Creamy Whole Grain Comfort: Brown Rice Pudding
For as long as I can remember, creamy rice pudding has been one of my favorite food soothers, especially when warm. But just like we favor hearty brown rice over it's stripped-down counterpart, I wanted to explore ways of using brown rice for pudding, though white lends itself so much better to that creaminess that's somehow so comforting. This week's experimenting has been a little bit tricky; I was going for texture that elevated the product closer to dessert quality, or at least suitable for snacking, but really wanted it to be breakfast. So, the goal was nutritious, not too sweet, but flavorful; smooth more than grainy, but hearty. The initial result received some mixed reviews, and was a good reminder of the vastness between individual palates. I really liked version one for example, but others found it bland. I found the feedback was much more wholly positive when I increased the sweetener (maple syrup or agave), included 2 eggs, and moved from skim to lowfat milk. For someone scrupulously cutting back on calories, these may seem like more indulgent choices, but from a nutritional angle, the extra calories are well worth considering. Eggs, for example, not only help add a rich dimension and assist with browning and coagulating, they're back in the spotlight again for their many health benefits, including being a great source of inflammation-reducing choline, important for brain function for one, high-quality protein, B vitamins and much more. It's best to tailor to your personal tastes. What's more, this is one of the most fail-safe, tweakable dishes out there. It may not always wow you, but it's not likely to bomb. Much like a good bowl of porridge, you can throw just about anything in and it'll work out. So instead of writing out the final version alone, here are three standard templates for prepping the rice, with a couple variations on completing the preparation.
Basic Rice Starters
1. If you have the time, and don't mind the oven being on for 2 hours or so, my Mom's ultra nutritious brown rice pudding is the easiest. She used to make it alongside other dishes that required low heat; she just threw rice in a casserole dish with double the amount of milk (she used skim) and let it bake, slowly, and at a low temperature to lessen risk of curdling; 2 hours at 300 degrees . She didn't use much sugar, if any at all, and we loved it (which, on reflection, provides a little insight into my own palate). If you go this route, you can throw everything in (such as the extras below) at once, or stir addends in halfway.
2. If you'd rather do stove-top cooking, you can definitely make rice pudding completely in a saucepan, and in half the time as the oven recipes. Just cook the rice in a mix of water and milk (think, double the amount of liquid for rice, and of that, maybe 1/3 of that liquid is water) , simmer until the rice is tender, then whisk in the additional ingredients and cook about 10-20 minutes more, stirring. The only drawback to this one for me is that the result is a bit more conducive to lumpiness and being less creamy. That said, it's more like oatmeal, and I love oatmeal, especially steel-cut oatmeal.
3. Although it requires extra steps and equipment, starting with the stove-top, and moving on to baking has appeal, too. This week it seemed easier, or like less fuss, but I'm not totally sure why, except for the fact that I didn't have compatible oven dishes to make. In fact, as you'll see, it definitely seems like more fuss, as well as the same to more time, but also more control. I began with 2 cups short grain brown rice steeped in 4 cups hot water. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to low, and simmer until the water is absorbed, about 40 minutes. While the rice is simmering, you get to essentially forget about it and get things done. When it's tender, add milk, still on the stovetop. I used 4 cups of 1 percent lowfat milk, but you could use skim, or a mix of skim and evaporated fat free milk to lend creaminess, or 2 percent. Cook another 20 minutes.
When you're ready to transfer to a baking dish, mix the remaining ingredients in a small bowl. Stir into rice mixture, transfer to a casserole dish prepped with cooking spray, then bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour. Serve warm or chilled.
This is the really fun part, with infinite combination potential, like raspberry banana, maple pecan, whatever you can think of, or have on hand. Here are two I tried out.
Date, currant and cranberry: In a bowl, mix2 beaten eggs, 1/3 to 3/4 cup maple syrup according to taste, 1 teaspoon vanilla, and about 1/2 cup raisins or currants, 3/4 cup dried cranberries, and 1/4 cup chopped dates. Mix into rice.
Blueberry Almond: Add 1-2 beaten eggs, 1/2 cup agave, 1 teaspoon vanilla, 1/4 teaspoon almond extract, and 1 1/2 cups fresh or frozen blueberries.