Give me a bowl of sweet black rice pudding topped with luxurious coconut milk and I go inside my happy place. This magical bowl is my definition of comfort food.
The true magic of black rice is unlocked with slow heat … and patience. It takes time to cook through the grains to where they split open and release their starch. The result is this beautiful purple-black transformation that’s all at once nutty, smoky and comfortingly starchy.
Black rice, sometimes called black glutinous rice (or “pulut hitam” in the Malay language), is commonly sweetened and made into a dessert in Southeast Asia. This porridge-like dessert, called bee koe moy in my local dialect, is a staple in the nyonya-baba cuisine on the island of Penang where my family is from.
It’s pretty much an all-occasion food, perfect for the afternoon pick-me-up, after-dinner sweet, or even breakfast. The best thing is, it’s so simple to make. You just need slow heat and patience.
The sweet perfume of the pudding comes from pandan leaves. Pandan (or screwpine) leaves are long, slender and pointed leaves widely used in Southeast Asian cooking. The sweet-smelling leaves (sort of a cross between jasmine and vanilla) are widely used in many dessert recipes; just think of it as the “Asian vanilla.”
I often get asked why add salt to the coconut milk for what is obviously a sweet dish. The practice of adding salt to coconut milk is a long tradition, something I learned from my mother, and I suspect, something she learned from hers. The idea is to contrast the sweetness of the black rice pudding, and indirectly, tease out the sweetness of the pudding. You could compare it to today’s popular salted caramel flavor where the dichotomy of sweet and salty play off each other to new delicious heights. I should confess I’m partial to more coconut milk rather than less, as you can see in the picture.
Enjoy this satisfying treat hot, chilled or at room temperature. What better way to warm up in the winter months than a hot bowl of this sweet, creamy and dreamy goodness?