Rice pudding is beloved around the world, but my grandmother’s is the stuff of legends. While each culture has its own spin on this sweet and creamy desert, she cooks it the Brazilian way, served warm and sprinkled with cinnamon for holidays and parties.
When my grandmother revealed the secret ingredients to her recipe's signature flavor and texture—whole and condensed milk, plus “a whole lot of sugar”—I was disappointed to learn that the traditional way is not always the most healthful. That's why, when I came across a forgotten bag of white Arborio rice in my pantry, I looked to Vegetarian Times for a healthier, vegan version of a family favorite. I was happy to find VT's Spice n’ Rice Pudding.
You're probably most familiar with Arborio rice as the key ingredient in risotto dishes. This Italian short-grain rice is favored in risotto and rice pudding dishes for the creamy consistency of the starches it releases when cooked. In this dairy-free recipe, the rice starches combined with the almond milk to give the dish just the right amount of creaminess, making fatty whole and condensed milk unnecessary.
For flavor, spices are key. I used a bouquet garni (French for “garnished bouquet”), which is essentially a potpourri of whole herbs and spices tied together and steeped in the pudding as it boils, then later removed. I was pleased to find small bouquet garni cheesecloth sacks in the spice isle. A draw-string made it easy to tie the small cardamom pods, cloves, and mint sprig together, and I was able remove the sack without spilling its contents into the pudding.
Instead of adding sugar, the recipe calls for maple syrup, vanilla extract, and of course, cinnamon—all of which I already had. After mixing it with the thickened pudding, the powerful cinnamon flavor was quelled by the maple syrup and vanilla sweeteners for just the right level of spiciness. But as much as I liked the taste, it was missing that milky under-layer I loved so much in my grandmother’s rice pudding. I had let the Arborio simmer too long, causing most of the almond milk to be absorbed. Luckily this was easily fixed by pouring in another half-cup.
Lastly, I mixed in a handful of plumped golden raisins and sprinkled roasted coconut flakes on top for an extra crunch. And because I’m a traditionalist at heart, I served it up my grandmother’s way, warm and right off the stove.