Thursday, January 27, 2011

Using Cardamom in Rice Pudding

I'm trying to learn about and use more spices that are unfamiliar to me, and this is one of them. Cardamom is not a common spice in American households despite extensive use in the rest of the world. Years ago I used to buy Dunkin Donuts that had a "handle' on them... just a plain cake donut. Now years later, the taste in their plain cake donuts isn't the same, and the handle seems to have disappeared along the way. Maybe no one dunks their donuts anymore?

After I tasted some cardamom cookies last year,  I think I finally know that the elusive hint of spice in the earlier donuts I so loved might have been cardamom, so I bought some whole green cardamom pods recently.

Split Cardamom Pod, after cooking in the rice pudding

Cardamom is an ancient spice, and second only to saffron in price. The taste is hard for me to describe, but others have said it is spicy, herbal and citrusy; it is generally used with cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, clove or other aromatic spices. The best cardamom seems to come from Mysore (India). Above, you can see the tiny black seeds that are inside a pod. They dry out rapidly so it's better to buy whole green pods; you can grind the seeds in a spice grinder for freshness.

Like the real tapioca pudding I hadn't had for years but made recently, rice pudding joins the list of old-time desserts in my family. I found a recipe for a rice pudding flavored with cardamom and lemon, and it's cooking as I'm writing this.

Here's the recipe, which I got from the Epicurious recipe site but forgot to copy the URL. Recipe calls for cooking in a slow cooker, although I see no reason it couldn't be baked in an oven.

Rice Pudding with Cardamom and Lemon
Makes 6 servings

3 cups whole milk
1 cup heavy cream
4 large eggs, beaten
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 teaspoons finely grated lemon zest (from 1 medium lemon)
5 whole green cardamom pods
¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
3 cups partially cooked medium-grain white rice
1 cup golden raisins

In slow cooker, whisk together milk, cream, eggs, granulated and brown sugars, vanilla, zest, cardamom pods, and nutmeg. Stir in rice, cover and cook on high 1 hour, stirring occasionally. Reduce heat to low, add raisins, and cook 1 hour more, stirring occasionally. Serve warm, or refrigerate and serve chilled.

Like with most recipes, I only use about half the amount of sugar specified. In this case, I only added the light brown sugar and omitted the white sugar all together. I wasn't sure what they meant by "partially cooked" rice, nor did they say drained or not. I cooked mine until almost done but not water-logged.

Pudding is now cooked, and indeed it seems cardamom might be my missing spice in those donuts. 

The amount of sugar was just fine without being too sweet, but the vanilla was a bit too much, so maybe just ¾ teaspoon? The recipe could use a tad of salt, perhaps ½ teaspoon? (or just more salt in cooking the rice!). The rice has mostly distinct grains when finished, which could be that my rice was a little overcooked enough that it didn't absorb the custard... OR maybe it's that I used basmati rice because that's the only white rice I had in the house... OR maybe even a combination of those 2 factors.

In any case, the rice pudding is very tasty but it doesn't have a crunchy top like baked rice pudding. Since the cardamom flavor was my goal, I'm quite satisfied with the taste. However, I think I shall tweak the recipe later for an oven-baked version.

Now I need to try some cardamom in my coffee, as they do in the Middle East!

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