One of the nicest things you can do for a loved one is cook for him or her. Something sweet is best. And my candidate? Comforting, traditional rice pudding.
Or maybe not so traditional. Classic rice puddings are made from plain white rice. The grains are very tender, the flavor is kind of bland and the color is white. In my recipe, which is made using black forbidden rice, the grains are slightly chewy, the flavor is slightly nutty and the color is deep purple.
Once upon a time forbidden rice was said to be literally forbidden. First cultivated in China, forbidden rice was so rare – and so nutritious – no one was allowed to eat it except for the emperor. Today, forbidden rice is considered a delicious and healthy whole grain we can all enjoy.
Like brown rice, forbidden rice is unpolished; the hull of the grain, a rich source of insoluble fiber, is left intact. It’s also a good source of iron and vitamin E, and a great source of the same antioxidants that put the blue in blueberries. I was first introduced to forbidden rice six years ago, when it was still rare. Thankfully, these days it’s readily available at most grocers.
In this recipe, the rice is cooked until tender, then combined with whole milk, sugar, cinnamon, eggs and vanilla. The whole milk – replacing the more traditional (and more caloric) heavy cream – does a great job of delivering the desired silkiness. The cinnamon stick and vanilla – which deliver big flavor – are the most important ingredients next to the rice. If you’ve been waiting for an occasion to use that extra-special Sri Lankan cinnamon or Tahitian vanilla you received as Christmas gifts, now’s the time to pull them off the shelf.
Making this recipe is pretty near a snap. It shouldn’t require more than 15 minutes of your undivided attention. The rest of the time it’ll just simmer away on its own. Unlike brown rice, forbidden rice cooks up in a relatively speedy 30 minutes. You will, however, need to pay close attention when you add the eggs, making sure they don’t get so hot that they scramble.
Finally, I’d like to encourage you to top it all off with some crystallized ginger, as suggested. It was one of my mom’s favorite little treats and it provides the perfect finishing touch of chewy, spicy contrast to the creamy pudding.
FORBIDDEN RICE PUDDING
Start to finish: 3 hours 25 minutes (15 minutes active)
1/2 cup forbidden rice (Chinese black rice)
1 cup water
21/2 cups whole milk, divided
3 tablespoons sugar
1 large cinnamon stick
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 cup chopped crystallized ginger, to garnish (optional)
In a small saucepan over medium-high, combine the rice and water. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer. Cook, covered, for 30 minutes. Let stand for a few minutes, then pour through a mesh strainer to discard any excess water. Return the rice to the pot over medium-high heat. Add 2 cups of the milk, the sugar, the cinnamon stick and a hefty pinch of salt. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to simmer and cook, uncovered and stirring occasionally, for 40 minutes.
In a small bowl, beat the eggs with the remaining 1/2 cup milk. Whisk in a large spoonful of the hot rice mixture. Add the egg mixture to the rice and cook over medium-low heat, stirring constantly, until the custard coats the back of a spoon, 4 to 5 minutes. Do not let the rice pudding boil or the eggs will scramble.
Remove the saucepan from the heat, stir in the vanilla and transfer the rice pudding to a bowl. Cover the pudding and chill until cold, at least 2 hours. The pudding will thicken as it chills. To serve, discard the cinnamon stick and divide the rice pudding among 4 bowls. Top each portion with some of the ginger.
Sara Moulton was executive chef at Gourmet magazine for nearly 25 years, and spent a decade hosting several Food Network shows. She currently stars in public television’s “Sara’s Weeknight Meals” and has written three cookbooks, including “Sara Moulton’s Everyday Family Dinners.”