KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 24 — Things are rough now. We are told that things will get worse before they get better. And so that is what we hold on to: the thought that things will — they must — eventually get better.
Let us have some sweetness and richness in our lives till then, no matter what happens. Our lives and our days do not have to come to a standstill.
Even when we are unable to physically wander and explore, our minds will travel to past destinations and to future ones when the situation improves.
Hope is what drives us, helps us stay strong.
I dream of the ethereal cherry blossoms during springtime in Tokyo, of rambling treks in the snowy wilderness of Patagonia, and of steaming bowls of kuai tiao nam sai (Thai pork noodles) in Bangkok.
Oh, how I miss the food in Bangkok! Reading about how the Thai national carrier would serve in-flight meals to “grounded” passengers — from spicy linguine al krapao to deep-fried patongko crullers — made me realise that we can always “travel” in our very own kitchen.
As much as their rendition of patongko is very tempting, I would rather not fill my entire home with greasy fumes from deep frying a batch of kneaded dough.
No, let us pursue something less messy. More minimalist.
Ah yes. Why not that quintessential Thai dessert, that sweet ending after a meal of som tum and spicy tom yam goong: a platter of khao niao mamuang or mango sticky rice.
The loosely packed grains of glutinous rice suffused with coconut cream, the luscious flesh of just ripened mango, dripping with juices with every bite.
This is something worth travelling for, even if the trip is only from your kitchen to your dining table. And like the land it hails from, surely this iconic dish will bring a smile to your face.
MANGO STICKY RICE
I learned the recipe for khao niao mamuang from a Thai teacher many years ago. Of course, I have made a couple of minor tweaks to her recipe since then; I certainly hope she isn’t offended, though given her generous nature, I very much doubt she would be.
Such is the nature of cooking over and over again; steps adjust themselves slightly, new ingredients make an appearance, and so on.
And so it is: the best teachers hope you take what they have imparted and make it your own.
Given that this is already a very basic dish — essentially there are just three ingredients: mango, sticky rice and coconut cream — I believe that a little bit more wouldn’t hurt.
Her original recipe is quite plain and unfussy: she omits the crispy toppings of toasted salty mung beans or sesame seeds certain versions include. I have decided this would be a lovely add on, if nothing else for the extra aromatic hit and the textural contrast.
Similarly, her recipe uses the coconut cream in quite a straightforward fashion: to cook with the sticky rice. Here I have reserved some salt-infused coconut cream on the side to pour over the rice and mango as a finishing sauce, if you will.
Sometimes less is more. Sometimes more is more.
Beyond that, stick to the basics: The coconut cream requires only sugar and salt to heighten its flavour. Large, ripe sweet mangoes are the way to go.
Individual preferences also come into play. Some like their mangoes at room temperature because they believe you will be able to taste the natural sweetness of the fruit more clearly this way.
I prefer my mango chilled and taken out of the fridge right before serving so that the temperature contrast is greater. Cold fruit and warm creamy rice? Divine.
Some like their mangoes cut into cubes; others prefer the classic style of cutting them into bite-sized slices. The latter, I reckon, is prettier but both ways work, so you do you.
500g glutinous (sweet) rice
500ml coconut cream
½ teaspoon salt
2 large ripe mangoes (peeled, seed removed, and cut into bite-sized slices)
2 tablespoons yellow mung beans or sesame seeds, toasted lightly
Soak the glutinous rice in a large bowl, with enough water that the grains submerge for four to five hours or overnight. After sufficient soaking, drain and rinse the rice a few times to remove excess starch. Repeat until the water in the bowl has become clear.
Steam the sticky rice using a steamer basket for 20 minutes or until fully cooked. Remove from the steamer and set aside.
Next prepare the coconut cream by cooking it in a wok or pot over medium heat, stirring constantly. Once it is barely boiling, add the sugar and salt. Continue to stir until these have fully dissolved.
Remove a portion of this seasoned coconut cream — say a cup or two — that you will use later as a finishing sauce. Add the steamed sticky rice to the rest of the coconut cream in the wok and keep stirring until the grains have absorbed all of the coconut cream. Remove from heat and keep covered so it stays warm.
Take the mangoes out of the fridge where you have been keeping them chilled. Peel the skin and remove the seed. Slice the mangoes into bite-sized pieces.
Time to plate. Scoop some warm sticky rice into a small bowl, packing the grains in lightly. Then reverse it on a plate to unmould. Sprinkle some toasted yellow mung beans or sesame seeds on top.
Next place a portion of sliced mango next to the sticky rice. Serve the reserved coconut cream in a small cup on the side or drizzle directly over the mango sticky rice right before serving.
For more Weekend Kitchen and other slice-of-life stories, visit lifeforbeginners.com.