Friday, February 13, 2015

Street Food Series: Thai-Laos Sticky Black Rice with Coconut Milk and Grilled Mangoes...

Food stalls are an essential part of Thai life where most Thais eat at these open-air, one-dish specialist stalls at least once a day. And when it comes to sweets, they are just as much loved on the streets, but more so as a midday snack rather than part of a meal. Whereas desserts are eaten after dinner in the West, sweets in Southeast Asia are typically eaten as afternoon snacks from rice cakes, banana fritters to dessert soups. Sticky rice with coconut milk is hands-down the most popular Thai dessert, and also in Laos, which is favoured by westerners compared to their other more sweet offerings. Sweet juicy mangos served with firm sticky rice and slightly salted coconut milk or cream is an interesting contrasting combo. When ripe mangoes are not in season, the kanom (sweets) vendor offers other toppings for the rice including a sweet-salty one that uses dried shrimp. To the ordinary eye, black sticky rice pudding may not look appealing but yet once sampled it can have you hooked and vying for more. Subtly nutty, rich in texture and with the salty sweet taste of warm coconut sauce, it is an ultimate comfort food. And very simple to recreate at home. 

Sticky Black Rice with Coconut Milk and Grilled Mangoes
Makes 4 servings (double recipe to serve a small crowd)

1-1/2 cups long-grain glutinous black rice, soaked overnight in water and drained
1 cup canned or fresh coconut milk
1/3 cup palm sugar, or substitute brown sugar Note: Palm sugar has a distinctive caramel flavour perfect for this dessert. Available in pod-like cakes, but also sold in paste form at Asian markets.

1/2 tsp. salt
2 ripe mangoes, or substitute sliced ripe papayas, peeled and sliced or cubed

Set the steamer basket over several inches of boiling water in a pot. Keep the rice from touching the boiling water. Cover and steam for 30 to 45 minutes, or until the rice is shiny and tender. Be careful that your pot doesn't run dry during steaming; add more water if necessary.
Cooking time can vary depending on rice brand used.

Meanwhile, place the coconut milk in a heavy pot and heat over medium heat until hot. Do not boil. Add the sugar and salt; stir to dissolve completely.

Preheat grill to high. Oil the grill rack with a paper towel dipped in oil with tongs. Grill the mangos until slightly charred and softened, tossing once or twice. Set aside.

When the sticky rice is tender, turn it out into a bowl and pour 1/2 cup of the hot coconut milk over; reserve the rest. Stir to mix the milk into the rice, then let stand for 30 minutes to allow the flavours to blend.

Serve individually in bowls or serve up in a vessel to pass around. Arrange mangoes and set out a small bowl with the remaining sweetened coconut milk, stirred thoroughly, with a spoon, so guests can spoon on extra as they wish.

It's Valentine's Day tomorrow, so here's a heart-shaped sticky rice dessert giving a nod to the special day Southeast Asian-style!

Cook's NOTES: 
You can substitute black Thai sticky rice with half white regular rice. Soak the two rices together; the white rice will turn a beautiful purple as it takes on colour from the black rice. Cooking will take 10 minutes longer.

Leftover TIP: Coconut Milk Sticky Rice has enough moisture and oils in it that it keeps well for 24 hours, in a covered container in the refrigerator, without drying out. Rewarm it the next day by steaming or in a microwave.

This ends on a sweet note, my week-long series on South Asian street foods. Check out my other delicious edibles from Singapore's Hainanese Chicken Rice, Vietnamese Banh Mi Sandwiches and Malaysian Oyster Omelet Oh Chien. Drop a comment or two about your favourite SE Asian street foods... would love to hear from you!

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