Thursday, December 26, 2013

Thai coconut sticky rice pudding



In Chiang Mai, Thailand, the heat sucks your insides dry, but, on the outside, the humidity makes your fingertips pickle. 


Across the street from my hotel, street vendors began setting up makeshift tables, and covering the ground with blankets. Next came the umbrellas, lining the sides of the street, and a row in the middle. The umbrellas were the scaffolding for the multicolored tarps creating a tunnel for us to walk through. 

I walked through the tarp tunnel with my head bent, examining the multicolored light shining through, as the vendors finished setting up their merchandise. There were stop watches, paintings, hand carved soaps, flowers, wood carvings, Buddhas of all kind, musical instruments, rice wine, exotic fruits, and silk scarves.

Heavy raindrops start weighing down the tarps, causing me to reduce my height by another two inches. Their soft ker plunks are accompanied by the hum of repetitive price negotiations in choppy English. I run my fingers through the rough raw silk of a deep purple scarf, and the corner of my mouth begins to twitch with the shadow of a smile. Christmas lights covered in colored balls of string flickered on and off.

Soon the gutters began to overflow from the steady rain. Pools of water began to settle on top of the tarps. Every once in a while I would forget to kneel, causing my head to knock a pool of water across my back. But the rain didn't stop there. In a flash a full-fledged thunderstorm was underway, and the warm raindrops felt like knives on my bare arms. Vendors simply pulled out more tarps to cover their merchandise, knowing this too would pass. The gutter water was now up to my ankles, and my sneakers are five times their original weight, making running out of the rain significantly more difficult.

By the time I had found my way out of the falling tarp tunnel and into a small shop, I felt like I had arrived straight from the sewer. The smell could make your nose curl. Since I would be waiting out the storm for a while in this misfit shop, I figured I might as well order something. To try to satisfy my sweet tooth, I order coconut sticky rice with mango slices.

My first bite was heaven, oh so creamy. However, when the rice reached the back of my throat, an overwhelming unexpected flavor emerged, salt. Don't get me wrong, I appreciate salt, but my sweet craving was strong. As I swallowed, I had to suppress a small gag. I don't think I had ever tasted this much salt at one time before. Determined to make the most of my rain shelter, I continued to eat the sticky rice. After a couple more bites, the salt didn't taste so foreign. In fact, the dish wouldn't have been as memorable without it. 

Outside the storm stopped as quickly as it had begun, with all the vendors just where I had left them.


How to Cook Thai Sticky Rice
  • Soak the rice for 2-18 hours. For short periods of soaking use hot water. It is best to soak the rice in a microwave proof bowl and lid. I use a porcelain bowl with a glass lid. 
  • Microwave method: 
    • For  cups of sticky rice, pour the majority of the water out so the water just covers the top of the rice. Microwave for 12 minutes. This is the method I use and I find the most reliable. Differences in microwaves may cause additional time as noted below. I usually use one cup of this rice for dessert and the left overs for dinner or with an omelet for breakfast. 
    • For 1 cup of sticky rice, pour the majority of the water out so the water just covers the top of the rice. Microwave for 6 minutes, and then check. Check to see if the rice is down my stirring it and looking for rice kernels that are still white. When the rice is done, it should we translucent, defined and sticky. If your rice is mushy instead of defined, too much water was most likely added.
  • Additional information on how to cook sticky rice with a rice cooker or steamer, click here.



Sweet Coconut Sticky Rice
Servings: 5
Total time: 3+ hours
Prep time: 15-20 minutes
Ingredients:
  • 1 ½ cups Thai sticky rice
  • 1 1/4 cups full fat coconut milk
  • 1/8 cup + 2 tbsp. granulated sugar
  • 3/4 tsp sea salt
  • fruit optional (mangos, strawberries, etc.)  
Immediately after the 12 minutes are finished, mix in the coconut milk, sugar, and salt. The heat will help the sugar and salt dissolve into the rice.  Let cool for 5-10 minutes. Then serve warm with thin slices of fruit on the side.  Feel free to adjust the amount of sugar and salt to taste. For a healthier dessert, the sugar can be replaced with agave syrup or honey, according to taste.

When changing the quantity of rice I use a ratio of 3:1:1/4, for cups of rice, coconut milk, and sugar, respectively. For example, for 1 cup of rice use about 1/3 cup coconut milk and 2 tablespoons of sugar.  After mixing the ingredients, taste the rice and add coconut milk, sugar, and salt as necessary. This is a pretty easy dish, but two much salt or coconut milk will ruin it. Regarding the addition of coconut milk, you want the rice to be creamy, but you want the kernels to be defined and sticky, not mushy like pudding (This is what distinguishes the sweet coconut rice from the rice pudding).

*This is a recreation of the dish I often ate in Chiang Mai, Thailand. The most common sticky rice and mango desserts were not in pudding form. However, rice pudding, like the recipe below, is also made from sticky rice in different Thai households.


Coconut Sticky Rice Pudding with Strawberries
Servings: 5
Total time: 3+ hours
Prep time: 15-20 minutes
Ingredients:
  • 1 ½ cups Thai sticky rice
  • 1 cup full fat coconut milk
  • 1/8 cup + 2 tbsp. granulated sugar
  • Water
  • 3/4 tsp sea salt
  • fruit optional (mangos, strawberries, etc.)  
After the rice is cooked in the microwave, place it in a small pot and cover the rice with water. The water should be slightly higher than the cooked rice. Let the rice simmer, stirring often, for a little under 10 minutes until all the water is absorbed and the kernels are no longer defined. The rice will look similar to porridge. While hot stir in the coconut milk, sugar, and salt. For a healthier dessert, sugar can be replaced with agave syrup or honey, according to taste. 

When adjusting the quantity of rice used, the same ratio presented in the second paragraph of the Sweet Coconut Sticky Rice recipe can be utilized. Once again, it is better to add less of each ingredient, and then slowly increase according to taste.

*Note: I often switch to the rice pudding version if I mess up cooking the sticky rice and it ends up on the mushy side. This happens when I forget to pour the excess water out of my porcelain bowl containing the rice before I start microwaving.

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