Tales from the Kitchen (Holiday Recipes, part 2)

Today I'm going to talk about rice pudding. I have a long history with this dish. It was one of the first things I learned to cook (the very first being chocolate chip cookies, but that's a story for another day) from a recipe right out of Seventeen Magazine.

I've experimented with various recipes over the years and made it with and without eggs, with and without raisins, with and without cinnamon on top, with brown rice, with white rice, with honey instead of sugar...you name it. My favorite version is Cuban style--very simple, flavored with cardomom. To me it tastes like Christmas. Of course, I also think Hoisin Sauce tastes like Christmas. Why, I don't know.

I first tried this version the year my son was in kindergarten. It was made by the grandmother of the boy who was his best friend that year. Sadly, at the end of the school year, both our families moved away and we lost touch with them. Sure would like to know what they're doing now. Sure would like that recipe.

Of course I've tried to recreate it, but my natural tendency to complicate things gets in the way, leading me to try and add things. Things like crystallized ginger--which is a keeper--and lemon zest, which is decidedly less so.

Although it's not something I grew up with, there's apparently a big precedence in Northern Europe for eating rice pudding as part of a holiday meal. Why this should be the case is a mystery to me. I seriously doubt rice is native to that part of the world and while eating fruit and grains makes perfect sense for midsummer festivals and I totally get the harvest motif for most Autumnal feasts...rice at the Winter Solstice seems decidedly random. But, I digress...

I keep trying for the ultimate rice pudding recipe, complicated by the fact that there's only so much of the stuff you can eat before it all begins to taste like...well, rice pudding. Another complication is that I'm generally the only one doing the sampling as my husband prefers his rice pudding to be store-bought and my kids have long since decided that I can't cook rice. I, of course, disagree, but whatever. This year, I have a new version and here's how it came about...

I've always referred to my son as Starch Boy because, from the time he was first learning to eat solid food, the key to getting him to eat anything was to start with some form of starch and go from there. Cereal, bread, pasta, potatoes, pastry, baked goods and, of course, rice, were his mainstays. He's been an off-and-on vegan for several years and loves anything Asian. Lucky for him, he lives in San Francisco, where Chinese-Japanese-Korean-Vietnamese-Thai-Indian-you name it restaurants are to be found on practically every block. Being as he's part Italian, he learned to cook early.

(For more detailed information regarding my theories involving Italians and cooking, I recommend reading either Scent of the RosesTouch of a Vanished Hand or Dream Under the Hill )

When he was still in middle school he experimented a lot with creating new dishes out of leftovers. His motto was: Welcome to Dillon's Kitchen where we fry everything!

NB: Some food products really should not be fried. I'm just sayin...

So, as I said, this year's version of my traditional-nontraditional holiday rice pudding is a very simple vegan version using leftover rice.

  1. 2 cups leftover white or brown rice
  2. 2 cups rice milk, almond milk or soy nog
  3. 1/2 cup blue agave syrup (sugar or other sweetener may be substituted)
  4. Small pinch salt
  5. 1/2 cup crystallized ginger, chopped
  6. 1 tsp vanilla extract (optional--especially if using nog)
  7. 1/4 tsp ground cardamom
  8.  Dash of nutmeg(also optional...although nutmeg is my go-to spice for almost any dish)
Combine cooked rice, milk/nog, sweetener and salt in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat to a simmer and stir in the vanilla and ginger. Cook until most of the milk is absorbed. Stir in cardamom and nutmeg.
Makes 4-6 servings. May be served either warm or chilled but it's best the next day, after the ginger has fully infused the dish.

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