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What Is Lemper?

By P.M. Willers
Updated Feb 28, 2024
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Lemper is an Indonesian food that is commonly served as an appetizer or as a snack with tea. It is made primarily of seasoned sticky rice that is rolled up into a cylindrical shape and served wrapped in a banana leaf, similar to an egg roll or spring roll. The roll also normally contains chicken, and in this case is referred to as Lemper Ayam, which translates as chicken lemper.

This dish can be made with a sweet, savory, or spicy filling. Many variations exist, but it is typically seasoned with a variety of spices that include garlic, coriander, and cumin. To make sweet lemper, small amounts of brown sugar can be added to the recipe for the filling. For a spicy dish, sambal, an Indonesian chili paste, is added.

When making the dish, it is necessary to steam rice in a mixture of water and coconut milk. The rice will absorb the coconut milk, which will enhance its texture and flavor. While the rice is being steamed, some finely chopped chicken and the spices are fried together with oil in a wok. After the rice has been steamed and the filling fully cooked, the rice is spread flat in a rectangular shape and the filling is spread across the center of it. The rice and filling spread is then rolled into a cylindrical shape.

The filling is most typically wrapped in banana leaves, although corn husks or aluminum foil may be substituted if banana leaves are unavailable. To aid the rolling process, foil or wax paper can be used. After the lemper is rolled, the foil or wax paper is removed and replaced with banana leaves for presentation. The purpose of the banana leaves is entirely aesthetic and for presentation. Banana leaves are peeled back in lieu of being eaten along with it.

Another way to prepare the Indonesian specialty is to create two layers of rice by layering them on top of each other and placing the seasoned stuffing or chicken in between the two layers. After pressing the two layers together, the lemper can be cut into squares or rectangles. The pieces can then be wrapped in banana leaves.

If necessary or desired, homemade lemper may be frozen or kept in storage for two days in the refrigerator. To serve after being refrigerated, the optimal method of reheating is using a steamer. When serving from frozen, the lemper should be thawed before steaming.

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