Rice dishes have always been a special treat in my maternal grandparents’ home. Most Punjabis eat a lot of flatbread, versus rice. My mother, being the daughter of Punjabi parents, has always preferred flatbread over rice. Despite the fact that she married into a family which devours rice on a daily basis – my father’s family is originally from Afghanistan – Ami loves her chapati, a Pakistani flatbread which beautifully puffs up like a balloon as it cooks over a naked flame.
On special evenings, when my grandfather returned to Lahore after one of his frequent weekly official trips to Islamabad and Peshawar, there would be rice pudding on the table for an after-dinner treat. That was the one rice-based dish Ami always ate. Alongside the pudding would be a bowl of deep amber-hued syrup, made from gurh, known as jaggery. Gurh is an unrefined sugar, full of deep flavours – imagine the taste of the crackly bit of a crème brûlée or the dark, upper layer of a crème caramel – that’s the taste of gurh. My grandmother’s rice pudding was always studded with lots of chopped almonds. And often, these were almonds which my grandfather brought back from the grand and legendary bazaars of Peshawar, which sadly, are there no more. After filling my bowl with creamy rice pudding, my grandmother would drizzle a few teaspoons of this molten caramel on top. It was a perfect combination – musky flavours of burnt sugar and molasses with milky pudding. Sweet and bitter. Caramelised.
I have posted a recipe for rice pudding on this blog before as well. However, this is a cheat’s version of sorts, because it takes a shorter amount of time to prepare. My mother and Aunty Shelly know a short-cut to making this, so that your arms don’t fall off from incessant stirring. All you have to do is parboil the rice. I have not used gurh in this recipe as I did not have any on hand at the time, but I have tried to mimic the taste with this burnt caramel candy adornment. When the burnt caramel hits the pudding, it begins to re-crystallise, so you have to work fairly fast. I added some brown buttered breadcrumbs and walnuts on top to add another textural dimension to the dish.
My grandmother also used to make a beautiful dairy-free rice pudding with gurh. I need to get my hands on that recipe, I think our cook in Lahore makes it – till I pester him and get the recipe out of him, I hope you enjoy this one.
You will need a heavy pot with a thick base to minimise scorching of this pudding as it cooks. Many people like to use enamelled cast iron, especially from the Le Creuset range; I love my All-Clad Copper Core. I use this 6-quart stockpot, but I am not sure All-Clad still makes it. I do know that they have it in the steel range. Essentially, you want to use a pot with a very wide and thick base.
For the rice pudding
*200g basmati rice (approximately 1 cup)
*1L boiling water (approximately 4 cups)
*pinch of salt
*1L whole milk (approximately 4 cups)
*250ml full cream/whipping cream (approximately 1 cup)
*3-4 green cardamom pods
*200-250ml sweetened condensed milk (approximately 1 cup)
For the brown buttered crumbs and walnut topping
*a few tablespoons unsalted butter
*a few tablespoons breadcrumbs
*handful of finely chopped walnuts (or hazelnuts – whatever you’re in the mood for)
For the caramel candy swirls
*125g granulated sugar (approximately ½ cup)
*pinch of salt
For the pudding
*Soak basmati rice for one hour in cold water, allowing water to come 3-4cm (or 1-1.5in) above the rice (the rice will expand in water, so you want some extra water in the bowl to prevent the rice from drying out).
*After the rice has soaked for one hour, place a large, heavy-bottomed pot (see notes above) on the stove on medium-high heat. When the pot has heated through, add 1L of boiling water.
*Discard cold water from the rice and carefully transfer rice to boiling water with a pinch of salt. The rice will gently boil on medium-high heat.
*Check rice after 6 minutes; it should break easily between your thumb and forefinger. There will be a bit of starchy liquid in the pot at this point in time; do not discard it.
*Add milk, cream, and cardamom pods to the rice and starchy liquid. Stir and partially cover the pot with the lid (you want a little bit of steam to escape as it simmers, otherwise the milk will overflow). Set your timer to 20 minutes.
*Stir every 4-5 minutes to ensure that the pudding does not catch at the bottom of the pot. You will see small bubbles while the pudding simmers.
*At the 20-minute mark turn your stove off, remove the pudding from the burner and stir in the condensed milk (I added 200ml, but you may want to add 250ml). The pudding may look a bit thin, but don’t worry, it will thicken as it cools.
*Set aside and allow to come to room temperature before transferring it to a container.
*Place in the fridge for 4-6 hours minimum, or overnight.
For the brown buttered breadcrumbs and walnut garnish
Make this right before serving. This is a very loose recipe; feel free to play around with it.
*Place a frying pan on medium-high heat. When the pan is hot, add butter and when it starts to sizzle and turn brown, add breadcrumbs and a pinch of salt and gently stir. When the breadcrumbs have absorbed the butter, add chopped walnuts and stir for two minutes.
*Remove from heat and set aside while you prepare the caramel swirls.
For the caramel swirls
Please note that this should be made when you have taken the pudding out of the fridge and are ready to serve, as the sugar will go from liquid to solid stage again fairly quickly.
*Evenly sprinkle sugar in a saucepan and place on medium-high heat. Keep a vigilant eye on it. You don’t want it to become too burnt. Slowly, it will transform into a thin liquid and turn a deep amber hue. You may have to swirl the saucepan a few times so the sugar melts evenly.
*Remove the saucepan from the heat and allow the sugar to cool for five minutes. You want the liquid to slightly thicken before swirling it onto the pudding.
*You can serve the pudding in individual bowls or in a large bowl, to enjoy family style.
*With a teaspoon, swirl the thickened caramel over each individual bowl of rice pudding. If you are serving it in a large dish (family style), swirl it onto the large bowl of pudding, spoonful by spoonful. The caramel will set to become candy. Add a dusting of buttered breadcrumbs and walnuts and enjoy.