When I woke up this morning, all I could hear was the tapping of rain against my window. I pulled down my blinds to see soggy grey clouds and umbrellas shuffling down the street; it made me immediately fall back into bed and pull the sheets over my head. Cold was already kissing at my cheeks. Schoolwork was already causing a tension headache. It felt like nothing could drag me out of bed. And then it donned on me, the comfiest of southern comforts that could revive even the most weather-worn northerners trapped in the south: RICE PUDDING.
The first time I can recall having rice pudding was about nine years ago. I was in North Carolina for a film festival, and one morning, there was a panel with a buffet trimmed in all the southern standards. I had just gone vegetarian a few months before, so the pickings were slim: drippy bacon over here, messy biscuits'n'gravy over there, home fries flecked with putrid pink ham. What was a vegetarian to do? But there, hidden in the corner, were these fluffy, fragrant dishes of gelatinous rice cozied with juicy little raisins that just called to me. Within one bite, I was hooked. My mouth reveled in the harmonies of flavors and textures, hints of cinnamon and cardamom mixed in a sweet cream delicately punctuated with rice grains. Oh, this was southern comfort, at its finest.
Suffice it to say, southern comfort is what makes me feel better about life down south, so rice pudding was definitely in order today. The best part about rice pudding is, it's extraordinarily easy to make. Even better, it's soooo adaptable. I make mine with brown rice and unsweetened soymilk so it's just as much about nutrition as it is about taste - and suitable for breakfast or dessert. I also make it without sugar. This recipe is single-serving because I've been super into single-serving dishes lately; they mean I don't have to worry about mindlessly snacking on leftovers, but more importantly, I can vary the recipe if I want to make it again. Thus, I offer a short list of variations afterward that I encourage you to experiment with. Get bold and come up with your own flavor combinations. (Then come back and tell me about them...)
SINGLE-SERVING VEGAN RICE PUDDING (REGULAR & SUGAR-FREE OPTION)
+ 1/2 c water
+ 1/4 c rice*
+ 1/4 c non-dairy milk
+ 1/2 t cornstarch
+ 1 packet Purevia**
+ 1/2 t vanilla
* I recommend short-grain brown rice. While more toothsome than its white counterpart, it has more starch than long-grain, making it more fluffy and sticky while still maintaining the health benefits of brown rice.
** I happened to have some packets lying around from a restaurant and didn't want to futz with figuring how much Stevia. If you want to use good ol' fashioned sugar - or sucanat or agave or maple syrup or whatever - 2 T should be about right.
01. In a pot on high heat, bring the water to a boil. Add the rice, cover, reduce the heat, and let simmer for about fifteen minutes. After fifteen minutes, there should still be a little bit of water but not much - at least, this is the case with brown rice.
02. Whisk together the soymilk and cornstarch before adding them to the pot of rice. Then add your sweetener and vanilla, raise the heat to about medium, and stir constantly as it comes to its second boil. Reduce the heat and return the lid, keeping a watchful eye and stirring occasionally to prevent any burning or clumping.
03. When your pudding looks ever-so-slightly thinner than your "ideal" pudding texture, pull it from the stove and switch it to the fridge. (It will thicken as it cools.) Be sure to use a wire shelf/remember to put a pot holder beneath your pot! If you want to enjoy your pudding warm, it only needs to sit in the fridge for maybe three minutes. Otherwise, give it at least an hour before savoring most serenely.
coconut rice pudding: substitute coconut milk for your usual "milk." Sprinkle with cinnamon and serve with sliced bananas.
chocolate rice pudding: when adding the milk and cornstarch, throw in a tablespoon of cocoa powder, too. For a richer chocolate experience, add 1/4 - 1/2 t almond extract, and for REALLY decadent rice pudding, toss in 1 - 2 T chocolate chips. To make it seasonal, try peppermint extract instead of almond.
berry rice pudding: in the last five for ten minutes, toss in a handful of your favorite frozen berries and maybe 1/2 t lemon juice. Give 'em a gentle stir, and let their flavors BURST onto every rice grain. This would be an excellent way to start the day.
chai rice pudding: add 1/2 t cinnamon, 1/4 t cardamom, and a splash of ginger, clove, pepper, and nutmeg when adding the milk. You might also try mixing chai concentrate with the milk before adding it or cooking the rice in brewed chai tea instead of water.
pumpkin rice pudding: mix together 1/8 c pumpkin puree with 1/8 c soymilk and omit the cornstarch. Use brown sugar as a sweetener and add 1/2 - 1 t pumpkin pie spice. Perhaps substitute (or add!) almond extract for vanilla.
Indian rice pudding: use basmati or jasmine rice, and substitute the coconut milk for your usual "milk." Add a handful of raisins in the last five or ten minutes of cooking, and serve with a dash of cardamom, a squeeze of agave, and chopped pistachios.
lemon rice pudding: add the finely ground zest of one lemon along with the water when cooking the rice. When adding the milk, add 1 - 2 tsp rum/rum extract. To make it a little fruitier, add dried cranberries in the last five or ten minutes of cooking, or serve with fresh raspberries or strawberries.
Italian rice pudding: use arborio rice, and add a splash of amaretto with the milk (or almond extract and a half t sugar). Then throw in chopped or finely ground hazelnuts (about a handful) five minutes before serving. Enjoy lightly dusted with cocoa and cinnamon with a soy latte on the side.
How do you make your rice pudding?