Today I’m scouring the Asian market for some comfort food…
We’re battling the flu at our house this week so I thought I would take this opportunity to investigate what kinds of healing, comforting foods I could fix using ingredients from the Asian market. Everyone has a different standard for what counts as good comfort food, of course, but when I’m sick in the winter I crave strong flavors, warm foods, eggs, fruit, and carbs. What I don’t want is food that is greasy, super sweet, or takes a lot of effort to prepare.
As I wandered around the Asian market this afternoon startling people with my raspy voice and thinking about what would taste good, I found a lot of possibilities. First I put a big chunk of fresh ginger in my basket that I knew would be great for tea and some vitamin-rich carrot-orange-ginger juice. I was tempted by the fresh lemongrass and frozen kaffir lime leaves, thinking of how fantastic those flavors would be in a coconut milk-based soup. And I had to stop myself from buying every bottle of hot sauce on the premises. I’m not usually a heat freak, but when I’m sick it just burns so good!
On the other hand, my husband Christopher, who is much, much sicker than I (guess which one of us got a flu shot this year and which one refused?) craves rice when he’s sick and pretty much all the time. And to him, who loves Asian food, the whiter and stickier the rice the better. So I thought after rubbing it in that he should have gotten a flu shot (whoops, cat’s out of the bag), I’d be nice and make him something that he’d love.
Staring at the many varieties of rice my mind immediately flashed to the coconut sticky rice with mango that is on the dessert menu at every Thai restaurant I’ve ever been to. Even though I love those flavors I’d never actually tried it because I’m always too stuffed with pad Thai to even think about dessert. Maybe I could make it instead! I quickly pulled up a couple recipes on my phone and realized that the only other things I would need were rice and mangoes. Score! This would be a healing, comforting AND frugal recipe.
Tip: One reason I try to shop at slower times is that I can take a few minutes to explore a new ingredient–whether that means reading package directions, asking a store employee or fellow customer for advice, or stepping aside to do some quick Googling on my phone without getting in anyone’s way.
At home I got to work making some Thai coconut sticky rice. I consulted a few recipes and then prepared a version that I was hoping would take the best features from each. It was delicious and so comforting. Then I thought maybe I could do even better so I tried it twice more, with tweaks. Both versions were lousy! Then I made it again the first way and it was delicious again. It just goes to show you…don’t mess with perfection.
To make this recipe you need the right kind of rice. You want Thai sticky rice, a long-grain sticky rice that shouldn’t be confused with short-grain sticky rice varieties like sushi rice. At first I grabbed the wrong variety from that big pile of rice bags and got a stern look from the cashier, who happens to be a Thai cooking pro, when I tried to confirm that I had the right kind of rice for what I was making. She marched me back to the rice aisle and showed me what I needed. In case you don’t have a Thai cooking pro to confirm with like I did, here’s what my bag of rice looked like. I paid $5.99 for this 5 lb bag.
Thai Coconut Sticky Rice with Mango (and Strawberries)
Servings: 4 petite servings
Possible variations: Use the best fruit you can find, any kind!
Special diets: This recipe is naturally vegan and gluten-free (but, as always, check labels if you are hardcore GF).
Special ingredients: Thai sticky rice
Special equipment: The authentic way to make Thai sticky rice involves a special pot and bamboo steamer basket, like so. I used the same ol’ collapsible stainless steel steamer basket that I use for broccoli.
Cost breakdown: Will vary significantly depending on your choice of fruit; mine worked out to about $1.75 per serving, not counting pantry staples.
1 cup Thai sticky rice, uncooked
1 can full-fat coconut milk
1/3 cup white sugar
3/4 tsp kosher salt
2 ripe mangoes, diced
8-12 ripe strawberries, diced
Garnish: Black sesame seeds or fresh mint leaves (optional)
- In a small bowl, cover rice with water and soak for one hour. Rinse and drain.
- Fill a medium saucepan with a couple inches of water and fit with a steamer basket (such as this one on Amazon). Use as much water as you can without it seeping over the top of the steamer.
- Spoon drained rice evenly inside the steamer basket. Don’t worry if a few grains of rice fall through the holes. Turn the heat to medium and cover the pot.
- Steam rice for about 20 minutes. Don’t start counting the time until the water is simmering and steam is rising, at which point lower the heat so that the water doesn’t bubble over. After 20 minutes, the rice should be firm but not crunchy. (It will soften more in the next step.) Take rice off the heat and let stand for 10 minutes.
- Meanwhile, prepare the coconut sauce by heating the coconut milk, sugar, and salt in a small saucepan over low heat for about 10 minutes. Don’t let it boil!
- Turn the sticky rice out into a bowl and pour 2/3 of the coconut sauce over it. Stir and let stand for one hour.
- Serve in small bowls topped with mango, strawberries and remaining coconut sauce drizzled over the top. Garnish with black sesame seeds or fresh mint if desired.
- Coconut sticky rice is best served the same day as it will harden when refrigerated. If you must, reheat it slowly on the stove top and stir in a couple tablespoons of reserved coconut sauce.