Some smells are just magical: coffee brewing in the morning, the soft folds of a baby’s neck, orange blossoms through an open car window on a warm night. Hot sticky rice mixed with coconut milk is one of those for me. It’s not like we even have that long a history, considering my childhood disgust with the coconut-laced desserts my dad used to stock up on whenever we would take a family trip to Bangkok Market in Hollywood. I could not see the appeal of not-very-sweet squares of coconut jelly, soupy tapiocas, gray disks of griddled shredded coconut. Pass the Oreos, please.
But I grew up, ate my first plate of mango and sticky rice at Noodle Planet one summer and realized my dad was on to something. I thought for a long time it was the mango-sticky rice synergy that made the dish so good, but during my last trip to Thailand, after stuffing my face with a mountain of little banana-leaf-wrapped packets of coconut-milk-infused sticky rice, I realized it was the rice and coconut all along. Hot rice, warm coconut milk, that edge of salt — addictive.
I’d bought a 5-lb bag of black sticky rice at LAX-C months ago, mostly because the grains were too beautiful and intriguing to resist. Sticky rice is usually soaked overnight and steamed, but I needed a same-day dessert for the dinner my friend Jessica was having that night. So I decided to make khao neow dam piag, black sticky rice pudding. The rice is boiled instead of steamed and mixed with a little coconut milk, sugar and salt toward the end of cooking. The finished pudding is deep purple, the grains soft yet chewy, with that warm, woozy coconut milk scent wafting up from the bowl. It was dessert that night and breakfast for the next two mornings. And since I still have 4.9 pounds of black sticky rice left, it may be my breakfast for the next year. Sounds good to me.
Black Sticky Rice Pudding with Coconut (Khao neow dam piag)
1 cup black sweet rice (also called black sticky rice or black glutinous rice)*
1 cup coconut milk
1/4-1/2 cup packed brown sugar, to taste
1/2 teaspoon salt, or to taste
Sweetened shredded coconut or toasted sesame seeds (for garnish, optional)
Put rice in a medium saucepan and cover with water. Swish rice around to rinse it and pour off any loose husks that float to the top. Drain rice through a sieve and return to pot. Add 6 cups of water and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to medium low and simmer, stirring occasionally, for 45 minutes or until rice is soft. Pour off any excess water, so that the water line is just below the grains of rice. Add coconut milk, sugar and salt and simmer, stirring frequently, until pudding is desired consistency. Serve hot or room temperature, topped with coconut or sesame seeds.