Tuesday, July 31, 2012


I just can’t care about rice. I mean, whatever, I respect its right to exist, I recognize that it’s a vital and versatile component of many cuisines, it’s fine when it appears on my plate, it adds substance to a meal, food sits on top of it, it makes a nice vehicle for sauce, it doesn’t taste like much, blah blah yawn. I don’t seek it out, is what I’m saying. I don’t specifically order it in restaurants and I don’t cook it at home. I used to think I felt the same way about rice pudding. I mean, rice pudding is definitely preferable to plain rice, but if you gave me a choice between rice pudding and regular old nonrice pudding, I’d pick normal pudding every time.

But then my friends came to visit and cooked me an unbelievably delicious fish curry. There was leftover rice. I thought I’d be thrifty and make it into pudding. I added coconut milk, vanilla, and cardamom. I fell head over heels in love. And now I’m screwed because I don’t have a regular supply of leftover rice. Either I’m going to have to start making rice, or I’m going to have to find myself a similar rice pudding recipe that starts with uncooked rice. Oh, the injustice!

The recipe I found via Food Blog Search, from Vanilla Garlic, called for 1½ cups of cooked rice, but I had 2 cups, so I used it all and increased the liquid contents slightly, probably not in very scientific proportions. The recipe said to use 2% or whole milk, but I used 1% mixed with the dregs of a carton of heavy cream I’d been wanting to use up. In the future, if I don’t have cream already on hand, I’ll probably just try making it with 1%, because I hate buying multiple kinds of milk. I don’t think it would cause any major texture issues; you might just have to cook the pudding a bit longer to get it to thicken. I also used light coconut milk. I didn’t have any vanilla beans, so I used extract, and I added the cardamom because I adore it, and because I wanted to emulate Indian-restaurant kheer, which is the most enjoyable form of rice pudding I’ve experienced. I wasn’t quite sure about the cooking time, because the original recipe said to just “simmer over medium-low heat for 40 minutes.” I suspected this might mean to bring it to a boil at a higher heat, then reduce the heat to a simmer and cook for 40 minutes, but I decided to take it literally, start the burner at medium-low, set the pot on it, and set the timer for 40 minutes. It took nearly half an hour just to start simmering, and at least another half-hour to reduce to a pudding-like consistency. No problem if you’ve got the time to babysit it, but if you want to speed things along I suspect it would be better to get the simmer started at a higher temperature, then turn it down.

I was so concerned about my pudding being overly soupy that I cooked it down more than I’d planned, forgetting that it would thicken a bit more once I took it off the heat. I ended up loving the texture, though—velvety, but with a satisfying chew. Because the leftover rice I’d used was broken rice, the pieces ended up quite small, reminiscent of tapioca. Even though I’m not sure whether anything bad could happen when you mix coconut milk, sugar, vanilla, and cardamom, I was still blown away by how delicious it was, especially since I’d improvised/fudged so much of the recipe along the way. Since the rice is already cooked, I don’t really think you can really mess this up too much short of burning it—just add the amount of sugar that tastes good to you and a reasonable amount of liquid, and cook it until it resembles pudding. The result is cold, creamy, not too sweet, and very refreshing as a summer dessert. And apparently, it’s made me a rice pudding convert.

2 cups cold cooked rice
1 14-ounce can coconut milk (I used light)
3 cups milk
½ cup sugar
1 pinch salt
1 vanilla bean, insides scraped out, or 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
¼–½ teaspoon ground cardamom

1. In a medium saucepan, combine the rice, coconut milk, milk, sugar, and salt. If you’re using a vanilla bean, add the seeds and the scraped-out pod.

2. Simmer over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until thickened, at least 40 minutes, then remove from heat. If using vanilla bean, remove the pod; if using extract, stir it in. Stir in the cardamom.

3. Divide into individual servings (ramekins, small bowls, teacups, whatever), cover, and chill.

Serves: 6
Time: 1 to 1½ hours
Leftover potential: Great; will keep in sealed containers in the fridge for days.

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