This mango sticky rice recipe by chef David Thompson from his Thai Street Food cookbook makes the much-loved Thai dessert kao niaw mamuang. Despite the detailed recipe notes it’s nowhere near as intimidating as it looks and this jasmine scented sweet will take you back to eating on the streets of Thailand.
Making chef David Thompson’s mango sticky rice recipe from his Thai Street Food cookbook became my mission after the mango rains started here in April. I had been ogling the green mangoes that hung from the towering mango trees in our neighbourhood since we’d moved to a smaller, cheaper, second-floor apartment in a petite residential building in a village on the edge of Siem Reap a few weeks earlier.
As the coronavirus began to spread around the world, whole cities went into lockdown, and life as we knew it ended, Terence and I went into self-isolation here in our new little home in Cambodia, and stayed in and started quarantine cooking, stretching out meals to prolong periods between stressful supermarket shopping trips.
In addition to recipe testing for our Cambodia cookbooks, we also commenced a series of compelling cooking projects to keep the panic attacks at bay and keep us occupied – from baking sourdough and sourdough starter discard recipes to Terence’s experimentations with Cambodian-Australian fusion meat pies and sausage rolls.
From the speckled terrazzo desk in the second bedroom that served as my office, I could see over the canopy of coconut palms, bamboo, tamarind, and mango trees as far as the Khmer Empire ruins atop Phnom Krom near the vast Tonle Sap or Great Lake. As I gawked at the mango trees – heaving with green mangoes – as they transformed into plump golden-yellow fruit, I added mango recipes to our list of cooking projects.
At the top of the list I put David Thompson’s mango sticky rice recipe. Three months later, after the mango rains ended and the monsoon season started, and the last of the mangoes are being sold in the markets, I finally got around to making the chef’s white sticky rice with mango. Let me explain why it took so long.
And while you’re here, if you’re a fan of Thai food and other Southeast Asian cuisines, please take a peek at our Cambodian culinary history cookbook project. The epic history tells the long rich story of Cambodian food for the first time while the cookbook documents recipes by Cambodian cooks from around the country, sharing their stories, portraits and kitchens. You can become a patron and support this project for as little as US$2 or $5 a month on Patreon. Now let me tell you about this mango sticky rice recipe.
Mango Sticky Rice Recipe by Chef David Thompson
Chef David Thompson’s mango sticky rice recipe sat staring at me from the open pages of the chef’s Thai Street Food cookbook for at least a month before I attempted his very exacting and detailed recipe for the much-loved Thai dessert, kao niaw mamuang. (Note that the recipe below is amended; see the end of these notes for an explanation).
Our eleven year-old edition of Thai Street Food is a large hefty tome, too. When spread open, it takes up half the kitchen table where I now find myself working after my office recently flooded during monsoonal rains so heavy, water gushed from the sparking ceiling light fittings above me.
While I’m the kind of person who prefers to have too much information rather than too little, it was precisely the chef’s exhaustive notes for preparing the sticky rice, the sweet coconut cream, and the mung beans, and his meticulous instructions for peeling mangoes the Thai way and perfuming the coconut cream that intimidated me a little.
Terence is a veteran when it comes to decoding David Thompson’s 40-ingredient 12-step curries but I’ve had my head in local Cambodian cookbooks with ten ingredients and two paragraphs of instructions for so long that the chef’s detailed mango sticky rice recipe was a tad daunting.
I can’t tell you how many times I sat twirling around my finger the golden-yellow ribbon that served as a bookmark, as I absorbed the steps, tips and advice. When I finally slipped an apron over my head, tucked my hair into my headband, and rinsed the sticky rice that had been soaking in water all day, I felt as if I was going into battle.
Less than 90 minutes later, after all the bits of chef David Thompson’s mango sticky rice recipe easily came together – too easily, in fact – I wondered what on earth I’d been concerned about. Sure, I could have peeled the mango skin off more carefully (as you can see, to Terence’s horror), toasted the mung beans a little more until they browned, and taken more care with my plating.
But otherwise, Thompson’s sticky rice with mango recipe was a resounding success. There’s a lesson there: don’t let detailed recipes of the kind you find in chef’s cookbooks deter you. Those finicky directions for plunging knotted pandanus leaves in water and perfuming rice with fresh jasmine flowers are there for a reason. Embrace them and delight in the results.
Notes on Making Chef David Thompson’s Mango Sticky Rice Recipe
Just a few notes on making this mango sticky rice recipe by chef David Thompson and I hear you: how could such an exacting recipe need more explanation?
Well, since first meeting David Thompson when we dined at his Sydney restaurant Darley Street Thai in the Nineties, we’ve interviewed the chef and have been flies on the wall in kitchens with him for everything from Australian Gourmet Traveller to Delicious, Conde Nast Traveller China to Asian airline in-flight magazines.
We’ve written about Thompson’s collection of antique Thai cookbooks and memorial books, covered his cooking workshops at Asia’s 50 Best Restaurant awards and the Melbourne Food and Wine Festival, and traipsed after him over one very long day for a piece on Where David Thompson Eats in Bangkok. So I messaged him with a few questions about his mango sticky rice recipe that you might have too.
Firstly, one of the reasons for my delay in making this recipe wasn’t only that it was a tad intimidating, but that I couldn’t find yellow mung beans (essential to the recipe to add a little crunch), nor fresh jasmine flowers to perfume the rice (desirable).
I eventually discovered some mung beans and a little bottle of natural jasmine essence. When I asked the chef if it was okay to add a drop or two of essence in lieu of fresh jasmine flowers, he said “I would rather inject disinfectant into myself than use it!” He was joking, of course! “Leave it out rather than using the extract,” was David’s advice.
Secondly, the recipe said to soak the mung beans in water for 5 minutes. As I was racing to pull everything together and plate so Terence could shoot the dish before the sun set, I left the mung beans for 10-15 minutes and they were rather soft. It therefore took quite a while for them to firm up again as I dry-roasted them in the pan.
David says that these days he soaks his mung beans in water for several hours, popping them in the fridge alongside the sticky rice, and that grinding them is essential. “Nevertheless they remain crunchy and dangerous to dentures. They crisp up when toasted,” he assured me. So do persist with the dry-roasting in the pan until they are brown, and don’t dare to not grind them.
Lastly, I asked the chef if all the sugar was necessary with sweet fresh coconuts or sweetened tinned coconut cream, because while I adored the final result (I ate three out of four servings myself! Not all at once, of course), it was a tad too sweet for my taste.
“The sugar is necessary. Plain coconut cream just doesn’t do. I recommend it,” David said. I’m not one to argue with a master of Thai cuisine, but I might try it with a little less next time. You see, the recipe needn’t have intimidated me at all. There will be a next time.
A reminder that this recipe has been amended as I did not have access to the notes on peeling the mangoes the Thai way (Thai cooks tend to peel away from themselves, rather than toward, using a brass knife as it doesn’t react with the sugar or acids) and perfuming the coconut cream with jasmine (best done with jasmine water, and there’s a recipe in the book, or by popping a few jasmine flowers in the coconut cream).
Alternatively, you can perfume the rice with pandanus leaves, which can be added to a cup of water, simmered, then cooled. More details in the book and there’s a link at the top of the post.
Mango Sticky Rice Recipe by Chef David Thompson
- 1 cup white sticky rice
- 6-8 Thai jasmine flowers optional but desirable
- 2-3 pandanus leaves optional
- ½ cup castor sugar superfine
- 1 ½ tsp salt or to taste
- ½ cup thick coconut cream
- 2 tbsp yellow mung beans
- 2 ripe mangoes
Sweet Coconut Cream
- ½ cup coconut cream
- ½ tsp rice flour mixed with a little water or coconut cream to form a paste
- 1 pinch of salt
- 1 pandanus leaf optional
- 2 tbsp white sugar more to taste
- Rinse the rice carefully to remove any excess starch without breaking the grains. Soak it overnight, with 2-3 Thai jasmine flowers, if possible.
- The next day, drain the rice, rinse and place in a metal steamer; normally the raw grains of rice cling together, so they rarely fall through the holes, but if you’re feeling cautious line the steamer with some rinsed muslin (cheesecloth). Make sure the rice is not piled too high in the centre, nor too widely spread. Add a pandanus leaf or two to the water in the base of the steamer, if you like, then steam the rice until tender (test some grains from the area where the mound of rice is deepest); this should take about 45 minutes to 1 hour. During this time, make sure that there is plenty of water in the steamer; if you need to top up the water level, use boiling water so as not to interrupt the steaming. When you check on the rice, wipe dry the inside of the steamer lid before replacing it.
- Meanwhile, stir the sugar and salt into the coconut cream until dissolved. When the rice is cooked, remove from the steamer and place in a glass or ceramic bowl, then pour over the prepared coconut cream and stir to incorporate fully. (It is important that the rice is still piping hot, so it will more completely absorb the coconut cream and become rich and glistening.) If you like, you can plunge a knotted pandanus leaf into the rice and dot the surface with a few Thai jasmine flowers. Cover and set aside in a warm place for 15 minutes before serving. Some cooks like to swaddle the bowl in a towel to keep it warm and snug!
- While the rice is settling, soak the mung beans in water for about 5 minutes then drain well. Dry-roast the mung beans over a low heat in a small, heavy-based pan or a wok, shaking often, until they are golden brown and smell nutty. Remove from the heat and, if necessary, crush coarsely using a pestle and mortar or an electric grinder.
Sweet Coconut Cream
- Mix the coconut cream with the flour paste in a small saucepan or brass wok, stirring rigorously to incorporate. Add the salt and pandanus leaf, if using, then bring to the boil, stirring constantly to ensure the cream does not separate. When the coconut cream has thickened, add the sugar and immediately remove the pan from the heat. Stir until the sugar has dissolved. Allow to cool before serving.
- Peel the mangoes with a sharp knife, then cut the flesh away from the central stone into cheeks. Cut each cheek crosswise into five or six slices.
- Divide the rice among four bowls, then place a sliced mango cheek alongside and cover with a spoonful or two of sweetened coconut cream. Sprinkle with the mung beans and serve.
Do let us know if you make this mango sticky rice recipe by chef David Thompson in the comments below as we’d love to know how it turns out for you. And if you do make it please take a pic and tag us @grantourismo and use #grantourismotravels on Instagram as we’d love to see it.