In college, rice pudding was my late-night treat of choice. It’s relatively healthy, was easy to make in our microscopic dorm kitchen, and most importantly, didn’t tax my then-limited cooking skills. I kept stacks of Jello-O rice pudding boxes in my room (in my bookcase, actually) and stored small, cinnamon-sprinkled bowls of pudding in my mini fridge. They were just the thing around midnight, when I’d been studying hard and wanted a little something to munch on while I watched one of my old-time movies: “Gentleman Prefer Blondes” and anything with Danny Kaye being particular favorites. Do you know who Danny Kaye was? If not, you should definitely check out his movies, beginning with this clip from his 1955 film titled The Court Jester. The whole “chalice from the palace has the brew that is true” bit cracks me up!
These days I still love rice pudding but have left my from-the-box ways behind, trading Jell-O in for slow-cooked, homemade pudding. A few years ago I shared recipes for variations of arroz con leche (along with a Rick Bayless interview), and among those recipes I make Rick’s version most often. But recently I’ve been experimenting with rice pudding made with rose or orange flower water and cardamom. As I’ve mentioned before in my posts about lavender and orange flower water, I love floral flavors – and rice pudding turns out to be another delicious vehicle for their sophisticated taste.
It also so happens that by pairing rose and cardamom in a rice pudding recipe I was unintentionally creating a dish known in Iran as sheer birinj. “Birinj” means “rice” in Persian (“sheer” means “milk”) and according to the Oxford Companion to Food sheer birinj can be made with many flavorings, including raisins, cinnamon, almond, pistachio and saffron. However, one of the most common pairings is cardamom and rose. Persian legend recounts how sheer birinj was originally the food of the angels. Celestial beings first made it when the Prophet Muhammad ascended to the 7th floor of Heaven to meet God, where he was served this dish.
I don’t know about you, but I think that is a fascinating bit of culinary lore.
My reduced-milk recipe is made with Jasmine rice, which yields a rich pudding with a smooth texture. It also retains the pleasurable distinction between the individual rice grains and the thickened sugar milk, which is just the way I like it. Rose water and cardamom are added during the last stage of cooking, and because cardamom has a slightly floral aroma of its own it enhances the flavor and perfume of the rose water. If you’d like to learn more about the history of cardamom you may want to check out my post about Pulla and Apple Charlottes.
Cardamom Rose Rice Pudding (My Recipe)
Ingredients: Makes 10 servings
- 1 cup Jasmine rice
- 4 cups whole milk
- 2 cups water
- 1 cup sugar
- 2-3 tablespoons rose water, according to taste
- 1 teaspoon ground cardamom
In a large bowl, wash the rice to remove any excess starch. This will help ensure a creamy texture in your pudding.
In a large pot combine the rice, milk and water and bring to a boil. Stir and reduce to a simmer over very low heat. Cook, stirring occasionally, for about 1 hour, or until most of the liquid has been absorbed by the rice. There should still be a little bit of liquid when the pudding has finished cooking.
Add the sugar, rose water and cardamom, stirring to combine. Cook over low heat for 5 minutes, then taste and adjust the sweetness and flavoring as desired. Remove from heat and allow to cool to room temperature.
Serve either warm or cold, according to taste (I like my pudding cold). You can sprinkle the pudding with a pinch of cardamom or with chopped pistachios, if you like.