Kind readers, you must forgive me my virtual disappearance of recent weeks (or is it months?); you could call it a sort of hibernation. It was, alas, against my will: two sickly children (BOGIES ALL WINTER) and a partner who’s maniacal deadlines meant that he was unable to afford me our usual duet of tag-team parenting, whereby I could grab an hour here or there to cook, snap and write. So the goings-on in the mother-in-law’s kitchen have – although still a pleasure – gone unrecorded, and simply now exist in our bellies and memories. And like you, I’m sure, I would not have chosen to weather this unkindly cold climate that seems to be forever encircling our British Isles, as if we’d so utterly transgressed that the gods had hatched some depraved plan to deny us the spring we’re so longing for.
In an attempt to bring some sunshine to your tables and your bodies, I gift an offering (which I’m clandestinely anticipating those peeved gods accept in good will) that will lift your soul, tickle your tums, and at least, momentarily, draw back the cold, cold curtains of winter and let the rays in. My Masala Rice Pudding is gluten-free, dairy-free, sugar-free (unless you add a little date syrup, which isn’t so bad) and a cinch to make, which makes it (like many of my dishes) a family-friendly pud and the perfect conclusion to a dinner with friends. And as it’s served chilled (okay, so it’s not completely ‘warming’ but you’ll pine for it, I promise), you can make it well in advance of a feast.
Using a heavenly blend of aromatic spices, faithful to the Indian Karha mix that captured my breath when I supped a paper cup of masala chai on a train through Kerala some years ago, this pudding recipe isn’t unlike its drinkable muse: it’s a one-pot wonder. Except you get to add delicious toppings, as if you were some sort of exotic dessertwalla beckoning your patrons to whip off their dogged-eared wooly hats and over-used body-warmers, and enter Arcadia. Even if it is only for the short time it takes to gobble up paradise.
The Karha spice mix is an easy one to make and you probably have some, if not all (for those of you who are more culinarily adventurous or au fait with Asian cooking), of the ingredients in your kitchen. You can use a blend of spices including ground ginger, green cardamon pods, cloves, black pepper, cinnamon and vanilla (I’ve also read that cocoa can be used too but I’ve yet to try this), although I substitute the ground ginger with fresh, and add nutmeg instead of pepper as it imparts slightly less-pungent peppery notes.
Returning to one of my favourite kitchen staples, I use coconut milk, which gives this traditional nursery dish a creamy (yet dairy-free!), exotic flavour with health benefits to boot (coconuts have antiviral and antibacterial properties, and help to promote weight maintenance without raising blood cholesterol levels). And whilst I’m waxing evangelical, I want to share with you this interesting research, advice and article I’ve recently come across highlighting, amongst other things, the potential risks of neurodevelopmental damage to children linked to the ingestion of BPA found in canned food. So it’s cartons all the way for me now. That is until the next bit of research tells me otherwise… and we ain’t gonna be picking coconuts in the west country.
Masala Rice Pudding
80g pudding rice
400ml tin of coconut milk, plus one refill of 400ml of water (I sometimes substitute the water for almond milk as I like the additional flavour and ‘milkiness’)
1 vanilla pod
1/2 teaspoon of freshly grated ginger
1/4 teaspoon of ground nutmeg (I use freshly grated)
Small stick of cinnamon or 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3 green cardamon pods
2 tablespoons of desiccated coconut
1 unwaxed lime
1 ripe mango
100% pure date syrup (or honey if unavailable)
Preheat your oven to 170c / 325f / gas mark 3
Put the rice, coconut milk and water (or almond milk, if using) into a baking dish.
Add the grated ginger, ground nutmeg and cinnamon.
Slice the vanilla pod in half length-ways, scrape out the tiny black seeds with a knife, and put both the seeds and the two empty pods in the dish.
Then bruise the cardamon pods (I use a pestle and mortar but you can use a rolling pin in a heavy-bottomed bowl), and remove and discard the husks before crushing the seeds within to a grainy powder.
(A friendly little helper ❤ )
Add this to the pudding mix too and give everything a good stir.
Firstly, take a heavy-bottomed or non-stick frying pan and warm over a medium heat. Lightly toast the coconut in the pan, constantly moving the coconut around the pan and keeping a watchful eye so not as to burn it, which can happen quickly as it’s full of natural oils. Remove from the heat and set aside to cool in a dish.
Take your lime and grate the zest finely into another dish. Before juicing, use this tip: roll the whole lime back and forth on a surface using the palm of your hand, so as to soften the fruit and release the juice from the fruit’s cells, which makes juicing easier and more effective. Next cut the lime in half and squeeze the juice into a small jug or container.
Once your pudding is cooked it should look thick and creamy, smell deliciously aromatic, and the rice will have absorbed all the liquid. Allow to cool and chill in the fridge before serving.
Just before serving peel and cube your mango. Spoon the pudding into individual dishes and add a swirl of date syrup (or honey) to taste, a splash of lime juice, some mango, and a sprinkling of both the lime zest and the toasted coconut.
Eat with your eyes closed and your mind’s eye meditating on a golden beach with turquoise waters lapping at your toes.