A decadent coconut lime rice is one of those easy dishes that can transport you from your pantry to a sun-drenched beach. It took a few tries to get right, but this is now one of those super easy exotic dishes that takes no time at all, and will impress any guest.
The real game-changer in this dish, in any dish really, is the use of layers of flavour to create depth and excitement. It is not enough to cook up a batch of rice, mix in some coconut milk and call it a day – for a start, coconut milk loses some of its coconut taste when heated, and even so there is no texture or real burst of flavour beyond the creaminess given to the dish. The same goes for the lime – if heated too much, the juice of a lime can lose its freshness and sharpness and taste one dimensional if not cloying and dull.
With some inspiration from South Indian, Caribbean and South East Asian cuisines, I’ve come pretty close to my ultimate coconut lime rice recipe. The dish is quite foolproof too, so it could probably be made just as easily in a rice cooker or an instant pot. I love it and I hope you will too – enjoy!
The Coconut Lime Rice Recipe Card
- 2 cups basmati rice
- 3 cups water
- 2 heavy pinches of salt
- 1 can full fat coconut milk (400ml or approximately 2 cup coconut milk)
- 1/2 lime
- 200g organic desiccated coconut (for kerisik) OR 100g of creamed coconut
- 2 kaffir lime leaves (optional)
- To make the kerisik (toasted, pounded coconut paste): over a medium high heat, toast the desiccated coconut in a pot until light brown, but not burnt. Allow the toasted desiccated coconut to cool slightly and using a hand blender or food processor, process the coconut into a runny paste. This step should not take more than 10 minutes. Set aside for later use. If you are using creamed coconut, skip this step.
- Place basmati rice in mesh sieve and run under cold water until water runs clear. Run your fingers through the rice to ensure that the water reaches all or most grains of rice.
- Place the rice in a pot and add the cold water to the pot of rice along with a heavy pinch of salt and the optional kaffir lime leaves which have been pinched to release some of the lime essential oil fragrance. Bring the water to a boil over a medium heat, then turn down to a low heat for a bare simmer covered with a lid.
- Meanwhile, in a separate vessel, mix the coconut milk and 5 tablespoons of kerisik. If you are using creamed coconut instead, mix in half a packet of creamed coconut into the coconut milk (if the weather is cold, you may need to cut the creamed coconut into small chunks).
- When the water in the pot has evaporated, pour in the coconut milk mix, and stir it into the rice. Cover the pot with the lid again, reduce the heat and slowly bring the pot back up to temperature, and turn off the heat. Set aside the rice for a further 10 minutes to allow the rice to steam and absorb the coconut milk.
- After 10 minutes has passed, add in the juice of the lime and salt to taste, fluff up the rice, and it is ready to be served!
Kerisik is a Malay / Singaporean / Indonesian coconut paste made from fresh coconut that has been browned and pounded, and is used to add coconut flavour to dishes and thicken up curry dishes (like rendangs). This recipe is not authentic, but is a tasty adaption of the original (and can be enjoyed like nutella on a piece of gluten free bread!).
If you are subbing in white rice for brown rice, make sure to follow the cooking instructions.
Make sure to garnish with some coriander / cilantro to bring out the lime coconut flavour.
As mentioned above, the key to this coconut lime rice recipe is the reinforcement of the coconut and lime flavours. You can do this in a couple of ways:
1) use contrasting flavours to enhance the primary flavours of the dish – in this case, the creamy, fruity and sweet flavour of the coconut is enhanced by, and in turn, enhances the flavour of the lime, which is sharp, acidic and fresh.
2) use complementary flavours or similar flavours to add depth to the primary flavours of the dish – in this case, we use more than one type of coconut product to reinforce the coconut taste, and likewise the same with the lime.
There is a plethora of coconut products available for use – coconut milk (and its powder), coconut cream, creamed coconut, coconut oil, coconut water, fresh coconut, desiccated coconut, coconut flakes etc…
The good thing about most of these coconut derivatives (barring the fresh ones) is that they keep really well (stored at room temperature), they are (relatively) cheap and widely available in most places. Given that you are not really constrained by availability of products, the question of which ones to chose becomes: what do I want from my coconut product?
In the end, I chose the products which I believe give the right balance of flavour, texture or consistency and ease of use. To me that meant using:
- Coconut milk (that is the proper coconut milk, the kind in a can or a Tetrapak, not coconut “drink”). I’ve always got a carton or two to hand, it is relatively cheap and has a wide application in tropical dishes (as well as in vegan cooking!). The coconut milk liquid hydrates the rice in the last stage of cooking (meaning that you will use slightly less water than normal to cook your rice), and also allows the creamy coconut milk solids to be dispersed amongst the rice. You can use hydrated coconut milk powder (I use a certified vegan and gluten-free one available on Amazon) or coconut cream with a bit a water mixed in to loosen it up. Coconut milk is added at the end of the cooking process because the coconut milk will lose some of its coconut taste when heat is applied, so be sure to never go over medium heat.
- Homemade lazy “Kerisik”. What is kerisik I hear you ask? Well, it is a paste from South East Asia made from pounded roasted fresh coconut flesh. I first came across kerisik as a flavourant and a thickener in a recipe for Indonesian rendang curry. Kerisik is made from fresh coconut, but I’d never so much as seen a coconut at my local shop and I was not prepared to look all over London to find one. My version, which uses another cupboard staple, desiccated coconut (I figured that you pan roast the fresh coconut to bring out the flavour and to remove the water from the raw coconut, so why not cut to the chase and use desiccated coconut?!) is by no means authentic, but is still suitable for use in my coconut lime rice recipe. The great thing about kerisik is that is adds a toasted coconut flavour to the dish, a bit of colour, some texture, and also absorbs some of the excess water in the dish. If pressed to use something else, creamed coconut works well too and is easier to use, if not as tasty.
Carrying on with the theme of adding complementary coconut flavours or textures, you might try to replace the water used to cook the rice with coconut water, or drizzle some sweetened coconut cream atop the finished coconut lime rice, or even garnish with coconut flakes (for texture, taste and a bit of flair!).
The other limb of this is how to infuse additional lime flavour into the coconut lime rice recipe. In the same way that coconut can lose its flavour when heat is applied, lime can lose its freshness, sharpness and sweetness if treated incorrectly. The other thing to note is that lime can also be sour and some lime products – like Persian dried limes, preserved salted limes, and dried limes – are much more sour then they are fresh. In the end, the right mix of lime products (for me) was:
- The juice of a fresh lime. Limes are easy enough to source and are cheap and plentiful. Their juice is fresh and slightly sweet and a perfect accompaniment to the creaminess of the coconut. Other types of lime are available, like the delicious kalamansi from the Philippines or finger limes.
- Kaffir lime leaves, added to the rice when cooking, add a slight citrus fragrance to the rice and a bit of a floral hint without overpowering the dish, but is present enough to enhance the lime juice. If kaffir lime leaves are a bit of a stretch, some lime zest can also do the job.
Feeling adventurous? A small touch of lime preserve loosened up with a touch of water could be used in place of juice of a lime, or maybe some candied lime peel could be used instead of kaffir lime leaves – I’d just try to avoid overly sour or savoury preparations of lime, but beyond that, go crazy!
In keeping with the preparation of the coconut lime rice itself, when pairing dishes I look for other elements that will either complement or contrast with the flavours in the recipe itself. By doing that, you also create a theme or underlying current of flavours which carries on all throughout the dish.
For starters, a sprinkle of coriander/cilantro will add to the citrus and floral scent of the coconut lime rice recipe, as well as adding some colour. Otherwise, I’d go for other dishes:
A fruity salad, like our vegan mango salad
A coconut milk-based curry, like a potato and spinach curry
An uber-savoury dish, like our Asian garlic tofu, or something fragrant and spicy like a vegan rendang
You can also use this as the base for a vegan coconut rice bowl – check ours out below!
We hope you enjoy this coconut lime rice recipe and share it with your loved ones – if you do, please leave a comment or drop us an email, we would love to hear from you!