Sunday, August 12, 2007

Painted Black

One of the most curious things I’ve ever eaten was a simple dessert from Myanmar (Burma) made with purple rice. My friend’s mother, one of the nicest local guardians I’ve ever had in my hostel life, was brought up in Burma. She would have a feast waiting for us as we came back from college Friday evening and for the meals the rest of the weekend. Very often, she would have at least one Burmese dish on the menu. The most frequent was san win makin, pronounced sen way mackay, a sweet made of semolina/sooji/rava, coconut milk and poppy seeds. She would also make khauk-swe, the noodle soup, and on one occasion, it was the purple rice.

It was really purple, served with sweetened coconut milk and quite an experience for someone like me who had not seen anything other than white rice and had never heard of purple rice. For me, who started out knowing nobody in that city, it was a really nice thing to have my friend invite me to her home and have her mother write to mine when I told her that my parents would have to approve of my spending the weekends with them.

A few weeks ago, I visited the Khadi Gramodyog outlet near my office for something specific. As usual, I ran my eye over the other shelves idly and when I saw this pack of ‘Original Burma Black Rice’ I had to pick it up for its exotica value, though what I’d do with it, I had no idea. I could only imagine the taste, and I didn’t dare fall back on the memory of that purple (not black) rice because it would have meant a big disappointment if mine hadn’t lived up to Aunty’s. Amidst guilty thoughts of my never-shrinking pantry, I quickly paid for it and scuttled out of there. Then Sharmi announced rice as the ingredient for Jihva, and thus began the frantic trawling of the Internet for various Burmese recipes. Putting two and two together, I later deduced that this is the Kavanarisi that one comes across in Chettinad cuisine – a legacy of the days many in the Chettiar community (among other Indians) lived in Burma for reasons of business and trade.
This rice is mostly used for sweet dishes (including one made in the same way as the purple rice dessert) but in a recipe I saw, neither salt nor sugar was mentioned, and except for rice and water, all the other ingredients were mentioned as ‘optional’! Well, this was my cue – I’d get to make the rice, it wouldn’t have any sugar in it, the coconut was optional and I had the rest of the stuff at home.
But as the night passed, I couldn’t bring myself to do without the coconut so this morning The Spouse was dispatched to fetch one, by which time I had assembled everything else.

This was the hardest dish to photograph so far – the rice didn’t fluff up (it didn’t look fluffy in others’ photos, if that’s any consolation) but I’m hoping it doesn’t look like a soggy mass either, because it wasn’t – it was chewy, sticky and grainy. If that sounds like it went wrong, it’s not meant to – that’s how it’s meant to be. But it was so bland, it had me running to the snacks box for something spicy – it takes a little getting used to. You can add some jaggery for added taste.

I'm not sure it comes from just one country in the Far East, because there are recipes that are claimed by more than one country. Here’s how you go about it:

Burma black rice: 1 cup, soaked overnight
(It will run colour)
Coconut: Shaved/shredded (I shaved off some with a peeler and put the rest in the fridge)
Sesame seeds: 1 tbsp
Peanuts, crushed: 1 tbsp
Salt: ½ tsp at least
Boiling water: Enough to just cover the rice

Drain the water from the rice, wash once.

In a pressure cooker, pour in two inches of water. Using a trivet, place the black rice in a bowl on top of the trivet.

Pour boiling water enough to just cover the rice.

Cook for 3-4 whistles.

Once the pressure drops naturally, put the rice in a bowl, add salt, the coconut, sesame seeds and peanuts and mix lightly.

Garnish with a few coconut shavings.

Here are a few other black rice recipes from the blogs:
From Sig's Live To Eat
From Mallugirl's Malabar Spice
From Freya & Paul's Writing at the Kitchen Table

And here are links to more recipes:
Xoi Nep Than
How to cook purple and black rice
Black Sticky Rice

And now, to spread the joy among everybody in the blog world and pay it forward, as Cynthia of Tastes Like Home so nicely put it, here’s whom I’m picking for the Rockin’ Girl Blogger awards (in alphabetical order)

Archana from Tried and Tested Recipes
Mallika from Quick Indian Cooking
Mallugirl from Malabar Spices
Sandeepa from Bong Mom’s Cookbook
Santhi from Writing on the Mirror
Paz from The Cooking Adventures of Chef Paz
Prema of My Cookbook


  1. sra,

    never heard of purple rice must be delicious with coconut milk,it reminded me of Prasadam given in Annavaram a temple in AP.Thanks for enquiring about me, I am fine just back to US after a long 2 months of vacation/work in India.
    Back to blogging. Too bad we did not get a chance to meet may be next time. I was really looking forward to meet you

  2. Thanks for the info you provided. I am hearing about the purple rice for the first time.
    How do you serve this black rice?

  3. Sra, purple rice sounds exotic and looks tasty too. Will have to give this a try, I even have a Burmese Connection I can tap into.

  4. They are called wild rice here and there are many many kinds like that too.Tastes nutty and I like it!:)
    Looks great,a different and unique entry too:)

  5. So you are supposed to have it just by itself ? Or it is to be served with sweetened c. milk ?
    I just cannot imagine how it will taste. Have not had it before.

    Thanks for the Rocking award ;-)

  6. I have eaten the chettinad pudding. one of my friend had made it and it was yummy. thats how I came to know of this rice. this is a very different one. Thanks for the great entry.

  7. I remember that Sig has posted something with a similar looking rice.

    This is definitely a perfect entry for the event.

  8. I have seen this black rice in one of the supermarkets. One day, I mite try it.

  9. Wow, that looks beautiful Sra the color combo is really nice... purple rice is so yummy, you reminded me of my leftover forbidden rice, lost somewhere in the clutter in my pantry... have to go dig for it now :)

  10. Painted Black? Sra, your "rockin'" side is showing. : ) The rice doesn't look soggy at all; you can see the texture and contrast, but it sounds like it's at its best with a little sweetening. The Thai make a sticky black rice that's sweetened, too. In fact, this is pretty similar.

  11. Auggh...I miss Khadi Gramodyog Bhavan!!! And wow, purple rice. Talk about a different recipe altogether! :)

  12. Have never heard of purple rice and never seen it either. But this does seem like a nice dish and it would classify as "memory food" in my books :-)

  13. Sreelu, good to see you back. Went to Annavaram ages ago, don't remember the prasadam at all!
    Suma, jaggery or sweet coconut milk should do it.
    Indo, when you get through to your connection, pls share the recipe/s with us.
    Asha, thanks. I've read this is different from wild rice.
    Sandeepa, I'm obsessed with my waistline, and thought I'd have it as it is, but don't think it will ever finish because that way, you can only have a spoon at a time. I think I'll sneak in some jaggery. But sweetened coconut milk is good, too.
    Sharmi, I've never tasted black rice before, only purple.
    Cynthia, thanks. I've linked to Sig and a couple of others too.
    Suganya, I'm sure your dish and your photo of it will be hits!
    Sig, happy digging!
    Susan, thanks :) I went on a virtual tour of the Far East to post this recipe!
    Shyam, that place is still the depressing pits (at least to me) it used to be - only, they have a self-service section for snacks and provisions now!

  14. those hostel days... i used to get thrilled whenever any localite friends of mine invited me for lunch or dinner. ah!!! i used to eagerly wait for some home cooked meals:) looks very much like wild rice sra. they r quite expensive here. do they have very nutty taste? i will look out for this when i go for shopping. cooking with coconut is tempting me to try this dish. lovely rich colour...

  15. I love the nutty texture of this rice...the dish looks very pretty.

  16. u r right, i think jaggery will work well in this!
    It is a blessing to have someone to go to for good food during hostel days, i can never forget G aunty for feeding me delicious stuff during those hostel days :)

  17. Raaga, er ... why memory food? I don't remember :( Have I missed reading something in the links?
    Sia, I guess it was nutty - it was v aromatic too, when it was being cooked.
    Sunita, thank you.
    Richa, I'm going to add the jaggery tomorrow, some poor guests are going to be guinea pigs ;)

  18. What a different and lovely looking recipe, Sra. I love the wild rice, and am sure that with coconut flavor, it would have made a mellow but sumptuous dessert!

  19. That a unique entry. Have never heard of such rice. Should try in store next time.

  20. I come to congratulate you with your work, very good, and to desire good vacations to you

  21. This is the first time I have seen this rice. Looks nice and interesting .Your recipe is different too :)
    Congrats to you, for the well deserved award Sra :)
    Thanks for the award :)

  22. that looks liplickin' good. I'm going to look for this rice the next time I go to the store...

  23. i have a big bag of this rice. , this looks like the perfect recipe. thanks.

  24. I love this!! Have had it as a friends house (no burmese background though) couple of times!! :)

  25. Musical, I'm adding the jaggery only tonight - I'll know then, LOL!
    SeeC, yeah, go ahead and try it!
    David, thank you.
    Archana, thank you thank you.
    Mandira, buy the smallest quantity you can, at first
    Bee, there are several recipes, and many variations of this one on the Net, happy experimenting!
    Coffee, you might find it more easily in Singapore, look out for it

  26. That looks beautiful, Sra! I love your have a way with words.

  27. Sra...congrats to you on the award,you really rock ..:-) and yes a big thank you for the award...It really did come as a surprise...:-)

    hey, really purple rice...!!! I didnt believe you until I saw the photos, and admire you for trying it out ;-) ..I mean, sometimes ignorance is bliss...;-)

  28. Hi Sra, great post dear. Never heard about purple rice. Looks wonderful. Thanks for sharing.

  29. This is very interesting Sra. Never heard about it. Viji

  30. Nupur, thanks a lot!
    Santhi, LOL! My cousin said he was very disturbed by the colour when he saw it at lunch today!
    Jyothi, this is more black than purple, actually, but unusual all the same, yes.
    Viji, now you know! :)

  31. Happy I-day sra:)
    i have got something special stored for u at my place. come n collect when u get time:)

  32. Congratulations on your award Sra. I loved the recipe for black rice. It seems interesting!

  33. i never heard of black rice. and by seeing the color somehow i feel suspecious about its taste, does it taste good ? if yes, them i might try it sometime. and will check if i get it in market here.
    i jsut saw that you tagged me. may be after sometiem i will take us the meme .

  34. hey yurs is the second time i heard of purple rice after jugalbandi... need to look out for it

  35. Sra, got a question for ya.
    Somebody just told me Indian flag color is Saffron not Orange.So far I have checked the internet and other blogs say it's Orange.Which one is it? Saffron represents Hinduism I think.I would rather have Orange! I will be back to check your answer.Meanwhile I put a Orange/ Saffron in my post!!

  36. Sounds very exotic....and an informative post dear :-)

  37. Purple rice is so different...

  38. Great Entry and nice looking purple rice, does that resemble with the prasadam offered in shabarimala?

  39. This was quite an interesting post. Do you know what makes the rice purple? I've never seen it. And your dish doesn't look mushy at all. It looks earthy and chewy and delicious.

  40. Sia, I got it before I saw your msg :)
    Dee, thank you. It's quite unusual.
    Pooja, you're right to be suspicious - the taste takes getting used to, but it's not bad.
    Rachna, do, it's nice to experiment with.
    Asha, here's the meaning: The significance of the colours and the chakra in the National Flag was amply described by Dr. S. Radhakrishnan in the Constituent Assembly which
    unanimously adopted the National Flag. Dr. S. Radhakrishnan explained -"Bhagwa or the saffron colour denotes renunciation of disinterestedness. Our leaders must be indifferent to material gains and dedicate themselves to their work. The white in the centre is light, the path of truth to guide our conduct. The green shows our relation to soil, our relation to the plant life here on which all other life depends. The Ashoka Wheel in the centre of the white is the wheel of the law of dharma. Truth or satya, dharma or virtue ought to be the controlling principles of those who work under this flag. Again, the wheel denotes motion. There is death in stagnation. There is life in movement. India should no more resist change, it must move and go forward. The wheel represents the dynamism of a peaceful change." Apparently, Gandhiji wanted the saffron to represent Hindus, Muslims to represent green and white the other religions, and the Chakra for Dharma/righteousness.
    Sirisha, thanks, and welcome to my blog
    Sukanya, this is almost black :).
    Padma, don't know. I don't think I've had it.
    Susan, oh yes, it's chewy all right :) Wikipedia says it's got phytonutrients, and that's why it's black-purple!

  41. Oh, wow! I've been selected as a Rockin' Girl Blogger? Thanks for the honor! Very cool!

    Love this post, which reminds me of a recipe I once made. I will repost it soon.

    Thanks, Sra!

    Paz xxoo

  42. Asha, you're welcome!
    Paz, glad you found out!

  43. Hey Sra - thanks so much for picking me as a Rockin Girl Blogger! I hadn't even noticed (DOH) :-))

    When I saw your email I thought it was something bad... LOL.

    From one rocking gal to another...

  44. Mallika, something bad ... never, I hope. :)

  45. Have heard and seen wild rice or black rice , but haven't cooked anything with it.Exploring new things are always nice SRA.
    Thanks for the Award ... I really felt very happy abt it.Opened my blog just today...( busy as my in laws are here and my daughter is also home.)and read ur comment ..

  46. Hi Prema, it was sweet of you to celebrate the award with paal poori!