There’s rice pudding and then there’s rice pudding.
Or more precisely, my rice pudding: “my” being yours, mine, or Uncle Bob’s.
Ask just about anyone and you’ll probably get an earful about a “secret” ingredient, or a tale inextricably linked to the memory of their childhood (or perhaps adulthood) rice pudding, be it seeds scraped straight from the vanilla pod or an emotional recounting of their six-year-old self standing by the stove watching mom stir rice and milk into a whirlpool of thick, creamy custard.
I’m no different.
When I first spied Maria Speck’s Purple Rice Pudding with Rose Water and Dates recipe (Ancient Grains for Modern Meals, Ten Speed Press, 2010), I was overwhelmed by the taste memory of bubur pulot hitam (black glutinous rice porridge) swirled with smooth, velvety milk still warm from the first squeeze of freshly-grated coconut flesh. The result: a burgundy bowl of sweet bliss.
Ah, the power of comfort food! Just one whiff or taste (or the mere imagining) is enough to spotlight a singular emotion or event amidst the jumble of memories and thoughts that are churning in our minds day after day, year after year.
Dusty Springfield’s “The Windmills of Your Mind” from the soundtrack of the original “The Thomas Crowne Affair” started playing in my head in stereo.
Like a circle in a spiral
Like a wheel within a wheel
Never ending or beginning,
On an ever spinning wheel
As the images unwind
Like the circles that you find
In the windmills of your mind
I can’t say for certain what it was about Maria’s recipe that triggered my memory. Perhaps it was the Forbidden Rice, an heirloom black rice variety trademarked by Lotus Foods. During Ming Dynasty China, this medium grain rice was reserved for the Emperor to ensure good health and long life. I’m not one to resist the thrill of an illicit ingredient.
Plus, the rice reminded me of black glutinous rice, the grain used to make pulot hitam. Uncooked, black glutinous rice and Chinese black rice are almost identical. After a spell on the stove, black glutinous rice huddles together and transforms into a chewy, almost gummy (but not in a bad way) porridge. Forbidden rice is more toothsome and the individual grains hold their shape better.
Once I started making the dish, I literally started tearing as I doused the chopped dates in the fragrant liquid. The fragrance transported me to my childhood kitchen where on the refrigerator’s topmost shelf always sat a bottle of rose syrup, far out of the reach of prying little hands. As a little girl, ambrosia was defined by one part rose syrup and four parts water served in a tall glass. Alas, this was a drink mainly served to guests. Only once in awhile, my brother and I were given a glass as a special treat.
Rose syrup is not to be mistaken for rose water. Or for that matter, a natural product infused with the essence of rose petals. It was (and probably still is) made with artificial flavoring and coloring, clearly, since just one glassful left my tongue stained a deep crimson.
No matter the source, memory is both a marvelous and precious thing. And just like Dusty sings, “Never ending or beginning, on an ever spinning wheel” our memories are in constant flux. But rest assured the images will always unwind in the “windmills of your mind.”
Purple Rice Pudding with Rose Water Dates
A food writer friend once said that he wouldn’t let chefs test his recipes because they couldn’t follow directions and always wanted to add their own spin. I’m not a chef but I’m guilty as charged. While it is difficult for me to follow a recipe to a ‘T’, I ended up giving this one just a mini makeover. Amidst claims that I am in denial about my lactose intolerance, I used coconut milk instead of half-and-half to nudge it closer to the rice pudding I own kinship with. And in place of the cinnamon stick, I sprinkled ground cardamom as an ode to my favorite kulfi flavor–rose water and cardamom.
Makes: 4 servings
Time: 30 minutes
1 1/4 cups water
1/2 cup Chinese black rice
1/4 cup finely chopped pitted dates (about 6)
2 dates, pitted and cut into thin strips
4 teaspoons rose water, divided
1 1/4 cups coconut milk (slightly less than one 13 oz can)
2 tablespoons palm sugar or brown sugar
Pinch of sea salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom or 2 cardamom pods
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
In a small saucepan, bring the water and rice to a boil. Lower the temperature to maintain a simmer, cover, and cook until the rice is tender yet still slightly chewy, about 30 minutes. Some water will remain (do not drain).
While the rice is cooking, prepare the date topping. Place the chopped dates in a small bowl and drizzle with 2 teaspoons of the rose water. Add the date strips to a different small bowl and drizzle with 1 teaspoon rose water. Stir the dates in both bowls and set aside, stirring once or twice more.
Add the remaining 1 teaspoon rosewater, coconut milk, sugar, salt, cardamom, and vanilla to the rice. Raise the heat slightly until the mixture starts to bubble, stirring several times. Lower the heat to maintain a gentle bubble and cook, uncovered, for 15 more minutes, stirring every few minutes or so. The consistency should be creamy yet soupy — the mixture will thicken as it cools. Remove the saucepan from the heat and remove the cardamom pods if using. Stir in the chopped dates.
Divide the rice pudding among small individual dessert bowls or cups. Garnish with the rose water-infused date strips, and serve warm or at room temperature.
Maria recommends choosing firmer dates such as Deglet Noor that won’t turn to mush in the pudding. To lighten up the pudding, she also suggests using whole milk instead of half-and-half. In the same vein, you can use light coconut milk.
This music-inspired (well kinda) post is part of the Twitter #LetsLunch bunch. Here’s what the rest of the crew is raving about:
Tiger Cakes ~ from Ellise at Cowgirl Chef
Honey Mac Wafers with Coconut ~ from Lisa at Monday Morning Cooking Club
Tommy’s Chili ~ from Felicia at Burnt-out Baker
Banana Bread ~ from Rashda at Hot Curries and Cold Beer
Chicken and Dumplings ~ from Cathy at ShowFood Chef
Quiet munchies for concert-going ~ from Patrick at Patrick G. Lee
Coconut Cake ~ from Steff at The Kitchen Trials
Cuban black beans ~ from Linda at Spicebox Travels
Gluten-free Thin Mints ~ from Linda at Free Range Cookies