Black sticky rice pudding, or Pulut Hitam in Bahasa, is a classic Southeast Asian comfort food and one of those things you eat as a kid without really knowing what it is. You hear the word, ‘pulut’, you think about it being something called ‘pulut’ and not as a kind of rice, that it is naturally sticky, and that it is actually black-coloured. All you know is that there’s this purple, chewy, soupy goopey thing that you look forward to eating whenever your aunt makes a batch like a bawse and calls the family around for tea.
As a kid, you would also be oblivious to the amazing health benefits of glutinous black rice. Rich in cancer-fighting anthocyanins, the same pigment in grapes, blueberries, purple cabbage and eggplant skin, glutinous black rice is actually the unpolished version of glutinous white rice! It is also rich in fiber, protein and slow-burning carbs, together with minerals like manganese, magnesium and phosphorous, all important for daily body function.
Making it myself as an adult has raised my appreciation for a bowl of sticky rice pudding. It is one of the most minimalist recipes I’ve discovered in terms of ingredients, but the most tedious in terms of monitoring the preparation.
That black skin around the rice is hardy as heck. Even with overnight soaking, this rice takes ages to soften when cooked in a conventional pot. Another thing is that the soup takes a life of its own as it cooks. Once it starts bubbling, like some frat party that gets progressively crazier until the folks roll in to the carpark, a pulut party can get messy – REALLY messy – and doesn’t stop until you turn off the heat. Your friends might take a look at the scene and suspect that you’re not actually cooking something… vegan.
I’ve tried cooking black glutinous rice once before in a pressure cooker at my mom’s place, and that didn’t go down so well either. The magenta magma erupted out of the valve and shot two feet into the sky and onto the walls. By the time my mom came to the rescue to adjust the heat and the pressure valve, the kitchen already looked like a manga crime scene.
I’ve tried looking for references of this happening to others with making this pudding. Nada. All the recipes I’ve found online do not share the risk of the mess it may entail. Perhaps I’ve been using too much rice for too small a pot, but I also strongly suspect that I just kept the heat on high for too long.
I cooked my batch for 60 minutes at high heat, then only brought down to a simmer for the last half hour. My method of adding water was 400 ml after 60 minutes, 400ml at 75 minutes, 200ml just minutes before turning off the heat, and another 200ml which I had on standby and used anyway after observing that my pudding was still absorbing water even after turning off the heat.
This gave me a beautiful pudding but a messy kitchen. If messy kitchens are your thing, feel free to work on high heat like I did.
If they aren’t, I’ve amended the recipe so that most of the process involves simmering. Feel free to adjust to medium heat at any point of the process should you see fit.
As you could probably tell by now, there are no hard rules to creating this pudding. It relies a lot on discretion. If you can have someone with you who is a pulut pro, that would be helpful. If not, all you need is patience and the want to create something phenomenal. One thing’s for sure: it WILL turn out phenomenal.
You have the option of adding the coconut milk to the entire pot after it’s done cooking. But because coconut milk stays fresh for such a short time, I would only recommend this if you know for sure that the whole batch will be consumed on the same day, or the day after with refrigeration.
Should you choose to add milk right upon serving, it adds ornamental value too.
Enjoy this gorgeous gluten-free superfood hot or cold, as a dessert or as a wholesome breakfast for yourself and your family. And of course, the kids still don’t need to know anything apart from it being a purple, chewy, soupy goopey thing that they look forward to eating every time.
Black Sticky Rice Pudding (Pulut Hitam)
Dense in texture, taste and nutrition, this pudding needs basic minimal ingredients, and the final product will be worth the patience you pour into this tummy-filling Asian dessert. Great to eat cold as breakfast too!
- 300g (1 1/2 cups) dried glutinous black rice
- 3 cups water for soaking + 1.2 litres water for cooking
- 120g Gula Melaka (palm sugar)
- 4 large fresh Pandan leaves
- 200ml coconut milk/cream
- Step 1 Rinse rice thoroughly and soak in water overnight or at least for 8 hours. You can soak the rice directly in the pot you intend to cook it in, if your pot is made of stainless steel. (Do not soak in a non-stick pot as this will destroy the non-stick coating.)
- Step 2 After soaking, transfer rice and water into a cooking pot if necessary.
- Step 3 Tie pandan leaves into knots in sets of two leaves.
- Step 4 Place knots into the pot, add sugar, and partially cover pot with a lid.
- Step 5 Bring to a boil. Once it starts to bubble, bring down the heat to a simmer. Be mindful of the liquid oozing out of the pot. Have a rag on hand to clean up any spills.
- Step 6 Monitor the cooking process at medium to simmering heat. Stir occasionally for up to 70 minutes. The remaining water for cooking is to be added a half-cup at a time when needed, i.e. when the water level drops below the level of the rice.
- Step 7 Taste the soup occasionally to monitor the cooking process. The rice should become tender and chewy, and the rice skin should give way easily upon biting. Don’t burn your tongue!
- Step 8 Once the desired texture has been achieved, let the pudding sit for 5 minutes, observing if the pudding becomes dry as the rice continues to absorb water. Have additional water on standby should you wish to water down the pudding.
- Step 9 Remove and discard pandan knots and serve pudding immediately in bowls with a dollop of coconut milk/cream.