Monday, September 2, 2013

Tropical vegan lust

In keeping with the previous week’s topic of long-grain sticky rice, this time we are journeying further down the coast of China to its smallest province, the island of Hainan, where something amazingly delicious is done with this very same grain.

It is another one of those dishes with terribly prosaic names for something that is terribly sophisticated and delicious.

Called “taro rice” in Chinese, it is much much more than simply rice and taro. Rather, this glorious concoction from China’s southernmost province is a reason all in itself to sit down to dinner. Literally.

This is so full of flavor and texture and nutrition that my mommy brain probably would call for some greens to be served too, but if I could get that voice to be quiet, I would happily subsist for quite a while on this.

Anything with peanuts is good
All I need is a nice beach to complete the picture.

Taro rice
Hǎinán yùfàn 海南芋飯
Serves 4 to 6

12 ounces peeled mature, large taro (see Tips)
1 cup unsweetened coconut (strips preferred, but shredded is fine)
3 to 4 cloves garlic
1 teaspoon sea salt
3 green onions, trimmed and finely chopped

1. Rinse the rice and soak it for about 2 hours, or until it passes the fingernail test (i.e., you can crush it easily with your fingernail). Steam it for about 30 minutes, or until it is cooked but still chewy.

2. While the rice is steaming, cut the taro into large (1-inch) dice. Steam the taro until it is cooked all the way through. Turn the taro out onto a cutting board and coarsely chop it.

3. While the rice and taro are steaming, toast the coconut in a toaster oven at 300°F on a small tray until the coconut just begins to turn golden and smell wonderful. Empty the coconut into a large work bowl to stop the cooking. 

A complete tropical meal
4. Finely chop the garlic and add it to the coconut along with the salt and green onions, and then work them together, preferably with your fingers, to release their fragrances. Add the cooked rice and taro, and toss these together well.

5. Scoop the rice out into a serving dish, sprinkle the peanuts on top, toss lightly, and serve immediately while still hot.


If you have sensitive skin, use latex or plastic gloves while working with the raw taro, as it can cause severe rashes in some people, especially between the fingers. When in doubt, use the gloves.

This rice can be made ahead of time up through Step 4 and then reheated just before serving, at which time you should add your crunchy peanuts, of course

If you are averse to eating raw-ish garlic or have romantic plans for the evening, feel free to cook the garlic in a bit of oil before adding it to the rice. 

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