Bayam Masak Lemak is a lightly flavoured, creamy dish of spinach cooked in coconut milk that makes a wonderful side dish with rice.
Estimated reading time: 5 minutes
What is Bayam Masak Lemak?
Let’s take a look at the name first, shall we? If you are a long time follower of LinsFood, you’re probably more than halfway there, in deciphering the meaning of this Malay phrase. So, in Malay:
- Bayam = spinach.
- Masak = cook or to cook.
- Lemak = cream or creamy BUT in culinary terms, this tells us that the dish has been cooked with coconut milk.
So Bayam Masak Lemak = Spinach Cooked in Coconut Milk
Bayam Masak Lemak Recipe
This spinach in coconut milk is a very easy recipe to cook. It uses very few ingredients, and all but one, easily obtained. I’m talking about dried shrimp or udang kering, in Malay. If you are in East or South East Asia, this is super easy to come by, of course.
Outside of these regions, you’ll find that any East Asian store will stock it. And as I keep saying, you will definitely find it online, whether in specialist stores or on Amazon or Ebay.
What is Dried Shrimp?
Exactly what it says. Dried shrimp, or udang kering, in Malay, are small shrimps that have been air dried and are an essential ingredient throughout East and South East Asia.
They smell of the sea and lend an incredible depth and a serious hit of umami to whatever dish you are using them in. Dried shrimp, along with its stronger cousin, shrimp paste, is the reason that most Malay, Indonesian and Nyonya vegetable recipes are not really vegetarian.
The reason for this is that even the simplest of dishes, very often, has one, or both of these ingredients in the paste, or rempah, as we say it in Malay.
Vegan Bayam Masak Lemak
So, to make this Bayam Masak Lemak truly vegetarian, or vegan, all you do is leave out the dried shrimp from the paste ingredients.
Will the dish suffer from it? A little yes, but you can do 1 (or both) of 2 things to compensate:
- add a handful of shiitake along with the spinach, for that umami flavour.
- add 1-2 tsp of light soy sauce, adding salt and umami.
How to Serve Spinach in Coconut Milk?
Serve this bayam masak lemak with rice. This can be plain, boiled rice or nasi goreng (fried rice), it doesn’t really matter, it’s a side dish. When my granny used to make this, she’d always have some sambal belacan on the side, as well as some sort of fried dish, like sambal goreng, simple fried fish or fried chicken.
Additionally, you can also serve this alongside other side dishes like curries. For example, this spinach in coconut milk can be your accompanying vegetable dish when you are serving any of the rendang on this site, or if you’re having Ayam Masak Merah. It’s a very versatile vegetable recipe, in that respect.
And on that note, shall we get cooking?
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Bayam Masak Lemak (Spinach in Coconut Milk)
- chopping board
- saucepan or wok
- 1 lemongrass
- 1 medium tomato
- 1 red chilli
- 1 Tbsp vegetable oil
- 400 g spinach (baby leaves or large)
- 200 ml coconut milk
- 125 ml water
- 1 small onion
- 1 small clove garlic
- 1 tsp dried shrimp
- Quarter the onion and place in the chopper.
- Add the garlic and dried shrimp and chop until fine. We'd usually soak the dried shrimp first, but as the paste here is more chopped than wet, I've skipped the soaking.Set aside.
Other Prep Work
- Slice off the tough bottom end (the root end) of the lemongrass. And cut off the top part, leaving about 10 cm/4 inches of stalk. Peel off the top layer, if it's particularly dry or dirty, or looking a little yellow. If not, leave it alone. Rinse your lemongrass and dry.Place your lemongrass on a chopping board and bash hard on the thick end with the back of your knife. This is called bruising your lemongrass.
- Quarter the tomato.
- Slice the red chilli.
Let's get Cooking!
- Heat the oil in a large saucepan or wok on medium heat. Raw spinach takes up a lot of space, although it will all cook right down.
- Fry the chopped ingredients for 1 minute, along with the lemongrass.
- Add the coconut milk, water, salt, tomato and chilli and bring to a simmer on medium heat. Lower the heat down and simmer for 1 minute.
- Add the spinach, increase the heat back up to medium and cook for about 2 minutes, stirring, so that all the spinach leaves are exposed to the heat. Cook for the briefest time, until the spinach is done to your liking. Don't wilt the spinach too much, as your bayam masak lemak will be better for it.Check seasoning, and add more salt if you think it needs it.