Seriously Asian: Purple Rice Pudding in Coconut Milk

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[Photographs: Chichi Wang]

Lately I've been starting and ending my days with Pulut Hitam, a Malaysian/Indonesian pudding of black glutinous rice and coconut milk that's so nourishing yet indulgent, it doubles as breakfast and dessert. The pairing of rice and coconut, a classic combination in Southeastern Asian sweets, is especially satisfying when using black rice instead of the usual white.

Grains of black glutinous rice, called black sticky rice or purple rice, vary from dark amber to black when dry, turning deep purple when cooked. Since black rice is not hulled, each kernel comes with a bit of extra toasty flavor and chew. And unlike rice pudding with its long grain white rice like basmati, the kernels of black rice maintain their chewy texture even when stewed for porridge, something steel-cut oatmeal lovers would appreciate.

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I can think of few desserts as easy to make as Pulut Hitam. You simmer the black rice with water and sugar until the kernels are soft and pleasing to chew. Towards the end, the sugars in the liquid reduce into a simple syrup that clings to the bottom of the pot. The syrup, bordering on a sort of sludgy caramel that's deeply sweet but not cloying, will steam and crackle like a custard base for ice cream when it's ready to be removed from the heat.

Not only easy, Pulut Hitam is also a very beautiful dish. To serve, mound a few spoonfuls of the rice kernels, soupy with just a bit of their sweet syrup, into the base of your bowl. Then pour a generous helping of coconut milk, that's been salted slightly to highlight the sweetness of the rice, into the bowl. The murky, inky purple of the rice pudding rises like the Lochness monster from a pristine pool of the coconut milk—a truly stunning preparation that takes little effort for so much enjoyment.

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