Pim and I get together on occasion for coffee and dinner out, but we have more fun when we cook together. Recently when Pim was over, I had a pot of purple rice prepared from a new rice blend I found at the Whole Foods down the street. I’d never seen the Alter-Eco fair trade rice before but it was an interesting combination of Thai rices: long-grain jasmine combined with short grain black. I made a pot of Alter Eco’s “purple jasmine” (photo below) earlier in the day to test it out, and the brilliant purple-stained result was more like a soft Thai black sticky rice, rather than regular long-grain rice. The flavor was delicately sweet and very much like com nep (Vietnamese sticky rice cooked in a pot like regular rice). A good canvas for Thai sticky rice and coconut milk?
I showed Pim the cooked rice, she tasted it, and her eyes widened like that of a child. In her imitable style, she blurted out, “Thai sticky rice with coconut milk! All we need is coconut milk, palm sugar, and salt.”
Carefull Cooking Off the Cuff
With simple foods like Thai sticky rice with coconut milk, you just need a handful of good ingredients. I keep several brands of coconut milk and cream on hand, and I figured that one packaged in an aseptic box would have the brightest flavor, akin to freshly made coconut milk. Rummaging through my pantry (aka the hall closet), I found a box of Indonesian Kara brand of coconut cream. Pim was unfamiliar with the brand and packaging and asked for a taste, after which she deemed it suitable but not as good as fresh. Since, we couldn’t run out to a wet market for freshly grated coconut and make our own, the boxed stuff was as good as it could get. Similarly, I had a few types of palm sugar around, and suggested that we use the caramely artisanal Thai coconut palm sugar that Naam Pruitt had mailed to me. Pim tasted and cooed.
I let Pim do her Pim thing at my stove. In her new book,The Foodie Handbook, Pim encourages food enthusiasts to climb on board her wagon (well, maybe into a nice sedan) and get into her boat (just a small fast one, yatch not required) to enjoy the culinary splendors and conviviality of a delectable life. Pim proclaims that she eschews super precise recipes, but if you read her recipes in The Foodie Handbook, you’ll find them to be fairly detailed and full of insight, including how home cooks can reproduce food prepared by Michelin-starred chefs such as Joel Robuchon. And if you’ve witnessed her cooking like I have, you realize that what Pim champions — cooking off the cuff, requires a discerning palate and deft touch. Like I’ve said many times, cooking is a craft that one needs to practice.
Pim has cooked plenty and eaten around at numerous high and low-end places to know what’s required to prepare good food. I’ve seen her duel with her partner, Chef David Kinch, in my home kitchen. That evening, she quietly bent over the small saucepan, poured in about 1 cup of coconut cream, then added a good tablespoon of the soft palm sugar. She hesitated with the sugar a tad, backing off from the initial amount that she’d gauged. (Cooking tip 1: It’s easier to add an ingredient than to take it away from a dish!) She asked for salt, I offered several kinds, and she selected plain sea salt, adding a generous pinch to the pot. (Cooking Tip 2: When cooking in someone else’s kitchen, try to season food with salt similar to what you normally cook with so that you stay on your game.)
Stirring slowly over moderate heat, Pim observed the texture of the coconut cream, tasted it when all the sugar had been dissolved, then said, “Ahhh, it’s perfect.” She pulled it off the heat and that was it. Ta-da. Nothing more was said or done until dessert time, when I reheated the rice and let Pim serve up the sweet treat.
Rory, Pim, and I had had a fairly full meal of pasta Bolognese and salad, but we made room for dessert, which I can only say we gobbled up. It was frankly, as good as crack. The plush rice was enriched by the creamy sweet coconut and made edgy by the slight bite of sea salt. A terrific example of the savory-sweet marriage that embodies Southeast Asian cuisines.
Making Thai sticky rice with coconut milk was a casual, impromptu thing that evening. I had the rice and Pim plugged into the program using ingredients that I had on hand. Granted, I keep an unusual pantry, but that’s what being a foodie is about, right? Having the good stuff and knowing how to use it.
Thai Sticky Rice with Coconut Cream
You could use regular sticky (glutinous) rice, coconut milk, light brown sugar and table salt for this dish and the result will be fine. However, push yourself a bit to get great coconut cream (which yields a wonderful rich flavor) or even make your own coconut milk. Frozen coconut milk from Thailand would work well too; it’s available at Asian markets. You’ll get spectacular results. This sticky rice with coconut cream recipe below reflects what we enjoyed that evening:
1 cup raw Alter-Eco Purple Jasmine rice
1 1/4 cups water
1 cup coconut cream, preferably the aseptic kind, such as Kara or Aroy-D brands
1 generous tablespoon Thai palm sugar
1 generous pinch sea salt
1. Use the instructions in “How to Cook Perfect Rice” to cook the rice up with the water. Set aside.
2. In a small saucepan, combine the coconut cream with the palm sugar and sea salt. Over medium heat, stir to dissolve the sugar. Bring to a simmer, then taste, making any flavor adjustments with extra sugar or salt. Set aside.
3. To serve, reheat the rice, if necessary, and then spoon it into individual small bowls or saucers. Top with the coconut milk and enjoy with spoons.
Note: Aseptic boxed packages of coconut milk is available at some Asian markets but the cream is seems to be more widely available. You can always scoop out the cream from an unshaken can of coconut milk, if you want.