Deep Forest Monklets’ Sticky Rice Cake

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One day I went on an excursion up the Dokhtawaddy River from Hsipaw with several other travelers. An hour brought us to a small landing stage overhung with vines. We walked past fields of pineapple and along a path to a Buddhist monastery called Lwe Yung, the Deep Forest Monastery. The main temple was a beautiful place, built of wood and up on stilts, so it caught the breezes. The young monklets, from five to twelve years old, were hanging out in the temple under the benign, distracted supervision of the abbot (all the other senior monks were away). He was clearly loved as well as respected by the young ones.

After we had looked around, we were offered tea and a sweet treat, small pieces of “cake” made from sticky rice flavored with sesame seeds, sugar, and peanuts. It’s easy to make, the boys said as they ate with us, and they told me what to do.

Ingredients

Method

Rinse the rice in cold water, drain, and place in a small pot with a tight-fitting lid or in a rice cooker. Add the peanuts, sugar, sesame seeds, salt, and water and stir to mix well.

If using a pot, bring to a boil over high heat, then cover tightly, reduce the heat to low, and cook for 30 minutes, until the rice is tender. If using a rice cooker, cover and turn it on (it will automatically turn to “warm” when the rice is done).

Let the cooked rice stand, covered, for 10 minutes.

Lightly oil an 8-inch square baking pan or 8-inch pie plate. Transfer the rice mixture to the pan, mixing and blending it gently as you do so to distribute the flavorings (as the rice cooks, the sesame seeds end up on top, and you want them scattered throughout). Smooth the top gently without pressing down too hard, and let stand for 30 minutes to firm up.

Cut into squares or wedges. This keeps well for 3 days, covered—do not refrigerate (it toughens the sticky rice).

Sticky Rice Cake with Ginger and Coconut

When I spent a morning cooking with Mimi in Rangoon (see Mimi’s Bean Soup with Tender Leaves), one of the many things I learned was the name for the “monklet” cake: it’s called htamanei in Burmese. Mimi’s version is a more sophisticated cake than the monklets’, made with fresh ginger and coconut shavings. There’s a warm hit from the ginger and a lushness from the coconut.

Add 3 tablespoons ginger cut into matchsticks when you put the rice and flavorings on to boil, and use ⅔ cup sugar. When you transfer the cooked rice to the baking pan or pie plate, mix in ½ cup or more deep-fried coconut shavings. Or just press them into the surface as a sweet and delicious topping.

Note: Palm sugar or brown sugar, which makes a beige-colored cake, gives a more interesting smoky taste than white sugar. Two-thirds of a cup of sugar reproduces the sweetness of the monklets’ cake, but is sweeter than I like; I use ½ cup palm or brown sugar.

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