I know nothing about the nutritional qualities of sticky rice. You can probably find out more about that here, but I’ll tell you what I do know.
Comparing Thai with Japanese sticky rice, you'll see the grains are quite different. Thai sticky rice is whiter while the Japanese rice is more opaque. The Japanese version is just a little bit shorter too. Unlike most kinds of rice, Thai sticky rice is not boiled. It’s steamed and truly sticky (which means less clean up after your kids eat!). The grains stick together very well, but when cooked properly, should not stick to your hands. And yes, it’s meant to be shaped into small balls and eaten with your hands. I always chuckle when I go to a Thai restaurant and see people eating sticky rice with a fork. On the flipside, people probably think I have bad manners because I eat it with my hands??
Clockwise from left: Thai sticky rice, Japanese short grain rice, Thai jasmine rice.When buying sticky rice, you'll know you're on the right track if you see the word Thai in the name. It may be called Thai sticky rice, Thai glutinous rice (don’t worry, it doesn’t contain gluten), or Thai sweet rice.
Before you even think of steaming it, the rice needs to be soaked for about 8 hours. Ignore the packaging if it says it only needs to be soaked for 3 hours. What I normally do is get it soaking before I leave for work so all I have to do is steam it when I get home. Just put it in a large bowl, add enough water so that the water level is 2 inches above the rice and leave it on your counter. I never measure it out, but I would guess about ½ to 2/3 cup of uncooked rice per person should be enough. Remember, this kind of rice is quite heavy and you probably won’t eat as much of it as you would basmati rice. (It should be noted that this kind of rice doesn't expand much at all, so what you see after soaking is approximately what you get.)
If you want to try making Thai sticky rice, you’ll need a steamer. Of course, the best steamer is the kind especially made for steaming sticky rice (see picture below). This setup can be found at any Thai-Viet grocer and shouldn’t cost you more than $10. If you can’t find it, you could use a regular Chinese-style bamboo steamer. You’ll need to line it with cheesecloth so the grains don’t fall through. After soaking the rice, drain it, put it in the steaming basket and set the basket over the pot, which should have about 2 inches of water in it. Put a lid on it (any lid will do, as long as it keeps the steam from escaping). Turn the heat to medium. Once the water boils, it shouldn’t take long to steam the rice, maybe 10 to 15 minutes. The rice will turn opaque and lose it whiteness. Halfway through cooking, try “flipping” the rice by removing the lid and taking the steaming basket off the pot then gently shaking the basket up and down until the rice begins to turn. I know this is hard to imagine, but you’ll understand completely once you do this. If you are using a regular bamboo steamer, you may not need to do this because the rice will be more level in the steamer, thus allowing the rice at the top to cook.
To test whether the rice is done, taste it! But be careful because it will be hot. The rice should be tender, but not mushy. Once it's done, take it off the heat and plop it into a bowl and drape it with a kitchen towel. If you want to get the full authentic effect, pick up a sticky rice keeper thing, which can also be found at your Thai-Viet store. I like to line mine with plastic, because I hate cleaning out dried rice from the bottom. Just leave the lid off for a couple of minutes for the steam to escape.
What to eat with Thai sticky rice? Even though this rice is very sticky, it will fall apart if it becomes wet. That means it's good for eating with things that are not saucy. I don’t think I’ve ever eaten sticky rice with a stir-fry because it's not good at soaking up sauces and it's just heavy compared to jasmine or basmati rice. You can eat it with soups and curries, but don’t ladle the sauce on top. Eat the curry or soup with a spoon and pop a rice ball in your mouth. My favorite things to eat with sticky rice are red and green curries, Asian-style omelets with a side of naam prik phao, hot and sour soup, satay, laab, som tom, Thai BBQ chicken, Isaan-style sausages (or just about any other sausage for that matter), over-medium eggs with fish sauce, Thai fish cakes or crispy fried salted fish.
Feel free to leave any questions in the comments. I’m sure I made it all sound far more complicated than it is. But once you do it once, you’ll see how easy it is.