Giving Thanks with Cultural Cuisine: Sticky Rice

In a special pre-Thanksgiving special, hear recipes from diverse cultural traditions. Lynne Char Bennett of the San Francisco Chronicle infuses her holiday stuffing with flavors of her Chinese-American heritage.

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CHERYL CORLEY, host:

I'm Cheryl Corley, in for Michel Martin. This is TELL ME MORE from NPR News.

Coming up on our Wisdom Watch, a conversation with poet and publisher Haki Madhubuti. But first, we kicked off our Thanksgiving fusion meal with a Cajun spiced, deep-fried turkey. But sometimes it's what's inside the bird that makes it special.

Contributor Lynne Char Bennett infuses her stuffing recipe with the flavors of her Chinese-American identity.

Ms. LYNNE CHAR BENNETT (Staff Writer, San Francisco Chronicle): Growing up in Oklahoma as a third-generation Chinese-American was often challenging to my brother, sister and me. We tried to be like our classmates, eating pizza, burgers and soft-served ice cream cones for lunch from the local Dairy Queen. But we always appreciated our heritage in sitting down at the dinner table, especially at Thanksgiving.

My father, who is a chef at our family's restaurant, always served traditional Thanksgiving dishes: roast turkey, bread stuffing, gravy, green beans, cranberry sauce and roasted sweet potatoes. In addition, there was also roast duck, both white and fried rice, stir-fried vegetables and steamed dumplings for the older generations of our family and the many non-Asian friends who joined our table and shared our meal.

Making a Chinese-style, rice-based stuffing for Thanksgiving is one thing my father didn't do, but something I now incorporate into my own holiday menu. Using either a sweet glutinous rice or Jasmine rice as a base, I add minced garlic, roasted chestnuts, shiitake mushrooms, dices of ham or Chinese sausage, and occasionally, I throw in a small handful of dried shrimp. Special flavorings to the rice include turkey broth, soy sauce, oyster sauce and a touch of toasted sesame seed oil. The rice is cooked, before stuffing it into the turkey. Because the amount stuffing in the holiday bird is never enough, I serve a separate bowlful on the side.

What a delicious way to honor my heritage and my family's holiday table.

CORLEY: Lynne Char Bennett is a staff writer for the San Francisco Chronicle and author of the syndicated weekly column Pairings, which matches recipes with recommended wines.

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Recipe: Chinese-Style Sticky Rice "Stuffing"

By Lynne Char Bennett

This moist, dense "stuffing" — traditionally wrapped in lotus or bamboo leaves — contains plenty of ingredients, which can be increased or decreased to taste.

INGREDIENTS:

2 cups glutinous rice (also called "sweet" rice)

2-3 tablespoons vegetable oil

4-5 teaspoons minced garlic

1 cup diced ham or Chinese sausage

6-8 medium-sized dried shiitakes, rehydrated and minced with stems removed

2 tablespoons small dried shrimp (optional)

1/4 cup dry white wine

2 3/4 - 3 cups light turkey or chicken stock or broth

2 tablespoons oyster sauce

1 tablespoon soy sauce

1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil

Kosher salt and pepper to taste

1 cup chopped roasted chestnuts (See note)

Thinly sliced green onion (optional garnish)

INSTRUCTIONS:

Heat a large pot with tight-fitting lid over medium heat. Add 1 tablespoon vegetable oil as needed to lightly coat pot's surface and quickly sauté the garlic until aromatic but not browned. Add diced ham or sausage (if using the sausage, first cook separately to render the fat) then the rice, minced shiitakes, and dried shrimp if using, plus 1-2 tablespoons more oil as needed. Briefly stir-fry a minute or two (risotto-style) before adding the wine; cook until the wine is absorbed before adding the 2 3/4 cup of stock (start with the lesser amount then add more at the end if needed), oyster sauce, soy sauce, toasted sesame seed oil and salt and pepper to taste. Bring to a boil, stir in the chopped chestnuts, cover and reduce heat to low. Steam for 20 minutes until fully cooked; remove pot from the heat and allow to sit- covered – for at least 5 minutes. Remove cover and quickly stir. If rice seems too dry, add some of the very hot stock, recover the pot and allow to sit another 10 minutes.

The rice stuffing can be made ahead but should be reheated before stuffing it into the turkey. Make sure the stuffing reaches 165 degrees, which should be the final internal temperature of the turkey. Before serving, garnish stuffing with sliced green onion if desired.

Note: Glutinous rice, Chinese sausage, dried shrimp can be found in Asian markets. Possible sources for ready-to-use chestnuts include Asian stores (in pre-packaged in foil bags) and specialty culinary stores (canned or jarred). Yields a generous 8 cups.

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