If you ask me what would I choose as my last meal, I wouldn’t be able to give you just one. I have too many favorites. Doubtless, however, is that the soothing staying power of my mother’s wholesome rice porridge is among the most memorable.
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In the Malaysian language, the common definition of rice porridge within the Malay community is Bubur Lambuk (pronounced boo-boor lahm-bok), which has various ingredients and spices such as cumin, fennel, garlic, onions, dried prawns and lots of coconut milk as well as black pepper. A bowl of this is undoubtedly flavorful but can be overwhelmingly flavored with spices.
My mother’s rice porridge, though, has a comforting effect. According to her, it was a staple for her growing up in our hometown in Penang, Malaysia, and it has become the one thing I look forward during Eid, which marks the end of fasting during Ramadan each year. In many parts of Malaysia, hearty rice porridge is a staple during the breaking of one’s fast. Mosques and suraus (smaller prayer halls) usually prepare cauldrons of rice porridge to distribute to people. Although it is mostly meant for the poor and destitute, everyone is welcome to take home a packet or two.
My mother, Nisha Ibrahim, who turned 70 in January, recalled that in her youth, “At 5:30 in the evenings during Ramadan, we would flock to the mosque to get some porridge with our tiffin carriers, but over the years I have used my own recipe, which doesn’t require a lot spices. I use simple ingredients, which create a balanced flavor.”
When my mother was a child, people didn’t use any plastic containers when they got their porridge stash at the mosque. “We would take those aluminum mugs with the lids so the food would stay warm when we brought it home.”
It is now more than a month past Ramadan, which will start June 18 in 2015, but the echoes of my mother’s dish remain. The added oomph in her recipe comes from the generous portions of fresh garlic and ginger. Both provide a calming effect on the stomach. In the past, whenever I thought of rice porridge, I not only thought of breaking fast but also associated it with nursing a flu to feel better. Now I feel it’s a great meal for any day of the week.
Make sure you don’t use Basmati rice, because the starch content is relatively low. Instead, go for low-grade rice, as the high-starch content will break down the rice easily.
- 1 cup uncooked rice
- 8 cups filtered water
- 2 tablespoon vegetable oil
- 1 tablespoon black peppercorns
- 1 tablespoon fenugreek seeds
- 1 pandan (screw pine) leaves, one leaf tied into a knot
- 4 garlic cloves, crushed
- 1 thumb-sized piece of ginger, coarsely chopped
- 3.5 ounces (100 grams) minced beef or chicken
- 3.5 ounces (100 grams) diced carrots
- ¼ cup coconut milk
- 3 tablespoons cilantro leaves, chopped
- Wash the rice in a big sieve. Do this three or four times, swishing the rice until the water runs clear. Drain and set aside.
- Put the rice in a big pot and add 8 cups of filtered water. Bring to a slow boil. Be sure not to let it burn.
- Add the vegetable oil, peppercorns, fenugreek seeds and pandan leaves and stir until contents are well mixed.
- Add the garlic and ginger and stir for a minute.
- Reduce the heat to medium-low and monitor the grains until it resembles a thick, creamy porridge. This should take about 5 minutes.
- Add the minced meat and carrots and heat until the meat is cooked and the carrots are soft.
- When the porridge is fragrant, add the coconut milk and cilantro leaves. Leave to cook over low heat for 10 minutes while stirring occasionally.
- Using a ladle, stir contents and scrape the pot to make sure nothing sticks before serving.
Tip: You can use fried shallots or fried dried anchovies (both available at Asian grocers) as garnish and to make the porridge tastier.
Main photo: A bowl of Malaysian rice porridge. Credit: Aida Ahmad