Tuesday, March 16, 2010
Whenever I go out for Thai food, I order Pad Thai, or Drunken Noodle, or Tom Kha soup and sticky rice. It arrives in front of me, steaming and saucy, and I slurp it down happily, though I have not a clue what's in it. What makes that beguiling orangey-brown sauce on the noodles? What's that firm yet yielding crunch I get every once in a while in a bite of Pad Thai? And really, how do they make that rice so sticky? While I might briefly ponder these questions, the truth is that I don't really care. Those mystery tastes are good ones, and that's enough for me. When the craving for Thai hits, it hits hard, but we're usually not too far from an acceptable vehicle to deliver the delicious goods. I don't have to go about actually thinking about how to create a Thai dish myself.
Which is how I knew Adriana was pretty much the greatest friend on the Earth when, in high school, she made me Pad Thai, from scratch, in her very own kitchen, for my birthday. She got together the rice noodles, the peanuts, the bean sprouts, even procured the tamarind and prepared it all in a wok. She served the luscious noodles in her living room, and I got to savor each delicate cube of tofu, each springy crunch of scallion, within the comfort of a home. I found myself touched that my fearless friend had gone so far out of her way, explored this uncharted culinary territory, simply to provide this birthday girl with her favorite dish. Thinking about it now, I'm growing a little teary, a bit wistful for those days of birthday sleepovers surrounded by teen magazines and nail polish.
A couple of weeks ago, when a couple of our Brooklyn friends invited Mary and me over for a home cooked meal at their apartment, I knew I really needed to step up to the plate. They were cooking us dinner, and all I needed to bring was dessert. When somebody's offering you home cooked nourishment at their house, you just kind of want to give back in a big way. Because I knew they loved the coconut mango sticky rice from a nearby Thai restaurant, I decided to dive right in and see what I could finagle in my own kitchen, using honey instead of sugar as a sweetener.
I'll admit that I was pleased with my efforts. The rice steamed effortlessly into perfect stickiness over a pot of boiling water. The honey sweetened the coconut milk into a luscious syrup, and the mangoes added firm freshness to the sticky dessert. It was a hit all around, and while it wasn't as involved as birthday Pad Thai, I think it showed I cared.
Coconut Milk Sticky Rice with Mangoes
Adapted from Epicurious
3 cups sticky rice, soaked overnight in water and drained
2 cups canned or fresh coconut milk
1/2 cup honey
Pinch of salt
4 ripe mangoes
Fill a large pot with about three inches of water. Place drained rice in a fine metal strainer over the pot of rice, making sure the rice doesn't touch the water. Place a paper towel on top of the strainer full of rice, and cover loosely with the pot's lid. Bring the water to a boil and steam rice for 25 minutes, until it is shiny and tender. Add more water during steaming if necessary so the pot doesn't run dry, as that will ruin your pot (just trust me on this one). Alternately, it's fine to cook the rice using a normal rice cooker if you don't have a metal strainer.
Meanwhile, place the coconut milk in a heavy pot and heat over medium heat until hot. Do not boil, as that will curdle the coconut milk. Add the honey and salt and stir to dissolve completely. When the sticky rice is tender, turn it out into a bowl and pour 1 cup of the hot coconut milk over; reserve the rest. Stir to mix the liquid into the rice, then let stand for 20 minutes to an hour to allow the flavors to blend.
Peel the mangoes, and slice the flesh from each side off the pit by running your knife lengthwise about a half inch to the side of the center of the mango. Lay each mango side flat and slice thinly across to make strips.
To serve individually, place an oval mound of sticky rice on each plate, and arrange half a mango beside it. Stir the remaining coconut sauce thoroughly and pass it separately, with a spoon, so guests can add more as they wish.