My husband LOVES rice pudding. In fact, when I first met him almost 35 years ago, one of the very few things that he knew how to cook was a CrockPot version of rice pudding. My father also loved rice pudding and my mother made a wonderful custard-style baked rice pudding. However, a number of years ago, I came across this Indian version of rice pudding that did not use any eggs and is cooked on a stove-top. I won’t lie to you – it’s definitely labor-intensive (although not difficult) because it needs to be stirred very frequently for almost 1.5 hours. But if you love rice pudding and cannot use eggs for health or ethical reasons, then this is the recipe for you. Indians would eat this somewhat more liquidy than I personally like, but I will let you know in the directions when to stop cooking for a traditional kheer and when to stop for a somewhat more custard-like consistency. My husband prefers to eat this warm, although I personally prefer it cold. This is one time when I can report that we are both right! It is often made for special occasions since rice is a symbol of both happiness and good fortune. And who couldn’t use a bit of both?
While this time I did not make this a vegan version – using milk, butter and honey – I have successfully made it using non-dairy milk, sugar or agave syrup and either a non-dairy buttery spread or coconut oil. (My preference is for vanilla soy milk but any creamy non-dairy milk will work.) This version uses Indian flavorings, which we happen to love, but you can easily swap out the cardamom and saffron with 1.5 teaspoons vanilla extract, zest of one lemon or orange and a few drops of a vegetable-based food coloring. Pistachios can be used in place of the almonds or the nuts can be left out entirely. In that case I would double the amount of raisins or whatever dried fruit you preferred.
Rice Pudding (Kheer) from Flavors of India by Shantra Nimbark Sacharoff and tweaked by me
Yield: 8-10 portions
1 cup of uncooked long-grain, white rice (I like Basmati)
8-10 cardamom pods
1/2 teaspoon crushed saffron threads
2 quarts milk
1 cup of sugar or honey (I like to use a nice Greek honey, but any lighter floral honey will do.)
3 Tablespoons of unsalted butter, ghee or coconut oil
1/2 cup of golden raisins (also known as Sultanas)
1/2 cup of slivered blanched almonds (plus about an 1/8 cup additional that have been lightly toasted for decoration (optional))
- Cook rice according to directions in a heavy pot that will be large enough to take the 1/2 gallon of milk that you will be adding to the cooked rice. I like to just under-cook my rice slightly, but mostly you just don’t want it to stick to the pot.
- In the meantime, remove the cardamom seeds from their pods and using a rolling pin or bottle turned on its side, crush the seeds. Set them aside with the crushed saffron threads. In a small skillet, melt the butter and saute the almonds and raisins in the butter just until the nuts begin to gain a bit of color.
- As soon as the rice is finished cooking, add the 2 quarts of milk. Turn the heat to medium high, continue cooking with the pot now uncovered and using a non-metallic spoon, stir the milk and rice from the bottom of the pan to prevent the rice from clumping and sticking and the milk from forming a skin. This needs to cook for 1 hour, stirring every 2-3 minutes. (I know it can be a bit tedious, but the end result is worth it. Read a book while you cook!) At the end of the hour, the volume will be reduced by about one third and the milk will have thickened.
- Now add in your cardamom and saffron and stir well to distribute the seasoning and to color the milk and rice evenly. Then add in your sugar or honey and the nuts and raisins along with any butter to the pan.
Continue to cook, stirring frequently for 10-15 more minutes. The rice pudding is done at this point. However, since I like mine to be a bit thicker, I continue cooking for an additional 15 minutes (total of 30 minutes after adding in the raisins and nuts). Immediately pour the pudding into your serving dish (glass is best I find) and decorate the top with the optional lightly toasted almonds. Even if you want to eat this warm, it is best if it sits for at least 2 hours before serving. It will continue to thicken some as it sits. Refrigerated it can last up to a week.