Celebration Yellow Rice

This image courtesy of Christopher Hirsheimer

This variation on coconut rice gets its vivid golden color from turmeric and its abundant flavor from lemongrass and kaffir lime, daun pandan, and daun salam leaves. Nasi kuning, literally, “yellow rice”, is usually reserved for birthdays, weddings, anniversaries, or the celebration surrounding a baby’s first taste of solid food. It originated in Java and is now eaten all over Indonesia, Malaysia, and Singapore. Although grated fresh turmeric is traditionally used to achieve the yellow color. I have found that using ground turmeric from the spice cupboard is easier and doesn’t noticeably affect the taste of the dish. Yellow rice is often served moldeled into an inverted cone shape, a dish known as tumpeng. The cone’s peak is crowned with a splayed-open red chile, while its sides are garnished with symmetrical rows of peanuts and omelet strips. Tumpeng is said to represent a holy volcano worshipped by the Javanese in pre-Muslim times. Served humbly and unshaped in a bowl, however, nasi kuning makes an excellent alternative to steamed white rice. I don’t recommend making this dish in a rice cooker, which can lead to the bottom layer of rice sticking and burning.

Makes4 to 6 servings


Total Timeunder 1 hour

Kid FriendlyYes

OccasionBuffet, Casual Dinner Party, Family Get-together

Recipe Courseside dish, starch

Dietary Considerationegg-free, gluten-free, halal, kosher, lactose-free, peanut free, soy free, vegan, vegetarian

Mealdinner, lunch


Taste and Texturesavory, spiced, sweet


  • 2 cups (14 ounces/400 grams) jasmine rice
  • 1 ½ cups (12 fluid ounces/375 milliliters) water
  • 1 ½ teaspoons ground turmeric
  • 1 cup (8 fluid ounces/250 milliliters) unsweetened coconut milk
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 2 thick stalks fresh lemongrass, each tied into a knot
  • 3 whole fresh or thawed, frozen kaffir  lime leaves, gently crumpled with your hands to release their essence
  • 4 fresh or thawed, frozen daun pandan leaves, each tied into a knot or torn in half (optional)
  • 4 whole daun salam leaves


  1. Place the rice in a 1 ½ - or 2-quart (1.5 or 2-liter) saucepan. Fill the pot halfway with cold water. If any rice hulls or small twigs float to the surface, scoop them aside with your hand and discard them. Gently swirl your fingers through the rice until the water becomes cloudily 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 3 more changes of water. The water after the first 2 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 is fine. Leave the rinsed rice in the pot.

  2. In a bowl, combine the cooking water and the turmeric, and stir well to combine.

  3. Add the turmeric-water mixture, coconut milk, salt, lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves, and the daun pandan and saun salam leaves (if using) to the rinsed rice. Stir well to combine, making sure that the lemongrass stalks and all the leaves are as fully submerged in the rice as possible.

  4. Place the pot over high heat and bring the liquid to a boil, stirring with a large spoon to prevent the rice at the bottom of the pot from scorching or burning. Don’t worry if the liquid thickens considerably as it comes to a boil. This is a result 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 the stirring. The finished rice will still be fine. Allow the rice to boil for 15 seconds, continuing to sir to prevent the rice 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 lift during this time. You’ll lose essential cooking steam if you do.

  5. Remove the pot from the heat and allow the rice to continue to steam, covered, away from the heat for an additionally 10 minutes.

  6. Open the pot and discard the lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves, and the daun pandan 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. Serve hot or warm. (If serving the rice warm, keep it covered with aluminum foil until then.)


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