Mango season! It’s the time of the year I LOVE. At least now I can get my mango fix. Even though mangoes here are much less varied than in Thailand, it’s better than nothing at all.
I’ve gotten several requests about how to cook the sticky rice that is normally served with mangoes in Thailand, and also here. You know, this is a food combination that I totally disagreed with since my childhood all the way until now.
Don’t get me wrong. I love mangoes. And I love the sweet, sticky rice, called “Khao Niaow Moon” or “Khao Niao Mun” in Thai. But putting them together isn’t the way to eat them for me. I want to eat them separately, one at a time. This is my personal opinion and I’m not forcing it on anyone (like I do with my curry recipes!) I feel that the sweet, sticky rice makes the mango tangy for no good reason if I eat them together. If I eat the mango alone the mango is sweet like fruit, you know, not like sugar. Then the sticky rice, which has sugar content in it, and of course no matter how little sugar I put in the sticky rice, the sweetness of sugar still overpowers the natural sweetness of the mango and emphasizes the hint of tang in the mango that isn’t so obvious at first.
Okay, making sticky rice is another simple recipe, but of course I have a way to complicate the issue, as always. I like my food “PERFECT”, not just edible, so I cook all my food in a certain way. This is what the old Thais, who are punctilious about detail, love. There are not so many of them left these days, but luckily I learned from a few before they left the surface of this earth. This is what it called “Pra Neet” in Thai, or meticulous in English. This used to be a quality that we sought after in a cook, not reject because we must rush through our day so we can, errr, watch TV or connect with people on Facebook!
I’m meticulous about how to cook the sticky rice. So If you already know how to cook sticky rice the way you like, you can skip the next four paragraphs and go right to the ingredients.
How do I cook my sticky rice? I steam it, but soak my sticky rice at least 3 hours to over night before I do that. I’ve cooked sticky rice in a pot or rice cooker too but the result didn’t come out as beautiful as steaming, the traditional way.
First you wash the rice. You need to forget about rinsing out the vitamins and focus on getting rid of the dirt, bugs and other impurities that come with rice, so you REALLY wash it throughly.
Then you just let it soak in enough water. (Take your first break, sipping some wine.)
I use different tools to cook the rice depending on how much I have to cook. This is the traditional “Huad” or “Huat”. It’s just a bamboo basket that fits on top of a tall pot with the dimple near the top. This dimple helps hold the “Huad” quite well and the tall pot so I can fill it with a lot of water.
If I cook for only 2-4 people, I use a sieve. Okay, this is how I do it. This is the tool, the pot with a steamer insert. I don’t like to use a pasta pot because the perforated insert pot for the pasta goes down way too low.
You can use an Asian steamer if you have one. The whole steamer set or just the bamboo one that sits on top of the wok both work perfectly.
This is how I put my soaked sticky rice inside the steamer pot. I used the sieve inserted into the steamer part. You can also use 3 layers of cheese cloth instead of the sieve.
I will cook the sticky rice for 20 minutes, turning it over after the first 10 minutes.
I turn the rice over by flipping it in sieve by tossing, so the top part is now on the bottom and the bottom is now on top. This way all grain will be cooked evenly. I will also do this with the sticky rice in the Huad as well.
Once you know how to cook a perfect sticky rice, we can proceed further to the second part, which is to “Moon” the sticky rice. Wait, hang on to your belt for now! It’s not what you think. “Moon” or “Mun” the sticky rice. “Moon” in Thai means a heap, a mound; to pile up, to heap; or to mix. So we just simply mix the coconut milk into the sticky rice.
Ingredients (for one or two servings)
Sticky rice (dry) 1/2 cup
Coconut milk 1/3-1/2 cup
Organic granulated sugar (you can smell the aroma as soon as you open the bag, yummm…) 2-3 tablespoons
Sea salt 1/8-1/4 teaspoon
(Optional) Pandan leaves the whole leave cut into pieces about 1″ long
1) Cook the sticky rice (see above method or any method of your own)
2) While the rice is cooking, mix the rest of the ingredients together and microwave them for 30 seconds to one minute, but don’t let it boil. This is just to melt the granulated sugar and bring the mixture to a slightly warmer temperature. Don’t let the temperature pass over 120 degrees. It will make the grains of sticky rice too swollen and mushy and not as pretty. Leave it at room temperature and wait for the rice to be cooked. You need to do this BEFORE the sticky rice is cooked.
3) As SOON as the sticky rice is cooked, put it all in a bowl and pour the coconut milk mixture over it RIGHT AWAY.
Stir until every grain of the sticky rice is coated with the coconut milk mixture, then cover and let the sticky rice grains absorb the coconut milk. Leave it for 20 minutes.
Don’t worry if it looks soupy at first. It should be.
The coconut milk will be absorbed and dry afterward.
I have to admit it that I didn’t always do it the way I’m telling you, which is the way that I had been taught. My grandma and my aunts always told me to pour coconut milk over the sticky rice but I sometimes did the opposite. I put my sticky rice right in the coconut milk bowl, so I didn’t have to find another bowl to put the cooked sticky rice into and then pour the coconut milk mixture over it, and avoided washing two bowls later.
Well, the old people had their reason, because they didn’t normally measure ingredients. They would just approximate everything. Thai cooking, or I dare say Asian cooking, isn’t about precision. They do everything based on their experience. My grandmother could be cooking a whole sack of sticky rice, 25 kg (55lb.), which was about half a bathtub full of finished product. She was only eyeballing all the measurements! So, she would pour the coconut milk over the cooked rice just to see how much she would need.
I perfected the recipe by measuring all the ingredients so I don’t have to teach you the eyeball method.
1) Q: After 20 minutes the rice is still quite soupy. What do I do?
A: Use the sieve again. Pour the entire contents into the sieve, placing a bowl underneath it first, silly…so the coconut milk won’t be all over your counter top, and you can save the coconut milk. It’s delicious.
Look at the grains of the sticky rice. If they are all transparent, then it’s good to go, meaning that the sticky rice has absorbed all the coconut milk that it can. Don’t worry if there is excess coconut milk. You probably have sticky rice that doesn’t absorb as much coconut milk. Relax, you’ve done everything right. Leave it in the sieve until you drain off all the excess coconut milk. Then you can use it as normal.
But if the sticky rice grains are not transparent and there is excess coconut milk, you probably either have “too cold” coconut milk or you dropped the sticky rice in when it was too cold. You can try to warm it up by putting the whole bowl in the steamer again for another 5 minutes, or microwaving it for one to two minutes.
The real problem is the rice grains didn’t absorb enough coconut milk. Taste and see if you want to eat it this way. If not, then make another batch. If you are using a plug-in steamer, sometimes they are not hot enough. Adding more water into the steamer would probably help. That’s the reason why I didn’t use the electric steamer that I have—too small. You’ll find a bigger electric steamer seems to give the rice grain a more even temperature and thus steams the sticky rice more evenly.
If your coconut milk is too cold (lower than 85 degrees) the hot rice will lose its temperature very quickly and won’t fully absorb the coconut milk too.
2) Q: I don’t have the sweet-arse time to soak the sticky rice for three frigging hours, excuse me!
A: Then you have to eat less perfect sticky rice, but it’s still edible.
These are four possible ways to do it, Impatient One!
A2.1) Soak the sticky rice in hot water for 5-10 minutes while you are waiting for the water to boil.
A2.2) If you don’t even have that 5-10 minutes, then put the darn rice in the steamer anyway and keep pouring hot water over the rice every 5 minutes, and also stir the rice in the sieve after you pour the water over. Then steam for 25 minutes instead of 20.
A2.3) Cook the sticky rice in the microwave.
Rice : Water ratio should be 1:1;
cover the container,
put on high one or two minutes until the water reaches the boiling stage. As soon as it does, lower the power to half right away. Cook for another five minutes, take it out and stir, then put it back in at 50% power for another 5 minutes. See if it’s cooked. if it’s not fully cooked yet then repeat the microwave process with 50% power, 2 minutes in each round, checking after each round.
A2.4) Cook the sticky rice in a pot with a 1:1 rice : water ratio. Heat the entire contents until it reaches a boil and lower the heat to the lowest possible level, and simmer for another 10-15 minutes until the rice is cooked. If the rice still not fully cooked but the water is all gone, then add about a tablespoon and cook for another 2 minutes. Check if it is cooked. If not then add more water but do it one tablespoon at a time.
Sticky rice will cook these various ways, but it won’t be as tender or look as perfect. But you get to eat them in a shorter time…Good luck being so busy!
3) Q: The rice grains have a hard center, most of them.
A: The rice is not cooked. You should have noticed this before you put the rice in the coconut milk mixture. But if you are too late, heat the whole thing up over the stove, wait until it boils, lower the heat, simmer for up to five minutes. Turn off the heat, let it cool down.
You need to know that doing the reverse cooking of the sticky rice would result in expanded rice grain sticky rice. Thai people would turn their nose up at your sticky rice…haha…We normally would use that batch to make other desserts, like sticky rice wrapped in banana leaves, filling the middle part with banana or taro and grilling or steaming the package. We don’t dare present that inferior sticky rice on its own.
4) Q: My sticky rice is not soupy but still wet.
A: No way to cure it now. Put less coconut milk next time with the same amount of rice. Check to make sure that your rice grains are transparent though, because if they’re not then read the Q#1 answer. Your rice probably didn’t absorb enough coconut milk.
5) Q: My sticky rice looks mushy like rice pudding rather than beautiful, well-defined grains like the one from the restaurant.
A: You either overcooked your rice, or your coconut milk mixture is too hot. Use less time to cook your rice. Make sure that the rice grains look well-defined and still in perfect shape. The best sticky rice should be tender all the way through in every grain, with the rice grains still maintaining their shape, not split open or swollen too much. If your coconut milk temperature is too hot, the perfect rice grains will continue cooking and might expand until mushy too. So be very careful next time.
I WARNED YOU THAT I’M PERNICKETY! So if you have any questions about your sticky rice, feel free to ask.
Now that you’ve got perfect sticky rice, peel and dice your mango and eat.
If you want to know the authentic Thai version, there is a salty coconut milk sauce to pour on top, too.
Ingredients for coconut milk salty sauce
Coconut milk 1/4 cup
Salt 1/4 teaspoon
Rice flour 1/2 – 1 teaspoon
Roasted Mung bean shelled and halved 1 teaspoon
1) Mix all of the ingredients and heat over the stove top or in microwave. Stir often so the rice flour will not get lumpy. Cook until it bubbles, then turn off the heat.
2) Pour it over the sticky rice and sprinkle with the roasted Mung bean.
If you keep fooling around, I’m going to eat all the mangoes now!