Sweet Thailand, Sweet Sticky Rice

I love Thailand.

Everything about it, I love: the people, the scenery, the food. Oh, the food … I especially love the food.

So, a few weeks ago – toward the beginning of April – when the Thai New Year rang in, I wanted to celebrate with one of my favorite dishes from Thailand: Mango Sticky Rice.

In 2011, I spent a little more than a month in Thailand. I was living in Singapore at the time and had a contact in Thailand who ran an orphanage, so I decided to go help at the orphanage, but also to explore the country with the intention of moving there as a missionary.

And let me tell you – I really got the opportunity to explore.

When I landed in Bangkok, I called my sole Thailand connection from the airport to find where and when we could meet. She told me she had left. She wasn’t there. She told me to “come back later.”

Come back later?? As if I had just missed the open hours of a grocery store? But this was more serious than a store closing before you arrive – I was in an entirely new country and my only contact just told me to “come back later.”

I became afraid. This was my first trip alone to an unknown place.

I became frustrated. I tend to blame myself when things don’t work out.

I became numb. I thought – “go back,” but I didn’t have the money to go back. I just didn’t know what to do. Where to go. Who to call.

I didn’t even know how to get out of the airport.

My plan had failed.

Then I snapped back into reality – I needed to do something. I couldn’t just sit in the airport in Bangkok.

All my fears suddenly became a strength.

I don’t know if you who are reading this believe in God, but I felt an extreme courage come from within that can only be explained as a word from God. He said, “You came all the way here from Mexico. You better do something with the opportunity.” I knew God had brought me to Thailand for a purpose.

Plans change, but there’s always a purpose in it. And it’s usually good.

And just like that, things started happening.

The first few days in Bangkok I stayed in a room where all I could hear at night were rats scurrying around the room.

But I knew it was going to get better.

A couple of days after my arrival, a good friend saw a post I’d made on Facebook and contacted me. She said she had recently moved to Thailand and saw that I was near her and wanted me to come stay with her.

In a mere moment, I went from rats bedside to a house lakeside!

The events that took place in that time are what shaped my love for Thailand.

I realized that you don’t need to spend a long time with someone to be remarkable in their life.

I spent several weeks in Bangkok – the big city, Chiang Mai – the extremely touristic area, Mae Sot – bordering Myanmar, and Korat – the true Thailand countryside.

I decided I would move to Thailand.

The idea was for me to go back to Singapore, pick up my bags and return to Korat in two weeks.

But through certain circumstances, I never went back. To this day, that idea haunts me … wondering what could have been and what never was.

But like I said earlier, plans change. And I’ve always been the type of person who rolls with the punches.

I thought about all the highs and lows of that trip to Thailand. From the rigid fear that stunned me at the trip’s beginning to the first day exploring Bangkok and eating Mango Sticky Rice, the trip was full of beauty.

I remember walking around, taking “tuk tuk” rides, getting lost and finding myself over and over again, I stumbled upon a wet market. I took a chance and ordered the sticky rice dessert with mango.

It was so delicious that I ordered Mango Sticky Rice at every Thai restaurant (and I would probably buy it if I find it on a menu locally too).

So as these thoughts flooded my mind, I knew that I had to make this sweet treat, if for nothing else than to quench my own craving.

I wasn’t able to make the dish right away. It takes special equipment to do it properly. I needed to purchase a Bamboo Steamer.

I found one for sale locally at an Asian Market, but you can easily purchase one online for less than $10.

So try this recipe and fall in love with Thailand as I did. This one has a higher difficulty level than most other recipes I post. But push through … it’s worth it.


 

MANGO STICKY RICE

(feeds 3 people)

[Sweet coconut sticky rice:]

1 cup glutinous sweet rice

2/3 cup coconut milk

1/4 tsp Salt

1/2 cup sugar

[Salted coconut sauce:]

1/2 cup coconut milk

1/4 tsp Salt

1 tsp rice flour / corn starch

1Tbsp water

2 Tbsp roasted split Mung beans / Sesame seeds

2 Fresh mango peeled and carefully cut in thick slices.

[Sweet sticky rice]

Rinse rice in a bowl and dispel water until water is no longer foggy.

Allow to soak in water over night (or for a few hours before cooking).

Drain the water very well and put rice in the bamboo steamer.  Put a lid on top of the rice. (Note: I had a piece of cheesecloth, and put it on top of the rice before putting the lid, just to make sure it kept the vapor.)

Steam over boiling water for about 30 minutes.

In a separate small pot, on medium heat, mix the coconut milk, sugar and salt. Stir until the sugar is dissolved and turn off heat. (You don’t want to cook it for a long time. Use the heat only to mix the ingredients and set a side and keep it warm.)

Once the rice is done cooking, put it in a container and immediately pour the sweet milky mix.

Stir and cover very well.

It is important to work as fast as possible in order to keep the rice warm. This way, while it rests, the rice will absorb all the liquid.

Let sit for about 20 minutes.

After that time has passed, open and carefully stir again and let it sit for at least another 20 minutes.

If you don’t have a bamboo steamer, use a steamer with a cheese cloth to prevent the rice from falling to the bottom of the pot into the water.

Or you can try on the stove. I have never tried to make it this way, but here it is a suggestion:

1 Cup of rice: 1 1/4 Cup of water. Letting it boil with the lid on until it has absorbs all the water (Do not stir). Once it has absorbed all the water, take it out of the heat with the lid on and let it rest for more 10 minutes.

[Salted coconut sauce:]

Mix the rice flour/corn starch in water until it is smooth.

In a small pot, add the coconut milk, salt and flour mix and cook over medium-low heat

Stir until it starts boiling and thickening.

Turn off heat and let it cool.

(You don’t want to cook it too long, only until it boils the first time and starts thickening, otherwise the coconut milk will break down and you will have to start all over again!)

If your Mung beans or Sesame seeds are not roasted you can roast them!

To roast split Mung beans:

In a small pot, boil the split Mung beans until soft.

Once soft. Strain the water and place them on paper towels, the excess water can be absorbed. Roast beans in a dry skillet over medium heat for 3-5 minutes or until lightly browned, stirring occasionally.

Plate a portion of sweet sticky rice next to slices of mango and add some of the salted coconut sauce on top of the rice.

Sprinkle some of the roasted Split Mung beans/Sesame seeds.

 

Enjoy!

10 Tips to make your rice better

“You are what you eat.”

I guess it’s true, in a sense.

Many times, you can tell the personality of someone by his/her favorite foods.

What is your favorite food? What does it say about you?

I, for one, am a chameleon of sorts.

I am strong when I need to be; tender when the time calls for it; vibrant and colorful, yet neutral. I’m passionate and determined, but have insecurities and fears. Sometimes I feel underestimated, and others have the potential to bring out the best (and worst) in me. I dare myself to do crazy things, conquer my fears, and understand that details usually tell a larger story.

One of the first things I ever learned to cook, and still one of my favorite things to eat, says a lot about who I am. It is something small, something often considered a complement instead of the “main dish,” something widely overlook, but has the potential to standalone and be incredible all by itself – rice.

We always ate rice. In Venezuela it’s basically part of the daily diet –

rice, beans and plantains. You find that in every country in the Caribbean.

During my first year in Mexico after moving from Venezuela, I decided to make rice.

I had seen my mother and grandmother making it, so I thought it would be a fairly simple task. All I needed was rice, water and salt. I thought that would be easy enough.

So I grabbed a pot and added water and rice and brought it to a boil. Then I grabbed what I thought was salt and added that while the water was boiling.

I made several terrible errors in that first culinary attempt.

First, I didn’t measure anything … and I actually ended up making all of the rice. All of the rice! An entire kilogram.

For reference, 1 kg of rice was about a week’s worth of rice for our family of 5.

It started cooking, and the rice almost grew out of the pot because there was so much and the pot wasn’t large enough for an entire kilogram of rice.

Grandma never measured. I had watched her. But now I know it was just practice; she had been cooking so many years, she had it down to an art. Rice was easy for her.

And I didn’t add enough water, so in the end I found some of the rice was overcooked while a lot of it was severely undercooked. The bottom was also all burned because I didn’t know how high or low the heat should be.

And the worst thing I did was that I did not use salt to season the rice. I accidentally sprinkled in Baking Soda.

It was a truly embarrassing effort on my part.

My dad and older brother – Julio – ate it out of respect (and hunger, I think), but my mom and younger brother – Jorge – wouldn’t eat it out of wisdom. Or fear. Or maybe both.

I’ll never forget their faces. Julio actually added mayonnaise to try to mask the nasty rice taste.

After that day, my mom decided to teach me how to cook rice. She started with an easy method to make it.

A 1:2 ratio of rice to water with added onion, garlic and salt.

Then, years later, when I was about 24, I moved to Asia.

One of the first times I encountered many types of rice all in one place, I was overwhelmed by the variety, styles and colors of rice down a couple of aisles in a grocery store in India.

I had never realized there were so many types of rice – hundreds of varieties.

Long-grain, medium-grain, short-grain, yellow, white, brown, Jasmine, aromatic, Chinese black, Basmati … that’s just off the top of my head.

My friend and I walked into the grocery store after having the idea to bring rice to an orphanage where we were working at the time, and asked an employee to point us toward the rice. He asked what kind of rice we desired and we answered, “just regular rice.”

“What kind of regular rice?” he asked as he pointed toward the two aisles completely filled with different types of rice.

That’s when I learned about rice. It’s many styles, flavors, and eccentricities.

Now, I’m in America. And have more than a decade of experience with cooking rice, and though I have never claimed to be the best at it, it’s something I truly enjoy.

Most people already know how to cook rice, so I won’t be sharing a recipe in this post, but I have compiled a list of tips to cooking rice, as it can take years to perfect the art.

I do not own a rice cooker – I’d rather cook my rice in a pot on the stovetop. While living in Singapore, someone gifted me with a rice cooker, but to be honest, I simply prefer the stovetop.

 

Here are 10 easy tips to making great rice:

  1. Respect the rice – Let the rice take the time that it needs in order to cook. They’re not mashed potatoes. Put the rice in the pot and let it cook.
  2. Exact double portion of water – rice should be cooked on a 1:2 ratio with water.
  3. Cook on low heat – be patient. If you try to rush the cook of the rice you will end up burning it and undercooking it.
  4. “No lo batas” – My mother and grandmother constantly told me this, which just means don’t stir it. You don’t want to end up making sticky, smashed rice. Once it’s in the pot, put on the lid and leave it alone until it’s ready.
  5. Don’t open the lid – The secret for a fluffy, perfect rice, is to allow it to steam. The steam inside the closed-lidded pot, while the heat is on low, is what actually cooks the rice. It’s not about the water boiling, it’s about the rice cooking correctly.
  6. Sauté or rinse the rice – rice has lots of starch. When you sauté with oil, it basically coats each grain, allowing the rice to be cooked and get fluffy without sticking to the other grains. It’s a beautiful chemical reaction. Make sure not to leave it in the pan too long (you don’t want to burn the rice before you start cooking it!). When you rinse the rice, the same happens because you’re cleaning the starch off, but you must rinse it several times, and very well, to assure the starch is rinsed off fully. Also, after washing, the grain is very sensitive, so you must be careful when you put it in the pot so as to not break the grains.
  1. Use chicken stock or beef stock – To make rice more flavorful, add a stock instead of water. Flavor your rice according to your meal instead of always merely having simple white rice.
  2. Add garlic, onion and salt – I always add these ingredients before I begin boiling the rice. I like to sauté the rice (see tip 6) with onion, garlic cloves and salt. I love the slightly more intense flavors I get from this practice.
  3. Use a good pot – Make sure the bottom of the pot is not too thin, and use a pot that’s size is proportionate to the meal. A thin pot will cause the rice grains to burn more quickly.
  4. Practice – “la practica hace al maestro,” or “practice makes perfect.” Keep going! And try adding your own special flavors to make the rice your own. Also, check out recipes for more advanced types of rice, like aromatic rice and risotto. In the future, I’ll post recipes of risotto, so keep an eye out for that!
  5. Have fun and enjoy!