As a kid growing up in sunny Singapore, I could be forgiven if ice cream was my favourite dessert. But instead I went for a bowl of this warm and sticky purple goo called bubur pulut hitam, which I would describe as a Southeast Asian version of rice pudding made with black glutinous rice, coconut milk and sugar (usually a local variety of palm sugar). I’m no native Malay speaker but can go so far as explain what those three words mean: bubur is Malay for porridge, pulut means glutinous rice and hitam is the colour black, so string them together (and maybe rearrange them a bit) and ta da, you get a black glutinous rice porridge or pudding. A bowl of pulut hitam may not look as pretty as a macaron but the simple flavours meld together so well to produce a very Southeast Asian tasting dessert that I can’t get sick of. The texture is also fabulous, although the rice is soft, the husks remain slightly crunchy.
Bubur pulut hitam is one of my all-time favourite local desserts and best of all, it’s very easy to make. The rice to use for this pudding is called black glutinous rice, but before you think you’ll get an unappetising tar-like mixture, you get a deep burgundy or red wine coloured pudding that emits a comforting and distinct nutty aroma while cooking. It’s really nice, believe me! Because it’s cheap and easy to do, I make it pretty often especially when there’s a group of Southeast Asians in the room like at the steamboat lunch my friend hosted. If you’re a bubur pulut hitam newbie, be careful not to buy red rice which isn’t the same as black glutinous rice.
I always use a type of palm sugar known as gula melaka to sweeten my pulut hitam. Gula melaka is the Malay variety of palm sugar that’s commonly used in making desserts throughout Southeast Asia. Gula melaka is dark brown in colour and is traditionally shaped in column form after setting in a bamboo tube. If you can find it in your local Asian store, use it for a wonderful warm toffee-like flavour in your pudding. Its solid column shape means that you’ll have to chop pieces off, more work than using white sugar for sure but well worth it.
Bubur pulut hitam is easy to make as it is but mine is even simpler, doing away with a few steps in order to make it absolutely foolproof. Other recipes call for toasting the dry black glutinous rice on a frying pan in order to release the flavours, but to be honest, I never do that. Other recipes also call for pandan leaves for yet another dimension of Southeast Asian flavour (it’s like a Southeast Asian equivalent of vanilla essence) but I never use any. Still, the resulting dish is simple and nutty in flavour and I can’t get enough.
- 1 cup black glutinous rice
- 6 cups water
- 1/3 to 1/2 cup sugar (I used gula melaka)
- a dash of coconut milk, to taste
- 2 pandan leaves (optional)
1. [Optional step] Toast rice on a dry frying pan until they are fragrant and start jumping about on the pan. (I skip this step but other bloggers like Billy from A Table for Two do it.)
2. Rinse rice then add rice and water to a pot and boil on low heat until the rice is soft and the burgundy mixture thickens. This will take about 2 hours. As the water boils and thickens, stir more and more often to prevent burning. If you choose to use the optional pandan leaves, tie the leaves into a knot and add them to the pot at this step.
3. Once the rice is soft, stir in the sugar. (1/2 cup of sugar is plenty sweet so I suggest starting at 1/4 cup and then adding more to taste. After all, you can add to the pot but not remove.)
4. Serve hot with a dash of coconut milk or coconut cream to taste.