Freshly steamed Kao Thaom

A Laotian Recipe To Fortify Us for the Yom Kippur Fast

For this Laotian Jew, a rice recipe from his Buddhist childhood sustains him through Yom Kippur.

I have a special treat that I make to fortify me for Yom Kippur. It blends my Laotian Buddhist background with my contemporary Jewish practice. In Buddhism, fast days are set according to the lunar cycle and there are many of them through the year. In order to have energy to sustain oneself through the fast, it is traditional to eat Kao Thaom (pronounced Cow Tom) before the fast and as a break-fast snack.

Kao Thaom literally means boiled rice. This dish is traditionally made during the Lao holidays and given as offerings at the temple or eaten before and after fasting. During October, the monks are meant to be studying and are limited to one meal a day and Kao Thaom helps them keep their focus and intention. In the city where I grew up, Luang Prabang, people greet the monks in the street and give them alms or gifts of rice to make Kao Thaom.

Today, I am Jewish and work at the Free Synagogue of Flushing in New York City where I live. But I still make Kao Thaom before the Yom Kippur fast. Not only is it delicious and nutritious but it also keeps the hunger away and allows me to focus on prayer and repentance.


Loatian Kao Thaom

NOTE: Unless using pre-made Thai sticky rice the rice for this recipe will need to soak overnight.


1 – 8 oz can of coconut milk

3 cups Asian sticky rice

1/3 of a cup honey or sugar — if you like it sweeter please add more.

1 can red beans — if using dried beans, soak overnight and parboil.

5 ripe bananas cut into quarters lengthwise — you can omit if you don’t want to use.

Banana leaf for wrapping — parchment paper can be used as a substitute.


Day before: Soak rice in a large amount of water overnight.

When ready to prepare Kao Thaom, drain rice, then steam in a bamboo rice cooker for about 20 minutes. If you don’t have a bamboo steamer you can use a colander placed in a large pot with water in the bottom. One can skip this process using precooked sticky rice from a Thai restaurant.

Remove rice from the steamer. It should still be a little hard. Place in pot.

Add coconut milk to rice and heat on medium. Cook for 15 minutes.

Turn heat to medium-low and add beans. Mix until incorporated.

Turn off heat and add honey or sugar. More can be added if you would like it sweeter.

Let mixture cool.

Place a small amount of mixture (about ⅓ of a cup) in the center of a banana leaf or piece of parchment. Place slice of banana on top of the mixture and wrap tightly.  

Place wrapped packages in steamer and steam for 20-25 minutes.

Do not place packages on top of each other. Leave room to let steam circulate. If not using a multi-layered steamer you will need to steam packages in bunches.

Let packages cool and unwrap. Enjoy.

Note: Kao Thaom can be frozen or vacuum sealed for future use.


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