Thai Coconut Sticky Rice with Mango is a Southeast Asian dessert which combines rice, coconut milk, palm sugar or white sugar, and mango. It is really easy to make and you can store everything you need for this dish in your pantry except for the mangos, ready to make whenever you buy a mango.
I usually make this dessert when I prepare Thai sticky rice to go with dinner (see for example: this dinner or this dinner), since it takes very little additional work and William really loves it. I often ask William to cut the mango while I finish cooking dinner, so all I have to do is melt some palm sugar and a pinch of salt in coconut milk and mix it into the rice.
Recently, I made a really pretty version of this dish (shown in the picture above) because my food photography class had a potluck. I decided to bring this dessert since 1) it would be good at room temperature (something that isn't true for the majority of things that I make) 2) it is different than what is usually brought to a potluck (at least in the United States) 3) I wanted to bring something with an Asian influence since that's what I have been interested in cooking lately and 4) it is an easy dish to make so it had a high probability of turning out well.
Below are two recipe variations for Thai coconut sticky rice with mango: a quick easy basic recipe for an everyday meal and detailed instructions for the fancier version. They are essentially the same recipe and they both taste nearly the same, but the fancy version of the recipe has directions to reproduce the dish I made in the picture at the top of this post. This post is quite long for such a simple recipe--don't let that scare you. Most of the comments are about the type of ingredients to buy, the rice steaming technique, and presentation. The instructions are actually quite simple. If this is your first time making Thai sticky rice or Southeast Asian dishes, I recommend making the simple recipe first. Steaming Thai sticky rice is easy, but the first time you do it, you'll need to learn the technique and possibly some of the other ingredients, such as palm sugar, will be unfamiliar. Once you know how to make this dish, then the fancy version of this dish is also very easy to make.
Modified from "Coconut Milk Sticky Rice with Mangos (Khao Neeo Mamuang)" from "Hot Sour Salty Sweet: A Culinary Journey Through Southeast Asia" by Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid
The type of mangos and the type of rice you use to make this dish are very important to its success.
Use very ripe, sweet mangos, which are smooth-fleshed and not very fibrous; if you can, ask someone at the store for advice or for a sample. Try not to use Tommy Atkins mangos (the large greenish-red ones) because they are very fibrous. The variety of mango that I used wasn't listed at the store, but I suspect it was ataulfo (also called manilla) mango since they were small, yellow, had a slight S-curve to them, and were grown in Mexico (see here and here). Ataulfo are ripe when they are slightly soft (like an avocado) and slightly wrinkled, and they are great to use in this dish because they are smooth-fleshed and very sweet. See here for more information about some varieties of mangos. SheSimmers.com says that the variety available in the US which is closes to what is used in Thailand are the Manila or Ataulfo mangoes (Ok-Rong and Nam-Dokmai are the names of the type that is used in Thailand).
It is important to use Thai sticky rice, which is a special type of sticky or glutenous rice which is soaked in water overnight before being steamed over (not in) water. Chinese glutenous / sweet rice is something different and cannot be used as a replacement. In order to make sure you are buying the correct type of rice, make sure your sticky rice was grown in Thailand or Laos (it may be marked as "sweet rice"). You will also need to plan ahead and soak the rice 6 to 24 hours. See here for detailed directions on what type of rice to buy and how to make sticky rice. See Bay area sources for ingredients for a list of some markets that you can buy Southeast Asian ingredients from.
Regular Thai sticky rice is white colored, but you can also make purple colored sticky rice. The purple rice is actually a mix of white rice and a special type of unhulled black-colored Thai sticky rice (see purple Thai sticky rice for more information), which dyes the white rice purple; the white rice is included for its soft consistency. Purple rice has nearly no difference in flavor, aside from the slight crunchiness due to the unhulled purple grains (i.e. "brown rice"). Taste-wise, William and I prefer white rice because we find the crunchy purple grains distracting, but visually, the purple rice looks very dramatic. I prefer a mix of 1/3 purple rice and 2/3 white rice so that most of the rice is soft-textured. If you are just getting started making Southeast Asian food, I recommend only getting the Thai white sticky rice because the purple rice is a specialty item that you might rarely use. But if you know that you will be making this dish or other Southeast Asian desserts often, then purple rice is fun to have because it creates a beautiful color.
This dish is best an hour within making it. The coconut milk keeps the rice moist so you can eat it for the next 24 hours or so, but you should revitalize it by heating it (either by steaming it or using a microwave), though it will taste like leftovers and never be as good as when it is freshly made.
A serving size is equivalent to 1/2 cup raw rice, so if you are only making this dessert, you should soak 1 cup raw rice for 2 people if you don't want any leftovers. If I am serving Thai sticky rice with dinner and also making this dessert, I usually soak 1 1/2 cups to 2 cups of raw rice for the two of us, and use half of the rice with dinner and half in this dessert.
- 1 cup raw white Thai sticky rice (or 1/3 purple Thai sticky rice mixed with 2/3 cup white Thai sticky rice to make purple colored rice)
- 1 ripe mango, preferably smooth fleshed and not very fibrous (e.g. ataulfo)
- (optional) 1 or 2 pandan leaves *
(Reduce this recipe by half, if you are making "White Sugar Sweetened Coconut Cream" recipe located below for drizzling on top of the rice instead of using the extra sweetened coconut milk from this recipe)
- 2/3 cup coconut milk **
- 4 Tbsp palm sugar ***
- 1/3 tsp salt (estimate this; the quantity is 1/3 because I resized the recipe for two people)
- 1 steamer
Make the Thai sticky rice:
- Place the Thai sticky rice in a large bowl that can hold twice the volume of the rice. Rinse the rice and then cover by 2 to 3 inches with room temperature or cold water. Let sit overnight (6 to 24 hours).
- When you are ready to cook the rice, heat water in a steamer until it is boiling. Make sure there is enough water so that the steamer won't dry out when you cook the rice.
- (Optional) Line steamer with pandan leaves (you can cut them to fit your steamer). *
- Drain and then steam the sticky rice at a rolling boil until tender, 25 minutes for white Thai sticky rice and 45 minutes for purple sticky rice. See this post on sticky rice for more information about cooking Thai sticky rice.
- Peel the mango with a peeler. The mango pit is flat and runs parallel to the broadest part of the mango. Cut of two lobes from each side of the pit. Try to slice off as much meat as possible without cutting into the pit. If you hit the pit, shift over a bit more and recut. Slice the lobe lengthwise into attractive thin pieces or into cubes. Also pare off the additional meat from the sides, top and bottom of the seed; you can save this fruit for another usage (such as snacking on it, since these pieces aren't very pretty) or serve them with this dessert since this is an informal presentation. Store the mangos in the refrigerator while you make the rice, since the cool sweet mangos contrast nicely with the slightly warm or room temperature rice.
- Place the coconut milk, sugar, and salt in a heavy pot over medium to medium-low heat and stir until the sugar is dissolved. Do not boil, because you will change the texture and taste and may split the oil from the milk. Palm sugar needs to be heated in liquid to dissolve; it may take a while--be patient. If you need to do another task (such as cutting up the mango), you can turn off the heat for about 5 minutes, so that there is no chance of it boiling when you are not paying attention. Since the coconut milk stays hot, the palm sugar dissolves even when the heat is off.
To serve, place an oval mound of rice on a large serving plate or on individual serving plates. Top with mango slices arranged in an attractive fashion (1/2 of the mango slices is probably enough, save the rest of the mango for snacking or for leftovers).
Bring the remaining sweetened coconut milk to the table, so that diners can drizzle additional coconut milk on their portion; it is especially nice drizzled over the mango. You can also use this extra coconut milk to remoisten leftovers. The rice tastes best within an hour of when it is made.
* The pandan leaves are completely optional--I find that they don't add any noticeable flavor to the rice, but I like to use them if I have them around just because I have them around; they will also help prevent sticking. I don't use cheesecloth in my steamer to prevent sticking anymore since I don't like how little threads get stuck in my rice (see here for more information). If I don't have any pandan leaves, then I put the rice directly in my metal steamer and I haven't had a problem with sticking--but if sticking is a problem for you, you can use pandan leaves or cheesecloth.
Pandan leaves can be found either fresh or frozen. They can be stored long term in your freezer. If you can find them, it is best to buy fresh pandan leaves and freeze them yourself. Fresh leaves are better than pre-frozen ones, since the pre-frozen leaves were of a lower quality since they weren't as long and had many breakages. However, if you are just using the pandan leaves to line your steamer (rather than using them to tie food, as in this pandan chicken dish), the length and number of breakages in the leaves doesn't really matter, so frozen pandan leaves are okay to use.
** Suggested coconut milk brands: Kasma Loha-unchit's suggestions and SheSimmers.com's suggestions.
*** I prefer using palm sugar to sweeten the rice since it adds a burnt caramel taste (and so does David Thompson's recipe for "Caramelized Coconut Rice" in "Thai Food" and Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid's recipe in "Hot Sour Salty Sweet: A Culinary Journey Through Southeast Asia"). I prefer palm sugar which has been molded into Tbsp sized pieces because it makes measuring easy, though it will take slightly longer to melt it. I don't like the big blocks of palm sugar because I find it difficult and time consuming to chip off pieces or grate it with a microplane grater, so I recommend the type of palm sugar which comes in Tbsp sized pieces.
Palm sugar will cause the white rice to turn slightly beige in color. You can use white sugar instead if you want to keep the white rice a pristine white color (or if you don't happen to have any palm sugar). Many traditional recipes use white sugar (see for example Kasma Loha-unchit's recipe, and SheSimmers.com's recipe) so your dessert will still be authentic--in fact SheSimmers.com says that white sugar, not palm sugar, is normally used in Thailand, though she admits that she also likes the taste of the palm sugar version.
While it is true that white sugar is much sweeter than palm sugar, many recipes use a lot more sweetener than my recipe so you don't necessarily have to reduce the quantity of sugar when you substitute white sugar unless you want to (caveat: I haven't tried the white sugar variation though). For example Kasma Loha-unchit's recipe uses 1/4 cup (4 Tbsp) white sugar for every 1 cup raw rice, which is the same amount of palm sugar that I use, though she mixes slightly more coconut milk (1/2 cup) into the rice. If you want to try to keep the same amount of sweetness, try replacing every 12 Tbsp of palm sugar with 8 Tbsp white sugar--I haven't tried this ratio yet, so taste and adjust accordingly.
This recipe explains how to style this dessert like the first picture in this post. It makes enough for 8 servings with 1/4 cup cooked white rice and 1/4 cup cooked purple rice per person; this is a slightly smaller serving size than I make for my every day version of the rice. In addition, this recipe is sized to use up exactly 1 can coconut milk (13.5 oz, about 1 1/2 to 1 3/4 cups coconut milk).
Essentially this is the same recipe as the one above, but the quantity of rice and palm sugar sweetened coconut milk is larger. Also, instead of making extra palm sugar sweetened coconut cream to drizzle on the rice, I made a separate white sugar coconut cream that is thickened with rice flour, since white sugar keeps the topping white and the thickened cream looks prettier drizzled over the dessert.
Since the potluck was only for 6 people, I decided to make individual portions since this would be easiest for everyone to try some. I also decided to use my large Chinese steamer to carry the dessert in because it is compact, has two layers, and it has a lid which would make transport easier for the individual portions. After browsing Google images, I decided to use a banana leaf underneath the rice because the green color would look beautiful with the yellow-orange mango, is something that is native to the cuisine, and I just so happened to have some in my freezer. (Did I mention I have a really well stocked pantry?) Since large flat squares wouldn't fit easily in the Chinese steamer, I decided to make cups from the banana leaves--the same type of banana leaf cups that I made for Thai steamed fish curry. The cups make serving easy, and are disposable and compostable (we remove the staples before putting them into our backyard compost pile). Since I own both white and purple Thai sticky rice, I decided to make both colors; the purple rice tastes nearly the same so using both colors of rice was purely for looks. I thought that the yellow-orange, white, purple, and green colors in this dish would be appealing to the visually oriented people in my class. I'm really happy with how it came out, and everyone in class seemed to like the dish.
Other ideas for plating are garnishing with toasted black or white sesame seeds, using an orchid to decorate the dish, or even fruit carving (not that I know how to carve fruit). You can also cut and fold the banana leaves into more elaborate shapes (e.g. you could cut a pattern on the edge of the cups). There is a lot of room for creativity; search google images for pictures of this dish for inspiration.
Please read the everyday recipe (above) for a detailed description of the basic coconut milk sticky rice recipe and information what sort of ingredients you should buy.
- 2 1/2 cup raw white Thai sticky rice
- 1/2 cup raw purple Thai sticky rice
- 3 ripe mangos, preferably smooth fleshed and not very fibrous (e.g. ataulfo)
- (optional) 3 pandan leaves
- 1 recipe for "White Sugar Sweetened Coconut Cream" (see below)
- 1 cup coconut milk
- 6 Tbsp palm sugar
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 2 steamers, one for each type of rice
- parchment paper
- ring mold for plating, or make one out of cardboard (ramekins don't work very well)
- 1 package frozen banana leaves*
- stapler **
- (optional) large Chinese bamboo steamer
cuisinethailand.blogspot.com for more information about how to make the banana leaf cups--the technique is to cut out circles, and to fold four corners upward and staple them in place. To get the cups sized correctly, I traced a few bowls of a different sizes onto sheets of paper, folded and stapled them, and testing their size in my steamer. I decided to use a bowl with a 7 inch diameter, and used the ramekin (bottom down on the bamboo leaf since the bottom is narrower on min) to control where the edges of the cups were folded so that the cups were a consistent size. Once you know what size to make the circles, cut out the circles in the banana leaf cuts using a knife to cut around the circumference of a bowl (you can do at least two layers at a time). Try to cut the circles out of areas in the banana leaves that don't have tears. Since my banana leaves had a lot of rips in them, I made the cups from two circles placed on top of each other, with both shiny sides out, and the ribs of the two sheets placed orthogonally towards one another. To create the cups, place a small ramekin in the center of the leaf (the ramekin is used to keep the sizes consistent). Fold the two banana leaves up and pinch the excess and fold it to the side. Temporarily remove the ramekin so it isn't in the way and staple the corner to hold it in place. Repeat folding and stapling on the opposite side, and then on the two points, on the left and right edges, between the folded top and bottom. The four stapled corners will create a bowl.
Peel the mangos. Slice the lobes off from either side of the seed. Cut off and save the additional edible bits around the seed for another purpose. Slice the lobes lengthwise into 1/4 inch thin attractively shaped pieces, at a slight angle, rather than straight down. Keep the slices in their original order, preferably lined up the way they were before you cut them. Move the slices to the refrigerator to keep them cold.
Heat up two steamers, one for each type of rice. Drain the rice. Optionally line the steamers with pandan leaves (you can cut them to fit your steamer). Start steaming the purple rice 15 minutes before the white rice. Steam the purple rice for a total of 45 minutes and the white rice for a total of 25 minutes at a rolling boil.
While the rice is being steamed, make the palm sugar sweetened coconut milk by placing the coconut milk, sugar, and salt in a heavy pot over medium to medium-low heat and stir until the sugar is dissolved. Do not boil. Also make the white sugar sweetened coconut milk (see recipe below); placing the white sugar sweetened coconut milk in a ketchup bottle will make serving easier.
When the rice is cooked through and tender, put each type of rice into a separate bowl. Remove and discard pandan leaves or cheesecloth, if using. Mix half the palm sugar sweetened coconut cream into each type of rice.
Fan out the slices from 1/2 of a mango lobe or arrange them in some other attractive fashion. You may want to remove the small end piece if it is very small and oddly shaped and save it for another usage. Arrange the mango slices on top of the rice in a banana cup (e.g. on the side covering the white rice by about 2/3 and the purple rice by about 1/3 or in the center between the white and purple rice). Repeat for all banana cups.
Optionally arrange the banana leaf bowls in the Chinese steamer to serve. If you want to put the lid on, be sure that none of the mango slices are overhanging the lip of the steamer, otherwise you will smoosh their edges.
Serve within an hour with some white sugar thickened coconut cream drizzled on top of the mango. If you have extra coconut milk topping, offer it to diners for them to add to their dishes.
* You can find banana leaves in the frozen section of many Southeastern Asian markets. The frozen ones have many rips in them, so you will probably use most of the package.
** Traditionally toothpicks are used to hold bamboo leaves together but staplers are more convenient and easy to use.
White Sugar Sweetened Coconut Cream
Modified from the recipe for "Sweet Coconut Cream" from "Thai Food" by David Thompson
This white sugar sweetened coconut cream is used as a topping for desserts. White sugar is used so that the topping will be a pure white color. Rice flour is used to thicken it; if you don't have this, you can probably substitute corn starch (let me know how this works out if you try it).
In the recipes that I've seen there are two major variations in what is drizzled on top of the coconut rice. The first is the simple way of using the same sweetened coconut milk that was mixed into the rice; since you only make one type of sweetened coconut cream this is a quick and easy everyday version of the dessert. The second way is to drizzle a slightly thickened and slightly saltier sweetened coconut milk on to the rice; I saw some comments around the web that this is the way its done in Thailand at shops and stands that sell this dish.
For my fancier version of this, I decided to make a thickened cream. I also saw references to corn starch being used as the thickener (probably in the United States where this item is commonly in pantries). Since rice flour seems to be the most traditional thickener and I owned some, I decided to use the rice flour. Using a thickener is not necessarily something that a recipe is needed for, but since I haven't used rice flour as a thickener before, I searched for an example recipe in my recipe collection (I don't trust the authenticity of random Southeast Asian recipes on the web), just to make sure that I got the details right. I choose this recipe also because it uses white sugar, since I wanted the topping to be white, and I didn't think it needed the burnt caramel taste the palm sugar adds since palm sugar was already in the rice.
For my everyday version, I tend to use the same sweetened coconut milk for drizzling as I mix into the rice, since this is quickest. Next time, after I mix in the proper amount of sweetened coconut milk into the rice, I may try thickening the excess with rice flour (and ignoring the warning in the recipe below that adding the sweetener before the rice flour has thickened the liquid will turn it grey--since the everyday version is informal, I think the grey color is okay).
Both SheSimmers.com and Kasma Loha-unchit mention that the sweetened coconut milk (used as the topping or even mixed into the rice) should also have a salty component, in order to bring out the sweetness of the rice and mango. Specifically Kasma Loha-unchit says that "the coconut sauce should have a pronounced saltiness behind the sweetness. The saltiness will help bring forth the rich flavors of coconut milk and the delicate taste of sticky rice. Also, the salty-sweetness of the flavored rice enhances rather than distracts from the fruity sweetness of mangoes." I was too shy to aggressively salt my topping, but next time I plan to add salt until the saltiness is noticeable.
- 1/2 cup (or a little more) coconut cream or milk*
- 1/2 tsp rice flour, plus maybe a pinch more
- pinch of salt (1/2 tsp Diamond Crystal kosher salt, if you want it to be salty)
- 3 to 4 Tbsp white sugar
Heat coconut cream and salt, but do not let boil. Stir in the flour paste, and continue heating and stirring until the mixture thickens. You can let it come nearly to a boil, but don't let it boil (remove it from heat when it gets close). If it isn't very thick, you can make a little bit more flour paste and cook it in the mixture.
Do not add the sugar until the flour has thickened the mixture, otherwise it will lose its sheen and become an unappetizing grey. Once the mixture is thick, add the sugar and stir until it is dissolved.
Remove from heat and let slightly cool. Move the mixture to a small container or serving pitcher (a ketchup bottle works well). Refrigerating helps the mixture thicken a bit.
* Once I divided my coconut milk into separate measuring cups and containers for these two recipes, I only had 1/2 left over for this recipe. If you have slightly more than that, then use all of it in this recipe.