Rice. (Arborio Rice Pudding)

I've been thinking a lot about rice lately.  In the grand scheme of things, it doesn't seem that important.  In the midst of attacks, more attacks, and attempted attacks, me thinking about rice in the small corner of Wisconsin hardly seems mentionable at all really.  But maybe that is the point.  That all of us are tiny, living (or trying to live) out our lives in a small way in a minuscule part of the globe.  Like grains of rice, each one of us matter and are important.  Like grains of rice, we function better together than separately.  

I've been reading Michael Solomonov's Zahav - maybe you are too.  I find myself losing 20 minutes at each instance I open it, so full of stories and good looking things to make and eat.  A different perspective on the world - and on rice.  When I was growing up, my family always had a late Sunday lunch - usually a casserole or something long cooking that could go on "timed bake" while we were away at church.  Even when I was really little, I would hope for chicken and rice, which my Mom baked in a beat up graniteware oval baking dish.  The rice would bake and stick to the bottom and sides of the oval, and it was the best part.  My Mom thought so too - and would gladly take the portions that would stick to the sides.  Until this point in my life I was unaware of Persian rice, which prizes this crisp bottom layer and gives it the name "tahdig", which means, literally, the bottom of the pot.  

Solomonov talks about his (half) brother-in-law trying these last 40 years to continually perfect his pots of rice.  Something so simple becoming so transcendent that it changed the way Solomonov thought about cooking in general.  The surest way to perfect something is to do it often, over and over again; the humblest of ingredients become transformed into something much more, in this case the grains of rice reminding us of humanity, of family and tradition, culture and heritage.  All of those tiny grains nourishing generations of people all over the planet -  it's almost easy to feel an overwhelming connectedness to people everywhere when considering it.

arborio rice pudding

I've never been the best rice cooker.  In my kitchen notebook, I have rice ratios written that no matter how much I try I can never memorize.  While I will likely take years more before mastering savory rices (and tahdig is now definitely on my list), I feel pretty confident about one rice dish: arborio rice pudding.  The source recipe is long gone, and what remains is a sugar-slashed version that includes a bit of almond extract.  To make it in my favorite oatmeal pot, I use the smaller ratio listed.  The full amount will cook nicely in a 3 quart pot.

Take care not to cook the rice too long since it thickens more as it cools.  The pudding is my favorite texture, temperature, and flavor about 2 hours after making it, and I sometimes plan my dessert eating around it that way.  But even chilled completely, the texture is so lovely and soft. That is the nature of arborio, it is the definition of comfort.

Arborio Rice Pudding

yields 3 cups (4 cup amounts in parenthesis)

  • 6 T. arborio rice (1/2 c.)
  • 3 c. whole milk (4 c.)
  • 3 T. sugar (1/4 c.)
  • good pinch of kosher salt
  • 1 t. vanilla extract (1 1/2 t.)
  • 1/4 t. almond extract (1/2 t.)
  • as many raisins (or currants) as you wish or don't wish.

Combine all the ingredients except the extracts in a heavy saucepan and bring to a boil.  Immediately lower the heat and simmer for 20-30 minutes, stirring regularly, until the rice is al dente.  Remember that it will continue to thicken as it cools, and also that the rice will continue to soften after you remove it from the heat.  When it has cooked enough, stir in the extracts and transfer it to a glass storage container.  Cool at room temperature for a bit and then refrigerate.  Best eaten within 3 days.

arborio rice pudding

I usually don't measure the quantities of vanilla and almond extracts that I use, or the amount of raisins.  I've also been known to include some freshly grated nutmeg or even a cinnamon stick if the mood strikes.  But no matter what I do to it, the arborio never lets me down with a lacking texture.  It's silky and encouraging, and just the thing to remind you of all the good things in life when the bad seem overwhelming and likely to overcome you.



Vegan Monday: Spicy Biriyani

Not only do I love spicy food, but I love the word "spicy". In cooking, it so often denotes when something is hot or sharp in flavor, but I get excited when I see true spicy spices like cinnamon working hard and in tandem with more traditional definitions, turning something that would otherwise be a bit bland into something "awake" and exciting.

That is what I thought about when I was making this biriyani last Thursday. I had seen the recipe at Saveur quite a long while ago, and bookmarked it. The original recipe calls for chicken, but seeing as I had a block of tofu that needed using, I decided to marinate and bake it using the same flavors called for in the chicken. I then upped the amount of peppers in the rice, using a combination of jalapeno, red, orange and green peppers. Though you would be hard pressed to see them in the final picture, they are there I assure you.

I pressed the tofu to remove any additional water (I like our local Simple Soyman brand best) for about an hour before marinating and then baking. Since I had the time, I actually let the tofu sit for several hours in the marinade before baking it, but you probably wouldn't have to. I also was happy to discover that I could practically "juice" a jalapeno by grating it on the microplane - and it also allowed for less cleanup.

I baked the tofu and made the rice separately, and then tossed them together to serve. Even my Husband liked this (and had 2 servings!), a huge boost to my ego after he came from a shopping trip in which he purchased jam. (I have an entire shelf dedicated to homemade jams and jellies in my basement...) To store the leftovers, everything was combined. It was even better cold a couple of days later.

I don't really measure things when making baked tofu... I just add as much as I feel like, and make sure not to use too much oil so that the tofu develops that little bit of crispness around the edges as it bakes. That said, the spice mix below is approximate!

Spicy Baked Tofu
  • 1 package (16 oz or so) firm tofu (not silken)
  • 1 T. olive oil
  • 3/4 of a jalapeno, grated
  • 1/2 t. ground coriander
  • 1 T. grated ginger root
  • 1-2 t. cassia cinnamon
  • salt and pepper to taste
Cut the block of tofu in half horizontally (the Simple Soyman blocks are almost square sometimes...) and press between two towel lined plates for at least a half hour to remove any excess moisture. Meanwhile, mix remaining ingredients in a glass baking dish (9x9 works well).

After pressing, cut the two halves in half horizontally again, so you have 4 slabs about 3/4 inch thick. Dredge in marinade, and coat all sides well. Let sit for awhile, or bake right away as you prefer.

When ready to bake, preheat oven to 400 degrees. Bake the tofu for 30-40 minutes, flipping over every 10, until the marinade has absorbed and the tofu looks semi-dry and "baked".

I ate a half of a square while working on the rest of the recipe:

A lot of the same flavors appear again in the rice, and the same thing applies. You can add or subtract as you like. The original recipe also called for soaking the rice. I have read that some types of basmati need soaking, and others don't. I typically don't soak the Tilda brand that I use, but did this time, just to follow instruction. You can or not - if you choose to, just soak for 20 minutes, then drain and rinse and proceed with the recipe.

Vegan Spicy Biriyani (adapted from Saveur)
  • 1 c. basmati rice
  • 2-3 T. coconut oil
  • 2-3 chiles de arbol, crumbled by hand
  • 1 medium onion (I used a white one), chopped medium
  • 2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
  • ginger root, about 2 inches, grated
  • 2 t. cassia (Saigon) cinnamon
  • 1 jalapeno, sliced and/or chopped finely
  • 1/2 red pepper, finely diced
  • 1/4 orange pepper, finely diced
  • 1/4 green pepper, finely diced
  • a lot of cilantro
  • salt and pepper
(If you would like to put it in the oven to bake, you can time it to go in around the same time as the tofu is coming out: preheat the oven, or reduce the heat, to 350. You could also do the whole dish on the stovetop, the cooking times would be about the same. I used the oven for this instance.)

In a large, lidded saute pan, heat the coconut oil. Add the onion, sliced garlic and spices, and saute until the onions soften, about 6 minutes. Towards the end of the saute time, add the peppers, and let sweat for a minute or two.

Add the rice, along with 1 1/4 cups of water and 1 teaspoon of salt (you can add more later if you like). Bring up to a boil, and (if cooking on the stovetop), reduce heat to low and cook covered for 15 minutes before checking to see if the rice has absorbed most of the liquid and that it is tender. I like to let it sit off the heat for about 10 minutes with a kitchen towel between the lid and the pan to let it continue to steam. If you are baking it, after it boils, pop the lidded pan in the oven, and let it bake for 15-20 minutes, checking on progress of the rice around the 15 minute mark.

Using either method, let it stand several minutes before eating, and toss with the tofu and lots of chopped cilantro. In our case, you will also need to serve with a bit of Mae Ploy Sweet Chile Sauce.

With all the focus on local eating, I should be ashamed that I insist on foreign basmati rice. A few years ago, when I discovered that cooking rice wasn't a science that I needed to attend school to get to know, I visited an ethnic grocer looking for the famed Tilda brand of basmati rice. At that time, I couldn't find it, and went with Swad, a similarly delicious import. As with most specialty foods that at one time seemed scarce in my neck of the proverbial woods, Tilda is now relatively easy to find, and worth every extra cent it costs. All of the flavor of the faraway place can be found in that rice, and when I eat it, I think of the many many people worldwide who have a staple diet of rice. I also think of all the foods in that part of the world that I've never experienced, or that in general, I just know so little about. It has an overwhelming amount to offer me! Maybe that will be my next adventure: the foodstuffs of India and surrounding regions. I like not knowing what comes next from my kitchen... I'll likely wait a bit to embark on a new full-out obsession, since the sourdough is overtaking me and my reading habits lately.

(Lastly, an extra special thank you to Mary-Catherine for telling me that you like my Vegan Mondays. It really inspired me to get my act together and think consciously about making one interesting vegan thing a week to write about. I'm not eating a meat-heavy diet, but it's nice to have that extra little nudge of encouragement! :) )

Drinking Horchata.

The first time I ever had horchata was about 10 years ago with my friend Frankee. We were at a little Mexican place in Kankakee, Illinois, and her husband ordered a pitcher for us to share. She actually didn't drink it, since she doesn't like it, but I was hooked. Ever since, I usually ask for it whenever I try out new Mexican places. Until recently, I'd only score once or twice a year, but happily it now seems easier to find. Some are thick, some light, and others gritty. Some are so sweet, and others barely sweetened at all. I like them all, poured over huge amounts of crushed ice or ice cubes. Basically, I don't care what kind it is, since it all appeals to me equally.

Really, there are three reasons for my horchata making yesterday. Last night, I went to see Vampire Weekend and the title track on their sophomore album is Horchata. I'd be hard pressed to get the opening lines out of my brain, since it has been running through my head for the past 2 days now. I also checked out this post from Glutster yesterday, and decided that his photos were so great I had to have some horchata immediately. I have a car today, and am half thinking I'll run over to El Rey and find some pureed red cactus fruit (tuna or jiotilla), so my next glass can be as delightfully rosy as Javier's. Reason three is that my Spanish teacher, Rosa, was telling me that she is eating gluten free and sugar free right now. Rice is gluten free, and I figured you could probably sweeten horchata with stevia if you felt the need, so this could be an easily adaptable drink for allergen conscious people.

Making horchata is really as easy as drinking it, you just have to have a bit of patience. One of my Rick Bayless cookbooks had a recipe using almonds, but since I was nearly out of them, I adapted his method to this recipe, by Chelsey Kenyon. Really, I ended up using both recipes, since I added milk. The beauty of horchata is that you can do whatever you like best, to concoct a result that suits you. I did use plain old refined sugar, but knocked it way back to about a 1/4 c. Rick's recipe called for 1 cup, and Chelsey's recipe for 1/2 cup. Like I said, it is purely a matter of taste.

Rcakewalk Horchata (inspired by Rick Bayless and Chelsey Kenyon)
  • 1 c. white rice
  • 2 1/2 c. drinking water
  • 1/2 cinnamon stick (canela)
  • scant 1/4 c. granulated sugar
  • 1 c. milk (2% is what I used)
Grind the rice in a blender, or a coffee grinder like I did, until it is finely ground. You can leave the cinnamon stick whole, or break it apart if you like more cinnamon flavor. Heat 2 1/2 cups of water until hot but not boiling, and pour it over the rice and cinnamon. Let it come to room temperature, then cover and refrigerate overnight.

After refrigeration, pour the mixture into a blender. I left the cinnamon in, since I'm crazy for cinnamon, but you can fish most of it out if you prefer less. Add sugar, and mix on high for about 3 minutes until the rice is finely ground. Pour through a fine sieve (or through layers of cheesecloth and a regular sieve) to remove most of the rice pulp. (I actually like a bit of grittiness, but you could make this absolutely grit-less by using a finer sieve and perhaps running the liquid through a muslin bag.) Transfer to a pitcher.

Stir in milk. You could add more milk, or more water, or some of each, but I liked the result with just a cup of milk. You could also add additional sugar at this point if you like. Serve on ice and dream of warm weather.

"In December drinking horchata
I'd look psychotic in my balaclava
Winter's cold is too much to handle
Pincher crabs that pinch at your sandals


Addicting lyrics indeed, almost as addicting as the horchata itself. My milky glass below doesn't pack the same visual punch as the rosy, pecan garnished one that Glutster enjoyed the other day, but it sure hit the spot for me.

Dreams of North African rice pudding...

I finally felt like making the rice pudding that I thought I was craving when I was sick. I'm finally back to normal, and of course in need some dessert around, so last night I found myself stirring a pot of stovetop rice pudding that falls decidedly into the North African vein.

Many years ago, I got a LeCrueset tagine. In fact, I think it was my first piece in my growing collection, and fortunately it was red. I was shopping with my Mom at then Marshall Field's, and we saw an incredible deal on this piece of cookware. She bought it for me as a gift, but in classic Mom fashion, she made me wait to actually get it. That turned out to be a good thing, since Marshall Field's was also clearancing out Moroccan cookbooks, and I got one to daydream with in the meanwhile. I spent hours pouring over the recipes which at the time seemed so foreign to me. When I finally got the tagine, I felt fully ready to tackle a new genre of food.

Photo by Amazon.

The book was Cafe Morocco by Anissa Helou, and since its purchase, I have tried a number of the adventurous North African dishes it contained. I have since felt particularly interested in African cooking, especially how it combines combinations of French and Middle Eastern cooking. I also can not get enough of the spice combinations North African cooking employs: my favorites being my darlings cilantro, cumin and cinnamon. I love how, due to spice, the foods suggest sweetness without actually being sweet themselves, are most times vegetable heavy, and I love that most everything tastes best at room temperature.

This rice pudding is no exception. After patiently stirring and delivering it to a serving bowl, I tried it hot. I covered it with a towel and then tried it later at room temperature. For lunch today, I tried it cold - since it spent its overnight in the icebox. Without question, it was most superb at room temperature. The secret ingredient, orange flower water, tasted too much like a perfume when it was hot, but mellowed into sultry seductiveness at room temperature. There is something amazing about consuming food that is the same temperature as the mouth it's going into as well. It makes for an overwhelmingly calm experience.

Orange flower water can be a love-it or hate-it experience, but when permeating this silky pudding, even the lukewarm aficionado would declare true love... At least that is what happened to me. When I ate my little bowl after lunch today at gazed outside at the typical overcast and grey January day, I was clearly able to dream North African dreams, complete with spicy colors and aromas.

Moroccan Rice Pudding

This recipe is easily halved or doubled. As written, serves 4-6.

  • 3/4 c. short-grain white rice
  • pinch sea salt
  • 2 T. unsalted butter
  • 2 1/2 c. milk (skim is fine)
  • 2/3 c. confectioner's sugar
  • 2 T. orange flower water
  • slivered almonds for serving

Put rice and 1 1/2 c. water in a medium saucepan with a pinch of salt. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat, cover and simmer for about 12 minutes until the water is almost all absorbed.

Add butter, stir to melt. Turn heat to medium high and add the milk and sugar. When it comes to a boil, reduce heat to medium and boil, uncovered, for about 5 minutes stirring often. (There is cornstarch added to the confectioner's sugar, so boil a bit longer if you like thicker pudding, but also keep in mind that the pudding does thicken as it rests.)

Add the orange flower water and let the mixture bubble for a few more minutes. Pour into a shallow serving bowl, cover with a clean towel, and leave to cool. Just before serving, scatter the almonds over the rice. (Anissa also suggests sauteing blanched whole almonds in a bit of butter, but I prefer using raw slivered almonds since they have a finer texture.)

One last note: Anissa suggests rinsing the rice thoroughly before beginning. I did not rinse the rice since (according to Foods That Harm, Foods That Heal from which my Mom read to me over the phone) often there are minerals added to the exterior of white rice prior to shipping, and I felt the extra starch could only lend additional silkiness to the finished pudding. I think I was right in omitting this, since my finished pudding was so silky and smooth.

I think I'm forever through with heavy baked rice puddings. You can actually feel the light permeating this stuff, and hopefully see a bit of it in the photo above. Not bad for a mere half hour at the stovetop...

Moroccan Rice Pudding on FoodistaMoroccan Rice Pudding