Thursday, May 17, 2012

Thai Mango with Coconut Sticky Rice!

Thailand is one of those countries that I can't stop coming back to. I've traveled to many countries all over South East Asia, but Thailand always pulls me back in.What is it? If I had to put words to a feeling, I would say the hospitality and the food! (the FOOD!)

A staple of Thai cuisine is fresh coconut milk to make their array of curries, and by fresh I mean super fresh! You can see it being grated all throughout the day. To make milk or cream, the fresh coconut is soaked in boiling water and then squeezed to extract all of the rich coconut fat.

One of my favourite dishes that benefits from this rich coconut cream is Mango with Sticky Rice - sweet sticky rice steamed until perfection and soaked in sweet and salty coconut milk until it absorbs it through and through. It is served with freshly sliced mango and extra coconut cream. You will drool and since I want you to taste this too, you can make it at home with the recipe below!

I don't even know if I can explain in words how incredible this dish is that I'm presenting to you today.

Really. I fear that no matter what I say, all you will see is rice and a mango. This is the most incredible thing ever and I learned how to make it during a cooking course in Chiang Mai, Northern Thailand from a lovely Thai lady named Nancy.

This rice is steamed to chewy perfection and then soaked in a sweet and salty thick coconut cream. Can you wrap your head around it?

Salt is key. Salt and coconut is insanity. So freakin' good. And then there's palm sugar which is made from the sap of coconut palm trees. It is ridiculous. It has an almost tangy acidity to it and the closest substitute I can think of is honey. But please... seek out palm sugar. You can find it at Asian grocery stores and it is sold in hard puck form. It has a light brown colour. You will be happy you did.

I remember the first time I tried this and I swear I saw stars. It is just so simple but so spectacular. I think that's what makes it great - you would never think it could carry that much flavour.

First the sticky rice needs to be soaked in water overnight. You'll notice that the grains will be translucent when they are ready. This lets them take in some water so that they steam evenly.

Sticky rice (or glutinous rice) is not the same rice that the Japanese use to make sushi. It is not going to be too sticky and as wet as sushi rice. No. This rice will be so individual and unique.

That's because we're steaming it. Steaming the rice is such a cool method. It makes every grain cook individually so that they are distinct but not sticky on their surfaces. They look beautiful like this.

This is the tricky part. Do not over cook the rice! You will still need to soak it in warm coconut milk so it will continue to cook. If it is over-steamed, it will be mushy so just watch it carefully. Twenty minutes should do the trick.
You can make your own steamer at home like this. Just fill a pot with about and inch of water and put your rice in a sieve over the pot. Now put the lid on, bring the water to a boil and steam away.

In the meantime, heat the coconut milk, palm sugar and a generous amount of salt in a saucepan. Let it come to a boil and then reduce to a simmer for just a minute or two. Don't reduce it too much or the coconut milk will separate.

Now add the steamed rice, remove from the heat, cover and let stand for 10 minutes. During this time the rice will soak up all of that outstanding sweet, tangy and salt coconut cream. Wow. I wish I could be rice right now.

Another HUGELY important thing is to have the most perfectly ripe, sweet Ataulfo mangoes. These are the kidney shaped ones - not the red and green mangoes from Mexico. These Ataulfos are much silkier and far less stringy or fibrous.

You know they're ripe when they are gorgeously orange all around, their skin is just slightly wrinkly and they give quite a bit when you press on it.

Oh! Make sure you put some aside for pouring on top. That's the best.

This will change you.

Mango with Coconut Sticky Rice 
Makes about 4 servings

1 cup sweet sticky rice
1 1/3 cups coconut milk
1 oz (28g) coconut palm sugar
1/3 cup (65g) granulated sugar
1 tbsp honey (optional)
1/2 tsp coarse sea salt
2 ripe Ataulfo mangos, peeled, removed from the pit and sliced

Rinse the sticky rice several times and then soak rice overnight in cold water, about 8-10 hours. Rinse and steam until translucent and cooked through. It will be firm and chewy but not mushy. This will take about 20 minutes. Do not over-cook it at this point because it will continue to cook once you add it to the hot coconut milk mixture.

In a small saucepan over medium heat, combine coconut milk, palm sugar, granulated sugar, honey (if using - it ads a nice floral taste similar to palm sugar) and salt in a small saucepan. Bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 3 minutes. Reserve about 1/3 cup to serve as a sauce for later.

Remove the pan from the heat, add the steamed rice and stir gently just to combine. Set the pan aside and let stand for 20 minutes, covered, without stirring. The rice will absorb the coconut milk as it sits. Again, do not stir or it will get mushy. Serve with sliced ripe mango and extra coconut milk sauce.

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