Last spring my sister came out for a visit and we had a girls’ day of shopping and of course a dinner out together. We both like sushi and headed for a little Thai and sushi fusion restaurant nearby and ordered our favorites. We also noticed a card on the table advertising their Thai mango sticky rice, a classic dessert made with Thai sweet glutinous rice, and decided we would share some of that as well.
When the dessert showed up, we were a little surprised to see green rice on the plate, because it wasn’t green in the picture. We tasted it and tried to pinpoint the flavor, but it wasn’t immediately apparent. The flavor was mild and the color wasn’t very bright, but it was definitely green. We asked the waitress about the rice and how it had been prepared, but she simply smiled and said in her Thai accent that it was “difficult.” Now we didn’t know if that meant difficult to explain or difficult for the average home cook, but in any case she would not divulge the secret even though we asked again.
So after a bit of research and a return visit to the restaurant specifically to order this dessert and ask the chef about it, I’ve learned the secret is pandanus leaves or pandan extract. The leaves are a traditional ingredient in Thai and Vietnamese cooking, and the extract adds a slightly sweet flavor. Now that I knew what to look for, I set out on a search and I can tell you it was not easy to find. After visiting several international grocery stores, I finally found some canned pandan extract, which is not the same as the concentrated stuff. The canned extract is a green liquid but it does not impart the bright green color you see in desserts from the region, so to get the color you have to add a drop or two of green food coloring. I opted to not go for the food coloring, so the green color of my rice is muted. If you can find pandan leaves, either frozen or fresh, you can also make your own pandan extract.
With mango in season, this is an easy dessert that you can serve warm, at room temperature, or chilled depending on how hot the day is. I use an electric rice cooker to make the rice, but you can also make it using a traditional conical rice steamer, which is actually fun to learn. The rice should be soaked before cooking, at least 30 minutes if using an electric rice cooker, or overnight if using the rice steamer.
- 1 cup Thai sweet glutinous rice
- 1-1/4 cups (300 ml) water
- 1/4 teaspoon sea salt
- 2 tablespoons canned pandan extract (or 1/2 teaspoon pandan essence)
- 2 drops green food coloring (optional)
- 1 cup (240 ml) coconut milk
- 3 tablespoons granulated sugar
- 1 mango, peeled and thinly sliced
- Pour the sweet rice in your rice cooker. Add the water and stir. Let the rice soak for at least 30 minutes, or up to 4 hours. Add the salt, pandan extract, and green food coloring, then stir. Turn on the rice cooker.
- While the rice cooks, warm the coconut milk with the sugar in the small saucepan. Remove from heat and allow too cool to room temperature.
- After the rice cooker finishes the cooking cycle, allow the rice to stand 5 more minutes.
- For each serving, place a scoop of the warm rice in a bowl or on a plate and drizzle with the coconut milk. Arrange slices of the mango with the rice, then serve.
electric rice cooker (or traditional rice steamer)