Good Hmong cooks must master the art of preparing fluffy, delicious rice. Many people save time by using an automatic electric rice cooker. However, everyone loves the intense fragrance and flavor of rice cooked the old-fashioned way using an aluminum, hourglass-shaped Thai cooker and conical bamboo or plastic steaming basket. These inexpensive items can be purchased at Hmong, Thai, or Laotian grocery stores and supermarkets.
Cooking rice the old-fashioned way is a five-step process: washing, soaking, steaming, soaking a second time, and steaming the rice again to finish the cooking process. If you want to make authentic Hmong rice, here is how to do it.
Noj Mov Txhua Hnub
2 cups high-quality long-grain jasmine rice
2 cups high-quality Calrose rice
Water, for each step of the process
Measure both kinds of rice into a large bowl. Cover the rice with cool tap water and rinse by swirling it around with your hand. Pour off the filmy water. Rinse the rice a second time, and again pour off the water. Cover the rice with cool water, and allow it to soak for several hours.
Fill a Thai cooking pot about two-thirds full with water, and set it on the stove over high heat to bring the water to a rapid boil. Set the steaming basket on top of the pot so the boiling water level is lower than the tip of the basket's cone. Completely drain the soaked rice and put it into the basket. Cover the rice; any lid that fits will work (neither the pot nor the basket is sold with a lid). Steam the rice for 15 to 20 minutes. The rice is ready for the next step when you pinch a grain and it is soft on the outside but still feels hard in the middle. After preparing this dish several times, you will be able to tell if the rice is ready simply by looking. The outer part of a grain of rice is translucent and the inner part is opaque.
Transfer the partly cooked rice into a large, clean bowl. Pour boiling water over the rice until it is just submerged. Stir with a plastic or wooden rice paddle and then allow it to sit in the water for 5 to 10 minutes. This process makes the rice fluffy and keeps it from sticking together. The water that is used to soak the rice the second time is called kua ntxhai. It is very nutritious, so do not discard it. Drain it from the rice and pour into a cup or bowl to use as a beverage or to make sour green vegetable pickles. Return the drained rice to the basket on top of the steamer.
Again, make sure that the boiling water does not touch the bottom of the steaming basket. Cover the rice again and finish steaming the rice, about 15 to 20 more minutes.
Now the rice is ready to eat. If you are not ready to serve the rice, store it in an electric rice cooker set to "warm," for serving later, or in a bowl to cool. Rice is eaten warm or cool, unaccompanied by any condiment or sauce. It is delicious just the way it is. Eat rice with a spoon, or with your fingers.
Makes 8 cups cooked rice
Hmong cooks serve sticky rice simply steamed or made in to a variety of special-occasion dishes. Sticky rice is often rolled into little balls and eaten with the fingers as part of a meal, or as a snack. Because sticky rice is softer than jasmine and Calrose rice, it requires less cooking time.
4 cups sticky rice
Soak and cook the rice the same as Everyday Rice, but steam it only once, for about 40 minutes. It is done when the grains are soft all of the way through.
From Cooking From the Heart: the Hmong Kitchen in America by Sami Scripter and Sheng Yang Copyright © 2009 University Of Minnesota Press.
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