Genius Recipes

Never-Mushy Coconut Rice, Thanks to One Genius Swap

A brilliant discovery from cookbook author Andrea Nguyen.

November 20, 2019

Every week in Genius Recipes—often with your help!—Food52 Creative Director and lifelong Genius-hunter Kristen Miglore is unearthing recipes that will change the way you cook.


Andrea Nguyen had all but given up on coconut rice. Every pot came out dull and mushy, tasting nothing like the subtly sweet, fluffy grains she and her parents remembered from her childhood in Vietnam.

Photo by ROCKY LUTEN. FOOD STYLIST: ANNA BILLINGSKOG. PROP STYLIST: BROOKE DEONARINE.

But she had a breakthrough as she was developing the recipes for Vietnamese Food Any Day, her sixth cookbook, and her first to be laser-focused on making Vietnamese food accessible to everyone in the U.S., from any grocery store they have nearby (no specialty store shopping required).

“For years, I stuck to the general notion of making coconut rice with coconut milk, but my rice was always gummier than I liked,” she wrote to me. “Then I realized that the difference is that in Southeast Asia, coconut milk is a lot lighter than what we have in canned form in America.”

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“The only alteration I made was to use the rice and coconut water in 1:1 ratio (one-and-a-half cups each). You don't need more than that because, as it's a pressure cooker, there's no evaporation of the water as there is with other methods -- stovetop, oven, rice cooker. I did end up adding additional salt after it was cooked, it definitely benefited from a touch more than the specified amount. My wife proclaimed it the best rice she'd ever had. She would've eaten it all if I hadn't stopped her. ”
— Josho
Comment

So, even though it was one of only two seemingly non-negotiable ingredients (coconut rice should probably have…coconut and rice), she ditched it.

Andrea trolls supermarket shelves with the no-stone-unturned tenacity of a deal-scavenging Black Friday shopper—then (unlike the average Black Friday prowler) she shares her best tips. Her book includes all kinds of shopping intel, like which jasmine rice is the best to buy (look for the ones grown in Thailand) and hot tips on no-compromise swaps, like Trader Joe's gourmet fried onions for homemade fried shallots.

So when she first saw coconut water popping up in even the most basic convenience stores circa 2009, she saw it as more than just a natural source of electrolytes, but a flavorful, ready-to-go liquid for cooking (see also: her glazed chicken and vegetables and Yi Jun Loh’s Coconut Water ABC Soup). Coconut milk out, coconut water in.

Then, to bring back some of the richness of coconut milk without all the heft (plus a soothing, extra-coconutty scent), she stirred in a couple spoonfuls of virgin coconut oil just at the end. There’s also a bit of turmeric—ground or fresh—to bring a bit more grounding flavor and the vibrant color the recipe title promises.

Everyone loves the result—never mushy, and coconuttier than ever. One 6-year-old named Meta even told her mom, “I will give you a thousand dollars if you make this rice again.”

But, best of all, Andrea said, “I made the turmeric rice for my parents and their eyes lit up.”

Her breakthrough was complete.

Got a genius recipe to share—from a classic cookbook, an online source, or anywhere, really? Perhaps something perfect for beginners? Please send it my way (and tell me what's so smart about it) at [email protected].

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  • Jill
    Jill
  • Josho
    Josho
  • Beth100
    Beth100
  • HalfPint
    HalfPint
  • icharmeat
    icharmeat
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I'm an ex-economist, ex-Californian who moved to New York to work in food media in 2007. Dodgy career choices aside, I can't help but apply the rational tendencies of my former life to things like: recipe tweaking, digging up obscure facts about pizza, and deciding how many pastries to put in my purse for "later."

19 Comments

Jill December 3, 2019
Hi Kristen,
Love your site. What is the Shrimp recipe pictured with the rice? Thank you. Jill
 
Author Comment
Kristen M. December 9, 2019
Hi Jill, this was just some simple grilled shrimp (and lime) that our Food Stylist Anna Billingskog made to serve with the rice, since Andrea said it goes great with grilled things. But here's a grilled shrimp recipe I love: https://food52.com/recipes/71174-j-kenji-lopez-alt-s-grilled-shrimp-scampi-ish-with-garlic-and-lemon
 
Josho November 25, 2019
Made this tonight in an Instant Pot. The only alteration I made was to use the rice and coconut water in 1:1 ratio (one-and-a-half cups each). You don't need more than that because, as it's a pressure cooker, there's no evaporation of the water as there is with other methods -- stovetop, oven, rice cooker.

I did end up adding additional salt after it was cooked, it definitely benefited from a touch more than the specified amount.

My wife proclaimed it the best rice she'd ever had. She would've eaten it all if I hadn't stopped her.
 
Beth100 November 22, 2019
I made this in my fuzzy-logic rice cooker, and it worked beautifully. I might add a touch more liquid next time, either water or coconut water, since the rice seemed firm to me, although it was fully cooked… Perhaps the texture is part of having cooked it in coconut water? It was delicious and enthusiastically received. We will definitely make this again.
 
HalfPint November 21, 2019
The video is great! This rice looks so delicious. Now I need to get some coconut water :)
 
Author Comment
Kristen M. November 21, 2019
Thank you, HalfPint! It was such a treat to have Andrea there with me.
 
HalfPint November 21, 2019
I almost cheered when Andrea said that white rice will never rinse clear (Yes!!!!) and she only rinses 2-3 times (me too!) because of the California drought (Amen!).
 
Author Comment
Kristen M. November 25, 2019
Yes! I was clapping and cheering inside myself :)
 
icharmeat November 21, 2019
you could just pour in the fluid part from a can of coconut milk that has been sitting on your pantry shelf for a few weeks and leave behind all of the heavy stuff for a recipe that needs the unctiousness of the coconut. Or, make your own from dried coconut flakes (not the stuff you buy at the grocery) that you can get online or from some specialty shops in cities with a southeastern asian population.
 
Author Comment
Kristen M. November 21, 2019
Thanks for the tips, icharmeat. The coconut water/oil combo is still worth a try—Andrea really nailed it with her recipe.
 
Joan November 20, 2019
I just made this with brown rice (short grain!). It’s delicious.
 
Author Comment
Kristen M. November 21, 2019
Woohoo! Thanks for reporting back, Joan.
 
Valerie November 20, 2019
I don't eat white rice, could I substitute it for brown rice, Farro, barley or any ancient grain...quinoa ? Btw Kirsten...I love your videos and I have saved so many genius recipes etc...So great ! For thanksgiving, I'll be making the Ottolenghi roasted squash -
Thumbs up ;-)
Thank you for the inspiration so I keep cooking (My kids are 30 &24, no longer home, cooking less...) .
 
Author Comment
Kristen M. November 21, 2019
Joan in the comments above just made it with short grain brown rice and liked it! Different grains will require different cook times and amounts of liquid, so you might need to fiddle with the amount of liquid (I would base it on the package instructions, but start with a little less, and splash in more if the rice is dry before it tastes cooked through).
 
Sandi November 20, 2019
I get great results by toasting/frying in coconut oil first, then using coconut water for the cooking phase. Haven't tried with tumeric yet. That's next!
 
Author Comment
Kristen M. November 21, 2019
Ooh, I'll have to try the coconut oil toasting next time.
 
AntoniaJames November 20, 2019
I use coconut water in rice pudding + about 1/2 cup regular coconut milk, for the same reason - much lighter, while also being much tastier. ;o)
 
Ana November 20, 2019
Can you share your full recipe pls?
 
Author Comment
Kristen M. November 21, 2019
Yum—thanks for sharing, AJ.