Why You Should Turn Sticky Rice into a Pancake (and Add Turmeric)

October  9, 2017

Growing up with a Chinese father and a Korean mother (who spent her teenage years in Thailand), both of whom loved to cook, my childhood kitchen was always stocked with pan-Asian ingredients. My parents' let’s-talk-about-dinner-during-lunch level enthusiasm for food, and not wasting leftovers, meant that home-cooked meals were often unique, quasi-Asian fusion inventions. Gochujang would be stirred into fried rice, silken tofu would be garnished with spicy chili peppers and Thai basil, and miso paste would make its way into meat marinades. Rice, as a staple food of Asian countries (in its many shapes, colors, and sizes), was always a constant in our kitchen.

I usually use leftover rice for either breakfast or a late night snack; something that is easy and quick to put together (usually involving soft scrambled eggs and Maggi sauce). I prefer the bite of a short grain variety. “Glutinous” or “sticky” rice is often used in sweet Thai dishes, but one night, while I was making sticky rice with coconut milk for dessert, I saved some to explore a more composed, savory dish for lunch the next day. As we did at home, I used ingredients I already had in the fridge to put together this dish, so the result is a combination of Burmese and Thai flavors.

Depending on the size of pan (mine is 8 to 9 inches), you could make this recipe into one large pancake for two, or a few smaller ones for a group of people. If you already have the balachaung (which is the most time-consuming part of the recipe), it’s a quick recipe to put together for lunch, or a side dish for a protein at dinner.

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As with all rice, I soak mine (preferably overnight) in enough water to cover the rice by a couple inches. Soaking helps separate the grains, start the cooking process before adding heat, and improves the overall texture. While you want sticky rice to stick together, there should also be a distinction between each of the grains. I use coconut milk instead of water to infuse more flavor into the rice itself; the same concept as cooking rice with chicken stock or throwing in a bay leaf and garlic clove to the water. To build on that sweet flavor as well as adding more texture to the pancake, I chose shredded coconut to mix into the cooked rice. While you can buy it pre-toasted, I prefer to brown it quickly in a dry pan or lay it out on a sheet pan and bake them in the oven at 325° F; start with two minutes, check on it and give it a little stir or shake, then continue for another 2 to 3 minutes. It browns very quickly so keep an eye on it!

Besides that saucy guy up top, this dish is barely any fuss. Photo by Bobbi Lin

In general, I love eating a meal surrounded by punchy condiments that enhance your plate. Balachaung is definitely punchy; its main ingredient is dried shrimp, which can be found at most Chinese or Southeast Asian supermarkets. These shrimps have been pre-boiled in salt water, drained, and then laid out to dry in the sun until shrunken to the size of fingernails. Buy the more expensive package; you will taste the difference. Whenever I make balachaung or the similar XO sauce at home, I open all the windows and turn the stove’s vent on high; you’re going to be doing a lot of frying with pungent ingredients, but totally worth the result! Be careful when cooking the shallots, ginger, and garlic because it’s easy to burn these, and any burnt bits will ruin the entire mixture. Use a flat mesh strainer to remove them from the hot oil the moment they start to get golden brown; they will continue to cook a little longer once out of the pan. While balachaung is a Burmese recipe, its umami quality pairs well with other, non-Asian dishes. For example, I’ve added it to a simple roasted chicken with lemons, and the sour tanginess compliments it well.

It is such a satisfying feeling to bite through the crispy outer layer of the pancake in contrast with the buttery coconut rice. The yogurt balances out the intensity of the balachaung; all these elements, in one dish, make for a surprise in each mouthful.

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