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A Really Royal Rice! (October 14, 2005)

Your three correspondents, Sheila Swerling-Puritt, Ron Morris and Helen Hatton, were invited to a marvelous Thai Luncheon a while back where we were introduced to Thai royalty! No, the King and Queen couldn't make it, but they sent their favourites: His Excellency Snanchart Devahastin, Canadian Ambassador of Thailand, plus senior officials of the Thai Department of Foreign Trade and exquisite young people performing a Thai Dance of Welcome. All this to introduce us to Thai Hom Mali rice.

Rice?

Well, yes. And it was fascinating and delicious all at the same time. Rice is possibly the most important food in the world. More than half the world's population exists on daily portions of rice, and we in the West enjoy rice dishes from a variety of cultures. Rice is certainly the staple food of the Thai people; in fact, "kin khao" (eating rice) in the Thai language means "to have a meal."

Mrs. Pranee Siriphand, Director of the Bureau of Grain Trade and Head of the Thai Delegation, explained to us that rice cultivation in Thailand goes back 5,500 years; ancient cave paintings discovered in the northeast province Ubon Rachthani depict scenes of rice planting! Clearly, by now Thais have become experts in cultivation of rice, one of which is considered by many to be simply the finest rice in the world, Thai Hom Mali rice.

Growing only in Thailand and indeed in this same northeastern region, indigenous Hom Mali rice is the official name of a strain variously known as fragrant rice, scented rice, aromatic rice and jasmine rice.

Everyone loves pandanus; this large male black sicklebill enjoys a snack from a pandanus plant flower.
(Photo courtesy © Richard Kirby/naturepl.com)

Thai Hom Mali rice is named Hom for its gentle unique aroma and Mali for the jasmine-white appearance. This unique variety is characterized by a long grain that is silky smooth and pure white, finishing with a soft texture when cooked. The fragrance is similar to that of the ubiquitous pandanus plant. Read on...

Almost every kitchen garden in Thailand boasts a pandanus plant, the leaves of which are used in both savoury and sweet dishes. A strip of leaf about 10 cm (4 inches) is dropped into the pot each time rice is cooked to perfume it; more strips are simmered with curry. The flavour is delicate, and as important to Asians as vanilla is to Westerners.

Thais take Hom Mali rice very seriously. It is a strictly traditional variety and 100% natural and can only be grown during the main rice season from September to December. The rice is hand-planted and rain-fed with no chemical fertilizers, thus ensuring a fully organic product. The government has instituted a quality standard, which includes specifics on purity and a Quality Certification Mark for those crops that meet this standard. To make certain, DNA sample testing is done at mills to prevent adulteration with inferior quality! It is always freshly milled before packing and the product is not kept for more than one year. Thai Horn Mali rice is naturally fragrant and contains no artificial flavors.

It is also very nutritious. Thai Ham Mali rice contains high fibre, vitamins B1, B2, niacin, carbohydrates and protein but contains no gluten, so it is non-allergenic. It is also rich in minerals such as iron, calcium and phosphorous.

It's not just a pretty face; while Thai Hom Mali Rice has an international reputation for its appearance and cooking texture, the real appeal is in its aroma, which is subtle yet fragrant and is able to blend effectively with a wide variety of international dishes. Nevertheless, we decided that we'd give you two of our favourite Thai recipes – which of course are perfect with this fragrant, truly royal delicacy, Hom Mali rice!

Healthy Thai Cooking is a tautology – and it's also one of the best Thai cookbooks we've seen; the recipes are authentic and do-able from savoury dumplings, soups and bright salads, and of course loads of wonderful dishes that marry perfectly with Hom Mali jasmine rice. Author Sri Owen is a highly respected cook, a popular lecturer and the author of many award-winning cookbooks including The Rice Book and others. She also contributes to numerous magazines and newspapers.

Another favourite Thai cookbook, New Thai Cuisine, delectably covers Thai cuisine and also provides a glossary and practical tips on how to substitute ingredients to adjust to your palate and how to master Thai cooking techniques. We give you a bit more information about author Nathan Hyam below in his delicious contribution!

On today's menu:

Download these recipes in printable form as an Adobe Acrobat PDF (100 KB)


 

How to cook rice
from Healthy Thai Cooking by Sri Owen

Who better than Sri Owen to tell us exactly how to get perfect cooked rice? While it may seem a bit fiddly, you'll soon be doing this blindfolded, with great results every time. We've tried them all, and still turn back to simply cooking on the stovetop, method #1. You'll quickly find which works best for you!

Owen's book, Healthy Thai Cooking, has become a classic, covering all the details of this remarkable and still largely unknown-in-the-home-kitchen cuisine. She gives us instructions and information on taste, eating in the Thai manner, and then the all important section on Thai ingredients ranging from durian fruit to tamarind Water. The photographs are plentiful and a great help to anyone who is trying a dish for the first time. A must for anyone who loves Thai food!

Now the cooking: Owen says: "First, measure the rice using a cup. Wash the rice in cold water; put it in the pan, pour enough water over it to cover it, swirl it around with your fingers and pour the water away. Repeat this process once or twice if you like. The last time, pour away as much of the water as you easily can – there is no need to squeeze out every last drop. Then measure the water for cooking in the same cup as you used to measure the rice. For 2 cups of rice, use 2 cups of water. An extra ¼ or ½ cup of water will make the rice a little softer. If, after washing, you drain the rice very thoroughly in a sieve or colander, then when you put it in the pan add that extra ¼ cup or ½ cup. However, don't add extra water if you are going to fry the rice afterwards – rice for frying needs to be dry and not too soft.

To cook rice in an ordinary saucepan, put the rice and the right quantity of water into the pan and bring the water to the boil (don't put in any salt). Stir once with a wooden spoon, and let the rice bubble very gently, uncovered, until all the water has been absorbed. Then, after stirring the rice once more with a wooden spoon, finish cooking in one of the four ways that follow:

  1. Keep the rice in the same saucepan and cover it tightly. Turn the heat as low as possible, and leave the rice undisturbed for 12 minutes. Then take the saucepan from the heat and put it on the top of a wet tea towel (this is important to prevent the bottom layer sticking to the pan). After 3 minutes, uncover the pan and transfer the rice to a serving bowl. Serve it hot, or leave it to get cold if you are going to make fried rice.
  2. Transfer the rice from the saucepan to a steamer, and steam for 12 minutes.
  3. Transfer the rice from the saucepan to an ovenproof dish with a lid, and cook in the oven, covered, for 12 minutes at 180°C/350°F/Gas 4.
  4. Transfer the rice from the saucepan to a microwavable container. Cover with a plate or greaseproof paper and microwave on full power for 4–5 minutes.

The easiest way of all is to use an electric rice cooker, which guarantees perfect results almost without trying. Put the washed rice into the cooker with the right amount of water. Put the lid on and switch to the "cook" setting. When the rice is cooked, the cooker will automatically switch to "warm." You can leave the rice in the cooker to keep it warm for a few minutes before you are ready to start the meal. I suggest, though, that you turn the cooker off completely as soon as the rice is cooked to prevent it getting too dry, especially at the bottom.


 

Fish Steaks with Spiced Aubergines (Eggplants)
from Healthy Thai Cooking by Sri Owen

Get to a good Asian market for some of these ingredients, as they make this dish! Once you've made the Hot Aubergine Relish, the fish recipe is relatively simple. Read first, and allow time for the marinade, up to four hours. After that, it goes fast. This will be a classic in your house, we promise!

Serves 4

  • 4 cod or monkfish steaks, each weighting about 175 g/6 oz.
  • 4 Tbsp tamarind water
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 2 Tbsp peanut oil
  • 8 shallots, thinly sliced
  • 2–6 red bird chilies, thinly sliced
  • 1 Tbsp nam pla fish sauce
  • 4 Tbsp hot water
  • 6 Tbsp Hot Aubergine Relish (recipe below)
  • 2 Tbsp chopped mint leaves
  • 1 tsp finely chopped lemon grass
  1. Put the fish steaks in a glass bowl. Mix the tamarind water with the salt and sugar and pour this over the fish. Turn the steaks over once or twice to that they are well covered in the tamarind mixture. Leave them in the refrigerator for at least one hour or up to four hours.
  2. When you are ready to cook and serve the fish, heat the oil in a frying pan or a casserole and fry the shallots, stirring often for 5 minutes or until they are just starting to change colour. Add the chilies and continue to stir-fry for another minute.
  3. Lower the heat and arrange the drained marinated fish in the pan, side by side. Leave to cook for 2 minutes. Turn them over and cook the other sides for another 2 minutes. Add the fish sauce and hot water, and top each of the fish steaks with the aubergine relish (make sure that each steak has equal amounts). Cover the pan and simmer for 3 minutes.
  4. Uncover the pan, and add the mint leaves and lemon grass. Turn the heat up for 1 minute only. Serve immediately while still very hot, with hot jasmine rice.

Tony's wine recommendation:
Something spicy and aromatic – Gewürztraminer, dry Muscat, Argentinean Torrontes or semi-dry Riesling (Kabinett or Spätlese)

 
Hot Aubergine Relish

Makes about 2–3 cups

While a perfect topping for the fish, this recipe does double and triple duty; in a Thai household, a home-made relish like this is used as a dip for crudités. The family will gather around the low table and dip raw vegetables into the relish to scoop it up. It also makes a great party dip with veggies or toasted pita... be warned, it goes fast!

  • 2 medium-sized purple aubergines, whole
  • 2–4 green or red chilies, deseeded and finely chopped
  • 1 shallot, finely chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, fine chopped
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • 1 tsp soft brown sugar
  • 1 Tbsp fine chopped coriander leaves
  • 1 Tbsp nam pla fish sauce
  • 1–2 Tbsp tamarind water or lime juice
  1. Half-fill a saucepan with water and bring it to the boil. Put the aubergines into the boiling water. They will float, but they will be cooked in 10 minutes if you cover the saucepan tightly.
  2. After 10 minutes, turn off the heat and uncover the pan, but leave the aubergines to cool in the cooking water.
  3. When they are cool enough to handle, take them out and cut each lengthwise into halves. With a spoon, scoop the flesh out of the skins and put it in a bowl.
  4. Mash the scooped-out aubergine flesh well and add the rest of the ingredients. Stir vigorously with a spoon to mix everything well. Adjust the seasoning with more salt or fish sauce and tamarind water or lime juice, and serve as a side sauce or with vegetable crudités.

 

Pineapple Fried Rice
from New Thai Cuisine by Nathan Hyam

We immediately loved New Thai Cuisine. The cover features fresh Barbecued Duck and Mushroom spring rolls, and we almost haven't closed this book since. This New York City chef traded his apron for a suitcase and took a sabbatical with his wife in Thailand, where the two quickly found themselves immersed in the scents and flavours of Thai cuisine and never looked back. A decade later, the Hyams live, teach and study Thai cooking from their home in Vancouver. You'll love the fried rice and every other recipe in this terrific book!

What a spectacular presentation served in the pineapple shell; in a pinch you can use canned pineapple if fresh isn't available. It's a wonderful recipe that is easily adjusted depending on available ingredients. Just taste as you go along! (But of course...)

Serves 4 to 6

  • 1 large fresh pineapple
  • ¼ cup vegetable oil
  • 1 medium onion chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, diced
  • 1 cup presoaked, sliced wood ear mushrooms (or dried shiitake)
  • 4 cups cooked jasmine rice
  • 6 Tbsp fish sauce
  • 1 Tbsp sugar
  • ½ tsp ground white pepper
  • 2 green onions, sliced
  • ¼ cup sliced cilantro

Cut the pineapple in half and hollow out the shells. Cube the pineapple flesh. Heat the oil in a wok over high heat and stir-fry the onion until soft. Add the garlic and stir-fry for 30 seconds. With the heat on high, add the mushrooms, pineapple, rice, fish sauce, sugar and pepper. Mix thoroughly and cook until heated through. Add the green onions and cilantro. Serve in the hollowed-out pineapple shell.

Tony's wine recommendation:
Demi-sec sparkling wine, White Zinfandel, Late Harvest Riesling


 

We wish to thank:

Whitecap Books, Canada, for permission to publish material and photographs from New Thai Cuisine by Nathan Hyam. © 2001 Nathan Hyam. Photographs by Greg Athans.

Frances Lincoln Limited, London, for permission to publish material and photographs from Healthy Thai Cooking by Sri Owen. Text © Sri Owen 1997; photographs © James Murphy 1997.

Look for these cookbooks and information on Thai Hom Mali rice at The Cookbook Store, Toronto. www.cook-book.com!

 

Happily tested by Helen Hatton and Ron Morris.

Download these recipes in printable form as an Adobe Acrobat PDF (100 KB)

 

 

 

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