Songkran: Thai Mango Sticky Rice

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We may be nearly halfway through the year, but elsewhere in the world, followers of the Buddhist solar calendar are celebrating the solar New Year today! April 13th is the first day of Songkran, the traditional New Year in Thailand, also known as Thingyan in Burma. Songkran is an occasion to celebrate new beginnings and wash oneself clean of bad luck, which is why it’s also known as the water festival. Much like Holi, a Hindu New Year celebration that takes place in March where participants throw colored powder at each other, celebrants of Songkran throw water at each other in a huge street party that’s become a major tourist draw in Thailand. Why can’t American New Year traditions be as fun?

There are, of course, other religious traditions that are observed during Songkran. People travel back to their hometowns to honor their ancestors and spend time with their loved ones, sometimes washing their elderly relatives’ hands or hair to show respect. Another important tradition is the giving of alms to Buddhist priests and the washing of Buddhist statues with ceremonial water to symbolize the washing away of one’s sins from the past year.

Because Songkran is a street party, I honored the holiday by learning to make one of my favorite Thai street foods, mango sticky rice, or Khao Niaow Ma Muang. Mango sticky rice is the iconic dessert that can be found at any food stall in Thailand year-round, but it’s especially enjoyed during Songkran because mangoes are at their sweetest starting in April. You’ve probably noticed more mango varieties popping up at the farmer’s market recently, like my favorite- Ataulfo mangoes, which I used for this recipe. It’s far too cold to be throwing water at each other outside, but you can still enjoy tropical desserts like this mango sticky rice.

*Note: This recipe requires overnight preparation

Mango Sticky Rice (Yield: 5 servings)

Ingredients:
3 Ataulfo mangos
1 tablespoon toasted sesame seeds
For sticky rice:
1 ½ cup glutinous rice, uncooked
1 cup coconut milk
½ cup sugar
¼ teaspoon salt
For sauce:
½ cup coconut milk
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon tapioca flour
Pinch of salt

Directions:

  1.   Measure out the glutinous rice and rinse until water is clear and impurities are removed. Cover with water and allow to soak overnight.
  2.   The next day, drain the sticky rice using a sieve. Fill a pot with water and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Place sieve with rice over the pot, making sure the water does not touch the rice. Cover the rice with a washcloth and pot cover. Allow to steam for 25 minutes, or until rice is cooked through. Check the rice intermittently and mix the rice so that the steam reaches all of the grains (I mixed it nearly every 10 minutes).
  3.   As rice is cooking, heat 1 cup of coconut milk on low. Add the sugar and salt and mix until it dissolves. When coconut milk has warmed (but not boiled), remove from heat.
  4.   When the glutinous rice is cooked through, pour the rice into a bowl and cover with the coconut milk mixture. Mix and cover with a cloth and allow to sit for 30 minutes. When it is done, the rice should have absorbed the coconut milk.
  5.   As the rice sets, cut the mangoes into slices and prepare the coconut sauce. Mix together ½ cup coconut milk, sugar, salt, and tapioca flour in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil. Once sauce has slightly thickened, remove from heat.
  6.   When the rice is ready, scoop onto a plate and top with mango, coconut sauce, and toasted sesame seeds. Enjoy!
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