Somewhere around the first week of December (either that or the 3rd day there’s snow on the ground, whichever comes first), I decide I’ve had enough of winter. Bah! Who needs lawns covered in a glistening, pristine blanket of white? Who needs billowy undulations of snow-covered hills along the roadside? Who needs that dainty spray of unique, lacy flakes as they gently descend from the heavens? Not I!
Despite all its awe-inspiring beauty, winter also brings with it a whole host of evils: treacherous patches of “black ice” concealed beneath a thin veneer of fresh white powder; knee-high snowdrifts that are agony to traverse in my ponderous, barely-warm-enough galoshes; wooly scarves pulled high over the nose (must protect my delicate proboscis from all that cold air whipping around, after all), causing impaired vision as my glasses fog up from the vapour of my heaving breath; and The Ordeal of the Walk, with its multiple layers of clothing, toque pulled low on the forehead, aforementioned scarf, earmuffs, double-layered gloves, and two wacky canines, each hauling on a leash in an attempt to leap and gambol, totally oblivious to the fact that my being upright is only a temporary state in this dreadful weather.
Right. For me, winter is hellish. The only things that make it even barely tolerable are two major comforts: number one, my friend Gemini I’s country “cottage,” (a palatial residence that offers far more amenities and techno-toys than the city abode in which I normally dwell), and number two, comfort food.
Like most people, when I think ”comfort foods,” what comes to mind are those dishes that populated my childhood as well as those I currently seek out when feeling blue. These fall into two basic categories as well: sweet, and savory. In addition, my favored comfort foods tend to be both soft and warm. The squishier, the better. And if they can be cooked twice as long as the recipe suggests, well, we’ve hit the jackpot.
Many of the savory dishes I used to eat are no longer welcome in my diet, but they are nonetheless ones that conjure fond memories (and ones my mother used to cook regularly): salmon patties doused in ketchup; thick and hearty potato soup with corn kernels; baked beans (the canned variety), occasionally gussied up with maple syrup or hotdogs; or overcooked hamburgers alongside mashed potatoes and green beans.
Of course, the “sweet”category still reigns during the frigid winter months: slow cooked, (or better yet, baked) oatmeal and raisins (though I now consume the steel-cut variety instead of the instant packets we had back then); warm and gooey chocolate chip cookies; sticky, just-out-of-the-oven, tender and delicate cinnamon rolls; and the Mother of All Comfort Foods: rice pudding.
When my sisters and I were kids, the rice pudding my mother made most often was a baked version poured raw into a casserole dish and left in the oven for an hour. What was supposed to end up as a homogenous mixture of custard and grains inevitably turned out as a hardened mass of uncooked rice settled below a thicker layer of eggy custard, which my sisters and I would scrape off without touching the grains. Our preferred rice pudding in those days was the canned variety, an overly sweet concoction of nearly-disintegrated rice in a suspension of various chemical compounds that approximated a pudding-like consistency. Yum.
These days, when I think of rice pudding, I aim for something a little more sophisticated; and I no longer eat polished white rice in any case. So imagine my delight when I discovered a recipe for Brown Basmati Pudding, uniting brown basmati rice, fragrant spices and coconut milk, in Audrey Alsterberg and Wanda Urbanowicz’s ReBar: Modern Food Cook Book. The perfect combination of urbanity and unpretentious comfort, this pudding seemed the ideal contribution to the Monthly Mingle hosted by Meeta at What’s for Lunch, Honey?. The theme this month? Comfort Foods.
The final product was, after all, divine, and very grown-up. With a smooth, creamy base cradling tender yet solid grains of rice, mingled with plump, juicy raisins, the pudding was warmed throughout by the subtle interweaving of cardamom, cinnamon, and ginger. Rich, sweet, soothing–warm or cold, this rice pudding is the perfect antidote to winter. In fact, it almost makes the ice and snow bearable.
Brown Basmati Pudding with Coconut, Cardamom and Ginger (from ReBar Modern Food Cook Book)
Although I followed the recipe fairly closely, I did substitute ground spices for the cardamom and cinnamon, because I like my spices cooked right into my pudding. I used 1/8-1/4 tsp. cardamom and about 2 tsp. cinnamon.
1 cup (240 ml.) brown basmati rice
2 cups (480 ml.) water
1 cup (240 ml.) soy or rice milk (I used rice)
1/2 tsp. salt
1-inch piece of ginger, peeled and thinly sliced
6 cardamom pods, crushed
3-inch long cinnamon stick
2 oz. (60 g.) brown sugar (I used maple syrup)
1 can coconut milk
Rinse the basmati and place in a heavy-bottomed pot. Add water, rice milk, salt, ginger, cardamom and cinnamon. Bring to a boil; reduce heat to low and cover, then simmer for 45 minutes.
Stir in the sweetener and coconut milk and continue to simmer the rice without a lid over low heat. Cook until the liquid evaporates and the pudding thickens (about 30 minutes). Remove the ginger slices, cardamom pods and cinnamon stick. Serve hot, warm, or at room temperature.
The pudding thickens up even more as it cools, so you can stop cooking just before you think it’s thick enough.