A few weeks ago, my friends Ashley and Winston came over to catch up over drinks and sweets. Since we’re all from different cultural backgrounds, I thought it would be a good opportunity to introduce them to a very homemade-style Middle Eastern treat.
A variation on my grandmother’s classic recipe, this rice pudding sets itself apart from the rest with its fragrant, vanilla and rose-flecked custard, tarted-up apricot jam and crunchy pistachio topping. I couldn’t say whether it’s a winter warmer or refreshing summer dessert; it’s beautiful hot from the stove, apricot melting into the rice, but equally so chilled the next day, when the flavors have had time to infuse. It’s trans-seasonal, and I like that kind of flexibility in food.
The apricot compote adds a surprising, citrusy zing to an otherwise mellow pudding, and as a bonus, it’s ridiculously easy to concoct. If apricots are in season, of course you can make your own jam. Otherwise, a good-quality store bought jam works perfectly. I’m partial to St. Dalfour (they sweeten with grape juice concentrate instead of cane sugar, which is refreshing) but feel free to use your favorite.
- 1/2 cup arborio (risotto) rice
- 4.5 cups whole/full cream milk
- Scant 1/2 cup raw sugar
- 5 tbsp cornstarch
- 1 tsp rosewater
- 1/2 vanilla bean, seeds scraped
- Crushed pistachios, for topping
- 1/2 cup whole-fruit apricot jam (I love St Dalfour)
- Juice of 1/4 lemon
- Zest of 1/2 orange
- Drop of orange blossom water (half a capful or so)
- Soak the rice in warm water for 30 minutes. Meanwhile, crush the pistachios and mix the ingredients for the apricot compote. Mix the cornstarch with 1/3 cup of the milk to make a loose paste, and set aside.
- Place the milk, rice and vanilla bean - the scraped seeds and the pod - in a large, heavy bottomed pot. Stir the mixture together over medium-low heat until it nearly reaches a simmer. Continue stirring constantly for 15-20 minutes or until the rice is tender.
- Whisk in the sugar and remove the vanilla pod. Continue stirring 1-2 minutes until the sugar is dissolved. Add the cornstarch mixture and continue cooking and stirring an additional 3-4 minutes, or until the mixture has thickened enough to generously coat the back of a wooden spoon. The pudding will continue thickening overnight - at this stage, a milky risotto-like texture is best. Once it's thickened, remove from heat and stir in the rosewater.
- If serving immediately, spoon the warm pudding into bowls (or one large serving dish). Top with a dollop of apricot compote and a sprinkling of crushed pistachios.
- If serving later, spoon the pudding into your serving dish and cover with plastic wrap directly on the pudding so as not to form a skin. Place in the fridge, and when ready to serve, garnish with apricot compote and pistachios.