I've come to believe that, whether you're 4 or 44, when you're not feeling well,
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Mine travels for work about as often as I get sick. Though as fate would have it, a week ago today, she hopped a plane in the morning, settling into her hotel room; at about the same time my husband was checking me into the ER that evening. A few days later .. when I was both hungry .. and able to keep something down, the only thing I craved?
Her rice pudding
No need for alarm. “Loves, will you please stop by the co-op and pick some up before you come to visit?” They were out(!) For days
How about the cafeteria? Tapioca, chocolate? Nope, no rice
The cool thing about this humble comfort food in a bowl? This simple pudding that evokes the warmest feelings of nostalgia? While it uses the most basic of ingredients (milk, rice, and sugar), there are as many versions as there are Mothers who stir it up; rarely are any two alike
Over the years, she's sent me her recipe. I've given it several tries; mine never turns out quite the same. She would say, “no,” I would say “yes” to the fact that there's something truly magical about her technique.
Would it be possible to find my own way? A process that would work for me, with an end result as good as hers? A reliable back-up for the moments in life, when only comfort food would do?
The night I came home from the hospital, after a long shower (which felt like heaven!), I put on my favorite pajamas, climbed into bed, and Googled “Rice Pudding Recipes”
A few fun facts from history: In Flemish and Dutch folklore, heaven is a place where you eat rice pudding every day with a golden spoon.
Looking back to Roman times, it was considered to be medicine, a cure for upset tummies. It's said that Buddha's final meal before his enlightenment was a large bowl of rice pudding prepared for him by a beautiful girl named Sujata
Interestingly enough rice pudding varies widely, depending on one's country and culture. A few examples? Many types of sweetened milk can form the base (ex: goat, cow, sheep, reindeer), spices (ex: nutmeg, mace, and cinnamon), and additional flavorings (ex: rose-water, vanilla, orange, and lemon peel)
There are variations on texture and cooking methods: stove-top vs. oven. Stove-top, it seems, produces a much creamier texture; as opposed to those that are baked, which tend to be firmer. In some cases, eggs are included to thicken the pudding, anywhere from a whole egg, to just the yolks.
Beyond oven vs. stove-top, other techniques for cooking the rice varied as well. Some recipes called for parboiling, others added it dry, along with the rest of the ingredients.
Of course, there were the fundamental questions around which rice to use: long or short grain white rice, basmati, or jasmine. The difference? It seems long and medium grains produce puddings that are slightly drier and chewier than those made with short grain
Who knew this was all such a science?
After a few hours of being lost in recipes and articles, I was able to really think about, and clarify the qualities that make hers special
It's a homey and soft rice pudding, gently sweet and plain, in the nicest sort of way. Instead of sugar or fancy flavorings, it tastes like sweet cooked milk and pure vanilla. It's loose, not soupy, cohesive, and not gloppy. Absolutely delicious, whether eaten lukewarm or cold.
The texture is perfect as is, although sometimes I'll stir in an extra half cup or so of milk, to loosen it just a bit. Though I'm a rice pudding purest, she has taught me to love raisins in mine. (If one want to get fancy, soak them in brandy. If not water will do just fine)
Depending on the recipe, they'll include whole milk, cream, half-and-half, or any combination of the three. After experimenting, discovering that I much preferred those made with milk, which reduced and sweetened the pudding as it cooked. I did substitute about a third of the milk with coconut milk, which seemed a happy medium. Anything richer didn't seem to fit the spirit.
ps: Read more about the history of rice pudding .. here
~ Adapted from Cook's Country
Cinnamon-Raisin Coconut Rice Pudding
- 3 ¾ cups whole milk + ½ cup for serving
- 1 ¾ coconut milk, canned
- ½ cup natural sugar
- ¾ tsp fine-grain sea salt
- 1 cinnamon stick
- ½ cup raisins
- ½ cup water (or brandy or whiskey)
- ½ cup long-grain white rice
- 1 Tbsp vanilla
- Combine raisins and water in a bowl, let sit until softened.
- Meanwhile, combine milk, coconut milk, coconut sugar, and sea salt, and cinnamon stick salt in large saucepan and bring to a low boil over medium-high heat, stirring frequently
- Stir in rice and reduce heat to low. Cook, keeping an eye on and adjusting the heat in order to maintain a gentle simmer.
- Stir occasionally to prevent scorching, until rice is soft and the pudding has thickened to the consistency of yogurt, 50 to 70 minutes.
- Stir in vanilla. Discard Cinnamon stick
- Transfer pudding to a large bowl, stir in raisins, and let cool completely about 2 hours, or let cool and refrigerate until cold, about 2 hours longer.
- Just before serving, stir in remaining ½ cup milk.
- Top with a pinch of cinnamon, or nutmeg