Whenever I decide to cook with southeast Asian flavors, I am quite literally on foreign territory. My experience with the cooking styles, flavors and techniques used in regional Chinese, Thai, Japanese and Vietnamese cuisine are mainly limited to a handful of good meals out and an impromptu lesson in Vietnamese cooking from our good friend Tram. That being said, I enjoy the challenge of experimenting with cuisines that aren’t as familiar to me as, let’s say, Italian or some regional American foods.

I make no claims to authenticity, and I probably am doing many things wrong in the process of combining a mish-mash of flavors from different cultures, but one of the things I love about being an American chef is the ability to move beyond the boundaries of tradition and experiment with different combinations.

I kind of surprised myself with this one. I didn’t expect it to come out all that good, and certainly didn’t expect the dish to make an appearance on the blog, but it was certainly of my favorites so far. There’s nothing too fancy or difficult here, and anyone with a modicum of skill in the kitchen should be able to pull off this quick and tasty dish.

The three components of this dish are the sticky coconut rice (about 15 minutes), sautéed mushrooms and bok choy (about 10 minutes) and tempura prawns (about 10 minutes). The key to pulling this dish off well is being set-up and ready before you start cooking. Have the vegetables cut, the tempura batter mixed and the frying oil hot and ready to go. As usual, I’ll give you my ingredients list first and then break down each of the components in detail. Shopping for this dish will hopefully add some new ingredients to your pantry that are great additions to any cook’s repertoire. Enjoy!

Ingredients (for 2-3 servings)

Sticky Coconut Rice

  • 1 cup Thai Rice
  • 1 cup Coconut Milk
  • 1 cup Water
  • 1 Tbsp Rice Vinegar
  • 8-10 Fresh Mint Leaves, chopped
  • 2 ea. Bay Leaves
  • 1 ea. Star Anise
  • 1/2 tsp. Ground Ginger
  • 1/4 tsp. Ground Cinnamon
  • Salt, to taste

Sautéed Bok Choy & Mushrooms

  • 2 medium-sized Bok-Choy, cleaned and sliced
  • Fresh Mushrooms ( I was stuck with crimini [chestnut] mushrooms, but would have preferred a nice mix), about 2 cups quartered
  • 2 cloves Garlic, minced
  • 1/2 Sliced hot chili (adjust for desired spiciness)
  • 1 Tbsp Oyster Sauce
  • 1 Tbsp Rice Mirin

Tempura Prawns (Shrimp)

  • Fresh Prawns ( 4-8 per person, depending on size)
  • Tempura Batter Mix
  • Soda Water
  • Chives, sliced
  • Oil for frying (vegetable, canola, rapeseed etc…)
  • Coarse ground salt and pepper

Method

Sticky Coconut Rice

1. Rinse the rice, and place in a small pot with the water, coconut milk, water, bay leaves, star anise, cinnamon, ginger and salt.

2. Bring the pot to a simmer, cover with a tightly fitting lid and reduce heat to low.

3. The rice will take approximately 15-20 minutes to fully cook. Check the rice, and shut the heat when the rice is nearly dry. Add the vinegar and mint and fold into the rice. Replace the cover to keep hot until the prawns and veg are ready.

Sautéed Mushrooms and Bok Choy

Get this started once your rice is covered and simmering away (make sure to have a pot set up for frying the prawns as well). If you feel comfortable doing two things at once, you can make this sauté while frying the prawns.

1. Begin by getting a pan or wok hot with a small amount of cooking oil. Once hot add the garlic and chilies and sauté for about 1 minute before moving to the next step.

2. Add the mushrooms to the pan and toss with the garlic, chilies and oil. They will absorb most of the oil, but will release it again after a minute or two cooking. Sauté for about 4-5 minutes, or until the mushrooms start to get a nice golden color as pictured below.

3. Add the bok choy and toss with the mushrooms, chili and garlic for about 1-2 minutes. Finish with the oyster sauce and rice mirin before lowering the heat. (remove the pan from the heat if everything else is not ready yet)

Tempura Prawns (Shrimp)

If you have an appropriate thermometer, try to keep the frying oil at around 375º F (190º C), if not, adjust the heat as needed while cooking the prawns. If you don’t have soda water, feel free to mix the batter with tap water and only add enough that the batter is smooth but still thick. If you’re anything like me, you may want to cook a few extra prawns to snack on while cooking.

1. Prepare the tempura batter until it is smooth, but still thick, stirring in the fresh chives.

2. Dry the prawns with paper towels and season them with salt and pepper. Coat the prawns well with plain flour.

3. Dip the prawns in the tempura batter, allowing any excess batter to drip back into the bowl. Carefully place in the hot oil and repeat with more prawns. Cook in batches so that you don’t crowd the pot and bring down the temperature of the oil too much.

4. Once the prawns are cooked and the coating golden brown, transfer to clean dry paper towels which will absorb the excess oil. While hot, season with a sprinkle of salt and pepper.

Assembling the Dish

Place a mound of sticky rice in the center of a wide bowl and top with the mushrooms and bok choy, making sure to pour the liquid from the pan evenly over the rice in each bowl. Arrange the prawns on top or scattered around the bowl. Serve with chopsticks.