Thursday, February 05, 2009

Rice Pudding as I Like it

My least favorite amongst dairy desserts is rice pudding, but this version I found in Kate Zuckerman's The Sweet Life is an acception to the rule. It is still a rice pudding, but Kate Zuckerman's technique sets it apart from the traditional rice pudding as we know it. She first cooks the rice in coconut milk, and then mixes it with a rich custard base flavored with cardamom. Another flavor combination she suggests is lemon verbena and tangerine. For that, you can use 2 tablespoons of dried lemon verbena tea and the zest of a tangerine for the custard (instead of the cardamom and vanilla), and strain it before you mix it with the cooked rice.

We served the puddings after an Indian inspired dinner with friends. I embellished them with slivered pistachios and Turkish rose jam; a decidedly Persian touch, as the complexity of the flavor of the pudding reminded me of some Persian poetry I love. It seems that good food speaks to my soul as much as good poetry. This was definitely one of the best dairy desserts I had.

For the Rice:
  • 1/2 cup plus 2 tbs basmati rice
  • 1/4 c sugar
  • 1 can (13 1/2 oz) coconut milk
  • 1 c milk
  • pinch of salt
For the Custard:
  • 16 cardamom pods
  • 1/2 c plus 2 tbs sugar
  • 1 c whole milk
  • 2 c heavy cream
  • 5 egg yolks
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
Preheat the oven to 325 F. First rinse the rice, then place it in an ovenproof pan with 2 cups of water. As soon as it comes to a boil, take it off the heat and strain immediately. Discard the starchy water. Put the rice back in the pan; add the milk, coconut milk, sugar and salt. Bring to a second boil, cover the pan and put it in the oven for 30 minutes or so, until the rice absorbs all the liquid. You can add an extra 5 to 10 minutes if there is still unabsorbed milk in the pan.

For the custard base, crush the cardamom pods. Combine them in a saucepan with sugar, milk and cream. Bring the mixture to a simmer and turn off the heat. Let the cardamom seeds steep for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, combine the egg yolks, egg and 2 tbs sugar and whisk for a minute. Ladle some of the hot cardamom flavored cream into the egg mixture, then slowly pour the warmed and diluted egg mixture into the hot cream, taking care to whisk as you pour.

Cook the custard on medium heat, stirring continuously, until it thickens enough to coat the back of a spoon. Take it off the heat and strain to get rid of the cardamom pods and seeds. Combine the custard with the cooked basmati rice. Mix gently until the mixture is thoroughly combined. Add the vanilla extract and let cool before you serve it.