How to Grill Sticky Rice This Summer

When it comes to bananas, choose wisely. In her recipe, Punyaratabandhu calls for either nam wah or burro bananas, which are stubbier and more vibrant in flavor than the ubiquitous Cavendish bananas found at any American supermarket. They’re usually available at Asian markets, but if you can’t find either of those varieties, don’t swap with Bave Cavendish. “Ripe plantains, which should be pretty easy to find in most places, are a better substitute than cavendish bananas, which are too soft,” Punyaratabandhu tells me. “Just make sure the plantains are ripe; they should be mostly black with a little yellow but still firm to the touch. ”

When you’re almost ready to cook, start wrapping the partially steamed rice and bananas in their little banana leaf bedrolls. (Banana leaves are usually available fresh or frozen at Asian and Latin American markets. Be sure to save any leftovers for baoshao mushrooms.) If you find the leaves difficult to work with at first, you can briefly dip them in boiling water, or wrap them in a wet kitchen towel and zap them in the microwave for 10 seconds to make them more pliable. But if you do not want to do extra work for yourself, thawing frozen banana leaves under hot water should do the trick just as easily, Punyaratabandhu says. “The water cleans them at the same time — killing two birds with one stone.”

Once the rice and bananas are swaddled in their leaves and secured with toothpicks, light the grill — and wait. Great sticky rice takes time, and it’s best to cook them over coals that have burned down a bit and are covered with a layer of ash. Punyaratabandhu notes that some Thai street food vendors cook the banana leaf packets until the outer layer of the rice forms a golden, smoky, tahdig-like crust, while the banana nearly fuses into the grains.

“This can only be achieved by cooking the packets — to borrow the American barbecue terminology —’low and slow ‘as opposed to’ hot and fast, ‘” she says. “If you observe a street vendor preparing this dish, you will see that they do not grill the packets over hot, glowing coals. Instead, they cook the banana packets at a medium-low to low temp over ashy coals for a long time, turning them over often. In other words, as you’re grilling the packets, you’re also smoking them. “

If you’re not a banana fan and want to swap in another fruit (or a different kind of sweetener like, say, palm sugar) go ahead and give it a whirl, but that’s not typically done in Thailand, Punyaratabandhu notes. “And given the fact that people over there have a huge variety of tropical fruits available all year round to work with, that says something!”

She adds, however, that starchier and creamier fillings — such as bean paste, taro paste, sweet potatoes, purple yams, and durian — are better suited for the sticky rice treatment than watery, acidic fruits like mango. (Save that for your sticky rice and mango.)

If all of this sounds too fussy for a lazy day of grilling, you can prep and cook the banana leaf packets in advance, stuff them in the freezer, and reheat them in the oven. When you’re ready to eat, throw them on the grill for just a couple of minutes for an extra blast of smoke and heat — because life is too short for cold rice.

Khao Niao Ping Sai Kluai (Grilled Sweet Sticky Rice With Banana Filling)

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