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What makes rice pudding the ultimate comfort food

Today is a good opportunity to enjoy comfort foods Most of us, I suspect, will be glued to our TVs or streaming devices, watching one of our most enduring rituals. a presidential inauguration. What will we be eating and drinking?

Were it not for COVID-19, I’d be inviting friends and neighbors over, starting at 6 a.m., for a voluptuous breakfast with New Orleans coffee, mimosas and lots of good things, both sweet and savory, as I have done for a few previous inaugurations.

Alas, the virus is in charge this year, and I will be watching solo, with my two little dachshunds. Even so, I will pop a cork, raise a glass and enjoy a scrumptious breakfast. I hope you will, too.

Today’s recipes focus on rice pudding, which I have been exploring because a dear friend needs to gain weight following a health scare. Rice puddings are a lovely indulgence now and then, and we needn’t worry about enjoying them occasionally. Eaten daily for a few weeks, though, they will definitely put some extra meat on your bones.

Most of the rice puddings I have encountered in my life have been made with leftover rice, but if you don’t have any on hand, you’ll need to cook some first. In this recipe, I ask that you break the eggs one at a time into a small dish; the reason for doing this is in case one has gone bad. This instruction was standard in nearly all cookbooks until a couple of decades ago, when it was mysteriously dropped.

Creamy Rice Pudding

Makes 6 to 8

⅔ cup short-grain white rice, such as Vialone Nano or Carnaroli (or 2 cups cooked rice)

Pinch of salt

3 or 4 eggs

1⅓ cups half-and-half or whole milk

6 tablespoons sugar

1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon butter, at room temperature

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Grated zest of 1 small lemon

2 teaspoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

⅓ cup golden raisins, black raisins, dried cranberries or diced dried apricots

1 sugar cookie or ginger cookie, crumbled

Put the rice into a small saucepan, add the pinch of salt and 1⅓ cups of water and set over high heat. When the water boils, reduce the heat to low, cover the pan and simmer gently for 15 minutes. Remove from the heat and keep covered for 15 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.

Meanwhile, break the eggs, one at a time, into a small bowl and tip it into a large mixing bowl. Beat with a whisk or a handheld electric mixer until smooth. Add the half-and-half or milk, tablespoon of butter, vanilla, lemon zest and lemon juice and beat or mix until very smooth.

Tip in the rice and stir well, being sure to break up any clumps. Fold in the raisins and set aside briefly.

Use the remaining teaspoon of butter to coat the inside of an ovenproof dish, such as a porcelain soufflé dish or an Egyptian bram. Sprinkle the crumbled cookie over the butter.

Pour the pudding mixture into the dish and set on the middle rack of the oven. Bake until the pudding is set and the top has a thin golden brown crust, about 50 to 60 minutes, depending on the type of baking dish.

Remove from the oven and enjoy hot, at room temperature or chilled.

Not that long ago, it was hard to find black rice, which has long been known, especially in Asia, as forbidden rice because it was reserved for royalty. Now you can find it in most supermarkets. It’s even grown in California by the Lundberg family, whose organic rice lines the shelves of most local supermarkets. It is a good idea to check cooking instructions that come with whatever black rice you buy, as there are many varieties.

Black Rice Pudding with Coconut Milk and Ginger

Makes 6 to 8 servings

1 cup black rice, soaked in water overnight, drained and cooked until tender (see Note below)

Pinch of salt

3 eggs

1 tablespoons freshly grated ginger

Black pepper in a mill

⅓ cup sugar, maple syrup or coconut cream, plus more to taste

2 14-ounce cans coconut milk

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 teaspoon butter

½ cup shaved dried coconut, lightly toasted

Fresh sliced mango (optional)

Cook the rice if you have not already done so.

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.

Meanwhile, break the eggs, one at a time, into a small dish and tip each one into a large mixing bowl. Use a whisk to mix until smooth and creamy. Add the ginger, several generous turns of black pepper, the sweetener, the coconut milk, 1 cup of water and the vanilla. Whisk until very smooth. Taste and if the mixture is not quite sweet enough for you, add another tablespoon or two of whatever sweetener you have used. Mix well and set aside briefly.

Use the butter to coat the inside of a 2-quart baking dish and scatter half the coconut over the butter.

Fold the rice into the coconut milk mixture, stir well and tip into the baking dish. Scatter the remaining coconut over the top, set on the middle rack of the oven and cook until the pudding is set and there is a light crust over the top, about 45 to 50 minutes or a bit longer.

Remove from the oven and let rest for about 15 minutes. Enjoy warm, with or without sliced mango alongside.

Note: To cook the black rice, put the drained rice into a saucepan and add a generous pinch of salt and 1¾ cups of water. Set over high heat and when the water boils, reduce the heat so the water just simmers. Cover the pan, cook for 35 minutes, remove from the heat and do not uncover. Let rest for 15 minutes.

Not everyone is a fan of sweetened rice pudding. Even those who do enjoy it may also like a savory version, such as this one. It’s delicious, especially if you use plenty of good black pepper, which infuses every bite of the rice.

Egyptian Baked Rice with Black Pepper

Makes 6 to 8 servings

2 cups short-grain rice of choice

2 teaspoons kosher salt or 1½ teaspoons sel gris or other solar-dried, unrefined salt

4 cups whole milk, preferably organic

Black pepper in a mill

2 tablespoons butter, cold

Put the rice into a 2-quart bram or other baking dish, add the salt and milk and stir. Season very generously with black pepper.

Slice the butter into thin shards and scatter them on top of the rice mixture.

Set a baking sheet on the middle rack of the oven, set the bram on top and set the temperature to 375 degrees.

After 30 minutes, check the rice to be certain it is not bubbling over.

Continue to cook until the milk is completely absorbed by the rice and there is a golden brown crust over it, about another 25 minutes or so.

Remove from the oven and enjoy as breakfast, with or without poached eggs and fresh fruit alongside, or serve as a side dish with roasted chicken or curry.

Michele Anna Jordan is the author of 24 books to date, including “The Good Cook’s Book of Salt & Pepper.” Email her at michele@micheleannajordan.com

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