The expression “What grows together goes together” is a cliché, but it’s true: In temperate climates, strawberries go with rhubarb; where it’s cold, preserved fish and rye bread are a dynamic duo; and near the equator, coconut gets cooked with rice.
But coconut rice varies from one tropical cuisine to another. The coconut component might be fresh or dried, or it might be canned milk or cream. Some versions are served plain or perhaps with a squeeze of lime; others are embellished with spices, alliums, chiles, tomatoes, meat, fish, or beans. But get this: Even the simple versions made with few ingredients can have surprisingly different flavors and textures. After cooking a handful of recipes from around the globe, I homed in on two styles that I loved for their ability to pair well with a range of dishes—and for the fact that, despite having nearly identical ingredients (rice, canned coconut milk, sugar, and salt), they were as different as could be.