwave, and most of 4 scallions, thinly sliced. Sprinkle rice with remaining scallions and serve at once with lime wedges.

 

 NIGERIAN-STYLE COCONUT RICE WITH PEPPERS AND TOMATO

Follow the directions for Simple Coconut Rice, making the following changes:

1) Substitute ½ cup chicken broth for the water.

2) Before adding the coconut milk and broth to the saucepan, heat 1 tablespoon neutral oil in the pan over medium-high heat and saute 1 medium onion, chopped, and 1 small Cubanelle pepper, chopped, until softened, about 4 minutes. Add 1 teaspoon dried thyme and 1 large serrano chili pepper, minced, and saute about 30 seconds. Add the coconut milk, broth, and 1 medium tomato, seeded and chopped, increase the salt to 1½ teaspoons, and proceed with the recipe.

 

 FRIED COCONUT RICE WITH RAISINS, CARTAGENA-STYLE

From what I read, this coconut rice preparation is very popular along the northern Caribbean coast of Colombia, particularly around Cartagena. Make sure to stir the coconut milk continually, especially after the liquid evaporates and the remaining oil and solids separate, because the solids can burn easily. Neither the cilantro nor the lime is traditional, but I like both because they help offset the intense richness of the dish.

Follow the directions for Simple Coconut Rice, making the following changes:

1) From 1 13.5-ounce can of coconut milk, reserve 1 cup. In a medium saucepan over medium heat, bring the remaining ¾ cup coconut milk from the can to a boil and cook, stirring constantly to prevent splattering, until the liquid has evaporated and it separates into clear fat and curd-like solids, about 10 minutes. Continue cooking, stirring constantly, until the solids caramelize to a light brown, about 2 minutes longer. Add 2 teaspoons brown sugar and stir to mix, about 30 seconds. Add the rice and cook, stirring constantly, for 2 minutes. Omit the granulated sugar; pour in the reserved coconut milk, ¾ cup water, 1 teaspoon salt, and ½ cup raisins, and continue with the recipe.

2) Substitute cup chopped cilantro for the toasted coconut, and serve the rice with lime wedges.

 

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