Vanilla Bean Jasmine Rice Pudding
Nobody understands it, but for some inexplicable reason I like to work in the dark.
Well, not complete darkness. But as long as there’s a bit of gold left in the sky, I flick the light switches off before preheating the oven or leaving out the butter. I watch the lightbulb gradually dim until all that’s left is the little red glow of the filament, like the scarlet flicker of a snake’s tongue, until that too goes out in a snap. Then I get to work.
I throw open all of the curtains. Despite the chrome-colored damper of winter in Seattle, there’s a natural light that filters through the glass and brightens the kitchen in a way that artificial light cannot. I like the shadows that fall from the measuring cups on the counters. I like the burnt-edged way my photographs come out, and despite my father’s eye rolls and my friends’ confusion, I like the way I feel at home.
Some days I want to tackle big projects, like French pastries and gourmet spice profiles. I feel ambitious, and I turn on the lights to help me keep focused.
But sometimes I’m having one of those afternoons where I want my mind to de-clutter. I had one of those last week. I wore my oversized hunter green sweater and soft brown slippers to school, calling it “the macaroni and cheese of clothing.” In a word, it’s comfort. That day, I wanted to eat something just as simple and comforting as a day in sweatpants or a kitchen bathed in vanilla-sugar light.
It’s always hard to decide what to make. I usually pick based on what I feel like baking, since that’s where I derive most of my joy. But that day, I focused on what I felt like eating. I couldn’t think of anything that satisfied my craving, though, so I heated water to make myself a cup of jasmine green tea instead. That’s when it came to me.
When I stumbled upon rice pudding, I felt my heels lift off the floor a little, and then I could think about nothing else. Rice pudding is my very favorite comfort food – creamy, soft, and studded with a million little vanilla bean seeds.
It’s funny. I don’t like to waste money or ingredients, so I have a “vanilla scale” in order to save on both. I have two brands of vanilla extract – one cheap and one quality – and two brands of vanilla beans – one cheap and one quality.
I use the cheap vanilla extract for experiments and where it “doesn’t matter,” in muffins and scones. I save the good vanilla beans for dishes where they’ll shine, in my opinion where they belong: ice cream, custards, and really good rice pudding.
I didn’t even blink before deciding to use one of my most precious vanilla beans for this rice pudding. As I began to cook the rice, I had a sudden stroke of inspiration. I quickly lit another burner on the stove, poured in the milk, and added three of my family’s favorite jasmine green tea bags.
I didn’t know how it would turn out. I didn’t even consider that it might be awful and ruin my vanilla bean. I just inhaled the fragrant steam coming up from the jasmine milk, and the powerful aroma of the vanilla bean seeds speckled on my fingers. I knew I wasn’t making a mistake.
The pudding came together quickly. I felt more and more serene with every stir of the wooden spoon. The kitchen was warm, and my heart felt full. I held a warm bowl of rice pudding and curled up in the rocking chair in our living room, the one by the huge window that stretches from floor to ceiling. I took the first spoonful of rice pudding.
Oh, oh, oh, the jasmine was so not a mistake!
I didn’t taste it at first, just the beautiful woody creaminess of the vanilla. But then there it was, quietly, floral notes that crept up like crocuses in spring. The slight flowery bitterness of the jasmine green tea, complimented perfectly by the vanilla… I turned off my cell phone and put away my iPod. Then I got myself another bowl of rice pudding and snuggled into the chair until the very last ray of light went out in a snap.
This rice pudding would also be delicious without the tea, and maybe even without the vanilla bean (using 1-2 teaspoons of vanilla extract instead.) The rice pudding has a wonderful texture to it. Alternatively, I think you could use another type of tea, but you’ll have to figure out exactly how much to use and how long to infuse, depending on how strong it is.
After cooking, the rice pudding should be kept chilled in the refrigerator. It does firm up after leaving the stove, so don’t let it overcook! The jasmine also seemed stronger when the pudding was cold. It was good straight out of the tupperware, but I liked it best warm. I’d put some into a bowl and microwave it for about thirty seconds, and for me it was perfect.
Vanilla Bean Jasmine Rice Pudding
Adapted from Molly Wizenberg, via Bon Appetit
Makes 6-8 servings
1 1/2 cups water
3/4 cup basmati rice (use any short grain rice)
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 cups whole milk
3 bags of Jasmine Green Tea
1 cup heavy whipping cream (I used half and half because it was on hand, still rich and creamy)
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 vanilla bean, split lengthwise, or 1-2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Bring 1 1/2 cups water, rice, and salt to simmer in heavy large saucepan over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to low; cover. Simmer until water is absorbed, about 10 minutes. In the meantime, pour the milk into a small saucepan. Submerge the teabags in the milk, keeping the paper tags out of the liquid and away from the stove burner. Bring to a simmer, then remove from the heat and let sit uncovered until the rice is cooked (about 10 minutes.)
Add tea-infused milk, cream, and sugar to the rice. Scrape in seeds from vanilla bean; add bean. Increase heat to medium; cook uncovered until rice is tender and mixture thickens slightly to a soft, creamy texture, stirring occasionally, about 35 minutes.
Remove pudding from heat and discard vanilla bean. Divide pudding evenly among small bowls. Serve warm or press plastic wrap directly onto surface of each pudding and chill thoroughly.
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