With the bone-chillingly damp cold weather setting in, I’ve had an urge lately for both “Indian Pudding” and stovetop rice pudding. Since I don’t really need lots of sweet, starchy pudding, I got the idea of combining the two.
Before I moved to the UK, I’d never made anything but the baked custard type of rice pudding, usually as a way of using up leftover rice. That’s still what I think of as rice pudding, but the simmered kind is both satisfying and easy to make.
What I did last night was to use flavors I associate with “Indian Pudding” in the rice, and it worked well. Maple syrup is the main sweetener, which also gives lots of extra flavor for the amount of sweetness. Maple syrup and some honey* used to be the only sweeteners available back home, and figured in a lot of dishes. (Along with at least one rather amusing story, in which a mythological character fills up the trees with water so that people won’t just lazily lie around under the trees and let syrup drip into their mouths. *g*) Usually when people think of maple syrup, they think of Canada or maybe Vermont, but sugar maples (among other colder-climate things) grow well all down the Appalachian chain, and back in Virginia, I preferred to buy locally-made syrup and sugar when I could find it. Here, I can find good Canadian syrup more cheaply than back in the US, so that’s what I’m using.
Fake maple-flavored syrup is an abomination, and I don’t say that about many foods! I don’t even consider that to qualify as food. Please don’t pour it into your pudding.
The other main flavor note: ginger. This is also a long-time classic seasoning, with wild ginger (Asarum canadense) growing all over the place back home. (It’s a lot quicker and easier to buy the Asian kind than to go and grub it up, though! Not that many people do anymore.) I was going to use some crystallized ginger in this, but couldn’t find the bag I thought we had, so ended up finely mincing some fresh stuff and supplementing it with dried powder when it wasn’t gingery enough. Cinnamon is a particularly yummy introduced spice, but there is also wild similar-to-allspice back home.
I’d imagine that the “Indian Pudding” started out as a cluster of sweetened and spiced kanuchi-type dishes, sort of like strawberry shortcake with its original corn base and hickory nut “cream”. People were definitely sweetening mush with maple syrup. I’ve yet to try anything like this made with a rich nut milk, but it sounds delicious!
A note on suitable rice: Pretty much like the recent “risotto”, any kind of shorter-grain rice should work fine here, including the inexpensive Mexican medium-grain rice readily available in the US (which, not surprisingly, looks suspiciously like Spanish paella rice). Japanese/Korean rice also works well. Here in the UK, they sell bags of “pudding rice” labelled as such (which is also good for “risotto” or sushi), but I used some Arborio we had on hand.
For the lactose intolerant: Simmering the milk may or may not help break down the lactose, but it does seem to help make it more digestible for both Mr. Sweden (who can handle smaller quantities than I can!) and me. I still try not to eat more than about a cup of something like this at a time. YMMV; if you can’t tolerate much lactose, you may want to try using homemade or commercial nut milk or coconut milk (yum!) instead. Soy milk just tastes wrong to me in cooked desserts, in a bitter and unpleasantly beany way.
“Indian” Rice Pudding with maple, ginger, and sour cream
- 4 c. (1L) milk, preferably whole milk — I started out with 3 c., but needed to add more
- 1/2 c. (100mL) maple syrup — I tried using half that, but it needed more for flavor
- Dash of salt
- 1 tbsp. finely minced ginger plus a little dried — you could just use about 1/2 – 1 tsp. dried, but the little texture contrast with a ginger burst is interesting
- 3/4 c. (180mL) rice
- Dash of cinnamon
- 1/8 tsp. ground allspice
- 1/2 c. (100mL) sour cream
- Extra sweetener, to taste — I put in another tbsp. of granulated Splenda
Combine the milk, maple syrup, seasonings, and rice in a heavy pan. (The sour cream and extra sweetener if needed doesn’t go in until the end.) Carefully bring it to just below a boil so the milk doesn’t curdle, and gently simmer it over the coolest burner you have, stirring every few minutes.
A heat-diffusing tile might be handy; I wished I’d gone ahead and bought one, dealing with our newish stove which has higher gas flow than the previous one, even on the simmering burner! With an electric stove, you might want to use a double boiler.
It will need more attention and more frequent stirring after 10-15 minutes, when the rice starch really starts thickening the milk. Simmer it until the rice is cooked through to your taste, which took me a little longer than the usual rice-cooking time with the lower heat and stirring.
If it starts looking too thick, add more milk. It will thicken and set up more as it cools, and I prefer more creamy pudding base instead of just a big glob of sweet rice.
When it’s done, take it off the heat and stir in the sour cream for extra richness, and taste it for sweetness. It will also taste less sweet after it cools down. Sprinkle the top with more cinnamon and allspice, and enjoy it either warm or cool! I also drizzled a little more maple syrup on top of mine.
Next time I might also add some chopped-up dried apricots when I take it off the heat. We didn’t have any last night. If you don’t mind the texture contrast, I bet some chopped pecans or walnuts would also work really well on top.
* The official story is that honey came with introduced European honeybees, but I know there are also hiving “black bees” which produce (less) honey and don’t look much like European honeybees. (With all the bee species out there, I haven’t figured out which they might be.) They are enough more aggressive that I only know of one beekeeping acquaintance who hunts down the wild honey from them because the flavor is so good, but he doesn’t even try to keep hives of them! There are also a number of old stories involving honey trees, so overall I would take the “no honey” thing with several grains of salt.