Coconut Herb Rice Salad
I had a client the other day explaining that though rice is an important part of their cultural cuisine, they wanted my help in avoiding it because it’s to high in carbohydrates. We had such a great discussion about how cultural foods play a critical role in our health and happiness and that actually, rice is a whole grain, and has a lot of vitamins and minerals in it. For most people, rice can definitely be included in a healthy diet that also helps them meet their health goals. It was a win-win for me and my client! They got to keep a food that’s important to them and I got to share my favorite Malay-inspired dish, this Coconut Herb Rice Salad.
I love Malaysian food so I was excited to adapt this recipe. I did a stop over once for a couple days in Kuala Lumpur and I couldn’t get enough of their cuisine. It’s packed full of coconut, herbs and spices and so easy to find vegetarian dishes. Noodles and rice dominate while still featuring tons of veggies in every dish. What really struck me about the cuisine was the melding of flavors from all the surrounding countries and cultures. What a gift!
Perhaps this is why one of my favorite restaurants in Seattle is Malaysian Kedai Makan. If you’re in town, you should check it out but be prepared for a wait – it’s quite popular and for good reason. Order the Roti Jala for sure and try the Nasi Goreng Kedai, one of my favorites. This is such a gem of a restaurant in the Seattle area and they have plenty of vegetarian options in addition to their large selection of meat offerings. And that includes some unique options such as frog legs on occasion! I’ve loved this restaurant for years and sitting up at the bar is my ultimate move. It helps you get in there faster and it’s an action-packed way to watch people cook in the kitchen while the bartenders serve up local beers and complex tinctures and cocktails.
Making the Coconut Herb Rice Salad
Did you know that rice is a very healthy food? A whole grain, rice contains magnesium, phosphorus, selenium, thiamine, niacin and vitamin B6, and is an excellent source of manganese providing 88% of daily needs in one cup cooked. Manganese is important for connective tissue, bones, blood-clotting factors, and sex hormones and plays a role in fat and carbohydrate metabolism, calcium absorption, and blood sugar regulation as well as brain and nerve function….it’s important. You can get the nutrients you need from rice – plus many other vitamins, minerals and antioxidants in this savory, fragrant Coconut Herb Rice Salad because of all the spices added.
Cooking with Herbs
I get asked a lot of people should use fresh or dried herbs and the answer is, first of all – use what you’ve got and what is accessible. If you have the option, in a dish like this, using fresh herbs allows it to really shine. The basil, mint and cilantro each offer vitamins, minerals and anti-inflammatory antioxidants in addition to incredible vibrant flavor. It’s really fun to grow herbs in your garden or on your windowsill. It’s also a great project to do with kids so they can learn about how to grow their own food. Alternatively, just pick some up at your local farmers market or grocer. And if you need to, use dried – that’s definitely ok, too.
Making it Vegan
A traditional dish like this often has fish sauce which is a very flavorful and even pungent flavoring. Feel free to use it instead of soy sauce if you’d like but I chose to use traditional soy sauce because it also has a savory, umami flavor. Sometimes it’s that umami flavor that’s missing from vegan dishes and that’s what makes people miss meat if that’s something they enjoy. It’s no problem to address that! Soy sauce, mushrooms, and even tomatoes have an umami flavor that can help keep you satiated with those intense, familiar flavors as you go more plant-based. And it’s worth it – here’s one of my favorite posts on how to eat less meat to improve your health and the health of the planet.
If you need some other side dish ideas featuring whole grains, check out this fresh corn salad with cilantro lime dressing, vegan herbed potatoes au gratin or my millet breakfast bowl for something more sweet.
Coconut Herb Rice Salad
- 1 1/2 cups brown jasmine rice
- 1/4 cup unsweetened finely shredded dried coconut
- 1 1/2 teaspoons melted coconut oil divided
- 1/3 cup fresh basil leaves chopped finely
- 1/4 cup fresh mint leaves chopped finely
- 1/4 cup fresh cilantro leaves chopped
- 1/8 cup chives chopped finely
- 3 tablespoons finely chopped shallot
- 1 stalk lemongrass, outer layers removed then chopped
- 1 small lime, juiced and zested
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1 teaspoon low sodium soy sauce
- Bring 3 cups of water to a boil in a pot then add the rice and return to a boil. Reduce the heat to a low simmer and cook for 15 minutes. Remove the rice from the heat and keep covered for 5 minutes. Then remove the lid and fluff it gently with a fork.
- While the rice is cooking, add the dried coconut and 1/2 teaspoon coconut oil in a skillet over medium heat. Cook, stirring often, until the coconut flakes begins to brown, 2 – 3 minutes. Continue to cook, stirring constantly to ensure even browning, until it is fragrant, 2 – 3 more minutes. Remove from heat to cool.
- Using a wooden spoon, gently stir together the basil, mint, cilantro, chives, shallot, lemongrass, lime zest, salt, and pepper in a large mixing bowl until well combined.
- Add the rice, 3 tablespoons of the toasted coconut and remaining 1 teaspoon coconut oil to herb mixture then gently fold the mixture to thoroughly coat. Add soy sauce and lime juice and fold once or twice more to incorporate.
- Garnish the mixture with the remaining coconut and any leftover herbs you desire. This dish can be served hot or cold. Consider adding tofu for protein!
Ginger Hultin,MS, RD, CSO
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