Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Move Over Rice-A-Roni, It's Rice Pudding

Tea-mail. What could be better? Finally, my package from Rishi arrived after several days of coming up empty-handed, save for unwanted flyers of pizza delivery come-ons. Two new Chinese greens -both organic fair-trade to boot- from this spring harvest were welcomed newcomers to our tea-shelf.

Our green tea supply was getting sorely depleted: sencha was whittled down to several cupfuls-worth; Pi Lo Chun, Lung Ching, and the lotus were staples that we drank with regularity; the Ancient Snow Sprout left in its wake only happy memories. Even august matcha saw its powdery content fitfully dipped into.

So late Sunday morning saw me puttering about the kitchen readying for our tea. Inspired by a recent visit to the Tropical Dome of our local conservatory -bathed in the dewiness of the greenhouse (my skin feeling wonderful after the aridity of the long winter) where small colorful birds flitted among sweet-smelling orchids canopied by overarching banana leaves, and a wedding party coyly posing for photos next to a koi-laden pond- I perched atop a stool over a pot of simmering rice, stirring languidly.

Creamy rice pudding, with touches of the exotic, was the hoped-for result. Rice, a staple of my everyday fare, was going to take top billing in a simple yet satisfying dessert. A sprinkling of rose water peppered judiciously with freshly-hulled cardamon seeds served as the palette which I applied onto my canvas of jasmine rice.

There was something so pleasurable in stirring this pot of rice, the tiny granules progressively becoming aromatic as coconut milk, and then the spices commingled. The elemental act of stirring - my mom, at this task, bent over her own pot of rice cooked in chicken stock to become congee, came to mind- evoked the comfort of the prosaic, the warmth imparted by the nourishing grain.

With the pudding now cooked, headily fragrant, waiting for us on the stovetop, I prepared our tea. The Organic Ensi Silver Needles, from the new cache, came out from its wrappings with ceremony. The leaves of this Chinese green resembled fat pine needles which plumped up further, peapod-styled, as it brewed a straw-colored liquor. The initial infusion yielded a mildly sweet tea, slightly roasty with a hint of saltiness. But it was in the second and third infusions that the delicate floral notes really blossomed.

A perfect complement to the more assertive flavors present in the rice pudding, the tea held its own and maintained its mild sweet nature.
Spoonful after spoonful of the soothing creaminess anticipated my next morning breakfast of the same.
Rice Pudding
(adapted from a recipe found in Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything)
2 cups of water
1 cup jasmine rice
Dash salt
1 cup skim milk
1 cup light coconut milk
1/2 cup sugar
10 pods of cardamon, seeds removed ( easily done with mortar and pestle)
1 teaspoon rose water
1. Bring water to boil in medium saucepan; stir in rice and salt. Cover and cook over low heat until almost all the water is absorbed (this takes about 10 minutes).
2. Uncover, pour in both the skim and coconut milk and cook, stirring frequently, until about half the milk is absorbed. Stir in the sugar and cardamon and add the raisins. Continue to cook until the rice is very soft and the milk absorbed (Step 2 is another 10-15 minutes). Then stir in the rose water at the end.
3. Spoon into custard cups and serve warm or cold. This keeps well for 2 days covered in the fridge.

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