Sweets for the Sweet from Indonesia, Thailand, Hawai’i, Vietnam, Japan, and More
By Frances Kai-Hwa Wang, AAV Contributing Editor
Every year around Valentine’s Day, the mainstream media comes out with lots of recipes for rich and indulgent chocolate desserts—usually made in a heart-shaped pan or with heart-shaped cookie-cutters. Chocolate is okay, I guess, but for me, sticky rice and coconut are oh so much sexier. Especially when made in a heart-shaped pan or with heart-shaped cookie-cutters. Is that too goofy?
Here is our Asian-American Village take on healthy, homegrown sweets for the sweet, adapted from home recipes and terrific cookbooks — Thai, Japanese, Hawaiian, Indonesian, Vietnamese, Chinese, and more — I’ve collected over the years.
So watch out Martha Stewart, here we come!
Valentine’s Day Mochi
(adapted from Mrs. Kubota’s Apricot Mochi recipe)
Mix ingredients together. Microwave on high for 8 minutes. Take it out, mix a little, then microwave for 2 more minutes. It’s done!
Use Pam to spray a flat-bottomed heart-shaped pan. Pound the dough into the pan with the end of a rolling pin. Wait until it is cool. Turn it upside down onto a cutting board with lots of mochiko powder. Liberally powder your knife with mochiko when you cut the mochi so it doesn’t stick. Or pound the dough into a rectangular pan and cut with liberally floured heart-shaped cookie cutters, instead.
Valentine’s Day Sticky Rice Bars
(adapted from Chinese Snacks, Revised, Wei-Chuan Cooking School Cookbook, by Huang Su-Huei)
Rinse rice until water runs clear. Soak rice for 30 minutes. Drain soaking water and cook the rice. If you don’t have a rice cooker (You call yourself Asian?), cook rice in 1 ½ cups water.
When the rice is done, add the sugar while the cooked rice is hot. Mix well. Add the rice wine (op.) and red adzuki beans.
Line a heart-shaped pan with a sheet of plastic wrap. Put the rice in the pan. Use a spatula or spoon to make it flat. Dip your spatula or spoon in water to keep it from sticking. Allow rice to cool, then cut into pieces. Or put rice in a plastic-lined 9×13 inch baking pan and cut with heart-shaped cookie cutters.
Valentine’s Day Haupia (Hawaiian Coconut Pudding)
(adapted from Remembering Diamond Head, Remembering Hawaii, by Shirley Tong Parola and Lisa Parola Gaynier)
Make a smooth paste of the sugar, cornstarch, salt, and one cup of coconut milk. Combine the remaining cup of coconut milk with the cow or soy milk in a saucepan and heat until hot. Slowly add the cornstarch paste and stir constantly over medium to low heat until the mixture thickens. Add red food coloring. Remove from the heat. Pour into a heart-shaped pan and refrigerate. To serve, Cut into 2 inch squares.
Or pour it into a 9 inch square baking pan, and once it has set, cut it with heart shaped cookie cutters.
Garnish with strawberry or mango and a leaf of mint.
Vietnamese Red Sticky Rice with Momordica (Xoi Gac)
(from our friends at http://www.mamnon.org/)
Soak sticky rice 6 hours or overnight with red food coloring. In the morning, drain rice and mix with coconut powder. Steam rice. While the rice is cooking, toss the half-cooked rice every ten minutes with 1/2 cup sugar and a pinch of salt. (you will probably do it twice). By toss, Linh notes that she “literally means toss since we use a thai/lao bamboo steamer. It’s a big cone that you insert into a metal, hourglass pot. To mix the rice we toss the ball of rice around by lifting it out the steamer and heaving it up and down to get it to turn over.” It needs to be dry steamed, so if you don’t have a thai-lao steamer, you can steam it in a bamboo steamer or a vegetable steamer (line it with cheesecloth first), and then toss it in a Tupperware with a tight-fitting lid. It’ll be too sticky if you cook it in a rice cooker. If you must mix it with a spoon, do it gently and carefully so as not to smash the rice grains.
When the rice is done, add Momordica (gac), cherries, or strawberries. Can add more salt or sugar to taste. Toss in fresh shredded coconut.
Press red rice mixture into a heart-shaped pan. Garnish with fresh shredded coconut. Or press into a rectangular pan and cut into heart-shapes with a cookie cutter. A typical wedding and Vietnamese New Year’s dessert.
Thai Sweet Sticky Rice Balls (Khaoneow Geow)
(adapted from Thai Vegetarian Cooking by Vatcharin Bhumichitr)
Divide up the cooked sticky rice and dip it in different food dyes as fancy dictates. Heat the sugar and water to form a thick syrup and remove from heat. Shape the colored rice into balls and dip it into the syrup. Remove and place on a metal tray to harden.
Feed to your lover with your fingers…if you’re into that sort of gross thing.
Valentine’s Day Strawberry or Raspberry Pearl Icee
(adapted from Teacher Li’s Pearl Tea recipe)
Boil a pan of water. Add tapioca “pearl” balls to the boiling water. Stir. Boil for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally so that they don’t stick to the bottom of the pan and burn. Turn off the heat and cover the pan. Let it sit and steam for one hour. Drain and rinse tapioca “pearl” balls in a colander. Return tapioca balls to the pan and add some sugar. The balls should be black, translucent, jelly-like, and slippery (“kyu”).
In a blender, blend strawberry or raspberry juice with ice until you get an Icee.
In a tall glass (pint glasses are great for this), scoop two spoonfuls of Pearl balls. Add Strawberry or Raspberry Icee. If you like milk, add sweetened condensed milk or coconut milk to taste (op.). Garnish with mint leaves and drink with an extra-wide straw (available at some Asian grocers, usually right next to the tapioca “pearl” balls)
Variations: Use sweetened and iced milk tea or iced coffee instead of juice (but then it’s not red anymore).
Note: The balls are only good for about 24 hours, so use them quickly. Invite your friends. Don’t refrigerate or the texture will be totally changed.
Anti-Valentine’s Day Indonesian Black Sticky Rice in Sweet Coconut Milk (Bubur Ketan Hitam)
Adapted from Singaporean, Malaysian, and Indonesian Cuisine, Wei-Chuan Cooking School Cookbook, by Christina Sjahir Hwang)
If you’re a Valentine’s Day Scrooge like me, then you absolutely must make something with black sticky rice. This one has got it all—black sticky rice and coconut!
Wash rice. Mix uncooked rice with with sugar and pandan leaves. Cook until done. If you don’t have a rice cooker, use 8 cups of water and cook, covered, for 2 hours. When rice is done, scoop equal portions in four black heart-shaped bowls.
Mix salt and coconut milk together and heat for 30 seconds in microwave. Remove when simmering and pour on top of rice.