Monday, March 21, 2011

Recipe: Sweet Rice Balls

Lest you start to think that all we eat are mushy legume dishes with South Asian flavors (exhibits A and B), we want to set the record straight that we do eat other foods. Like rice. Admittedly, rice is also mushy and often serves as a vehicle for South Asian flavors, but with the recipes that follow, we turn rice into a vehicle for sweet desserts.

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This lightbulb moment came to us when we found ourselves staring at a mountainous amount of leftover brown rice after an unsupervised experiment with a pressure cooker. Sure, we could have used the rice in dal bhat for the next ten meals, but we have not yet graduated to the Nepali tradition of eating dal for breakfast. Instead, we thought, why not turn the rice into something sweet?

Of course, we are not the first to come up with this idea. You can have your pick of sweet rice dishes from around the world, such as your grandmother's rice pudding, Indian kheer, Thai mango sticky rice, and Chinese tangyuan.

Our take on dessert rice uses locally grown, short-grain brown rice, which has a higher starch content and stickier quality than the long-grain variety. Interestingly, people in Nepal tend to turn their noses up at brown rice; they consider it "peasant" rice and prefer basmati and other long-grain white rices. Oh well -- more for us.

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The foundation of the recipe is simply cooked short-grain rice (the stickier, the better) and sweetener. We used pure maple syrup to keep the recipe vegan, but you could easily substitute honey.

Unlike many desserts, there is no precise science to this recipe. Simply take a small glob of rice and add a drizzle of maple syrup.

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Then roll the mixture in your hands to create a (relatively) uniform ball.

The process is a little messy.

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This is what you're aiming for with your base rice and maple syrup ball.

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Then, go treasure hunting in your pantry and add whatever ingredients strike your fancy.

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We have six suggestions below.

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Rice Pudding: add raisins to the rice ball, roll in unsweetened shredded coconut, and top with more raisins.

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Sesame Brittle: roll the ball in sesame seeds.

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Cinnamon and Sugar: roll the rice ball in cinnamon (a sprinkle of raw sugar would be a nice touch on top).

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Almond Joy: add chopped almonds to the rice ball and roll it in shredded coconut and cacao nibs (note: sadly, you cannot find cacao nibs in Nepal).

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Peanut Butter Cup: add peanut butter to rice ball and roll in cacao nibs.

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PB & J: add unsweetened, natural peanut butter and a dollop of jam to the rice ball; top with two tiny dots of the same.

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Any other ideas? Please share them in the Comments section below!

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