Here’s the thing about Asian desserts: you either love them, or you hate them. What we think about when we think of dessert in the Western world — gooey chocolate, creamy frosting, layers upon layers of cake — just doesn’t exist in Asian dessert culture. Asian desserts are totally different, from sweet soups, rice puddings, shaved ice, to flaky pastries filled with mushy pastes made out of sweet red beans (azuki) paste or lotus paste.
When we first moved to Malaysia, the hubby confessed that while he’d embraced pretty much all of the Asian foods I’d introduced him to since meeting him, he hadn’t warmed to Asian desserts. “They’re just not what I think of when I’m craving something sweet,” he admitted. I nodded. We talked about how Asian desserts are so different from Western desserts that maybe they were an acquired taste. “It’s okay,” I said. “You like so many of the other crazy things I’ve shoved your way. It’s okay to just take a pass on desserts.”
I said it, but secretly I didn’t mean it. I wanted him to like Asian desserts as much as I do, but I’d already learned at that early point in our marriage to pick my battles. I knew we had an epic bicker-fight in front of us to get him to throw away these god-awful inflatable sofas he’d bought during his bachelor days and insisted on carting to Malaysia, “just in case we needed extra seating.” I really, really wanted nothing more than to discard those sofas immediately after we arrived, so I gave him a pass on the Asian desserts.
Of course, as it turns out, there were, and are, exceptions to the rule. One of his favorite Thai desserts, mango black rice pudding, is one that I now easily make at home.
GET ALL THE LATEST RECIPES, RESTAURANT REVIEWS & MORE FROM GRITS & CHOPSTICKS BY FOLLOWING ME ON INSTAGRAM, FACEBOOK, PINTEREST OR TWITTER!
After we’d been in Malaysia for about three months and there was nary an inflatable sofa in sight in our new apartment, we went to a party where one of the hubby’s Malaysian co-workers asked him if there were any Malaysian foods he’d tried so far that he didn’t like. The hubby paused, not wanting to offend his colleague. “I dunno … I guess Asian desserts haven’t really been my thing.”
“Oh,” she said, eyebrow raised. “You mean like, ais kacang?” (Ais kacang is a shaved ice dessert topped with sweetened condensed milk, corn, beans, fruit and various gelatinous sweets.)
“No, I like ais kacang. It’s really refreshing,” the hubby replied.
“Oh, okay, so, you don’ t like our kuih, then.” (Kuih refer to a variety of cakes, usually made from sticky rice and flavored with all sorts of things, like coconut, sugar or pandan, a leafy green.)
“Oh no, kuih are awesome. I love ondeh ondeh.” (Ondeh ondeh are little glutinous flour balls filled with melted palm sugar and rolled in fresh coconut flakes.)
“So no pastries? No soups? No egg custards?”
“Oh, I like all of those.” He paused. “Hmm…maybe I do like Asian desserts after all?”
I smiled smugly. No inflatable sofas, and I’d managed to gradually covert the hubby to the dark side of Asian desserts. That’s the thing about the Asian sweet tooth. Our sweets are decidedly, and dramatically different, but they’re no less tasty. This mango black rice pudding is made with a coconut milk base and flavored with toasted sesame seeds and slivers of very ripe, juicy mango. I love refrigerating the mango earlier in the day and then serving ice-cold slices atop a slightly warm pudding. It’s a great summer dessert but an equally comforting winter one, too. Black rice, if you’ve never cooked with it, takes a little longer to cook than regular rice, and it’s generally firmer. The gentle crunchiness of the black rice in this pudding keeps the texture of this dessert from being a giant pile of mush, which is so easy to do with regular rice pudding desserts.
The last time I made this dessert was on a weeknight. I spooned heaps into small rice bowls and slid glistening slivers of mango carefully onto each pile of pudding. The hubby took his and dug in. He sighed. “Remember when I said I didn’t like Asian desserts?”
I nodded, and he got quiet, drifting off into thought.
“Hey, whatever happened to my inflatable sofas?”
- 1 cup black or forbidden rice (I use Colavita's Riso Scotti 5-minute black rice)
- 3 cups water
- ¼ teaspoon kosher salt
- ¼ cup raw honey
- 1 14-ounce can full-fat coconut milk, stirred thoroughly
- 3 champagne mangoes, pitted and sliced
- 2 tablespoons sesame seeds, toasted
- Bring water to a boil over high heat, then add rice and salt. Reduce heat and cover, simmer about 45 minutes (if using Colavita's 5-minute black rice, reduce water to 1.5 cups and boil for only 5 minutes) until rice is tender.
- Add coconut milk and honey, stirring thoroughly. Bring mixture to a boil over high heat, then simmer, uncovered and stirring occasionally, until rice has a pudding-like consistency, about 30 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool.
- Spoon pudding into small dessert bowls and top with sliced mango and sesame seeds. Serve immediately.
Inspired by this Epicurious recipe; thanks to Colavita for the black rice!