June 2, 2014
I’ve been craving rice pudding for a long while now—the kind my yiayia used to make. I remember her standing by the stove, a big pot of rice and milk simmering in front of her, with only sugar, a cinnamon stick, and lemon peed added. The rice pudding she scooped out of that pot when she was done was perfection. Sweet, creamy perfection.
And oh so wrong for someone who, like the hungry boy, has a hard time tolerating dairy.
Though he eats dairy from time to time now—sometimes with consequences, other times without (a mystery), and always with Lactaid—I still avoid desserts like rice pudding that are squarely centered on dairy. I mean, dairy is sort of the point of rice pudding.
I’ve known that I can make a good rice pudding using a dairy alternative like coconut or nut milk, but I just didn’t believe that it could be as delicious as my grandmother’s recipe. It would be something else: delicious but different. And since I didn’t want different, I just avoided rice pudding all together. Until now. I couldn’t hold out longer.
Determined to put a nagging craving to rest, I broke out a can of coconut milk and went to work creating a dairy-free rice pudding. It wouldn’t be as good, I told myself, but it might satisfy, especially if I kept myself from expecting something as good as what yiayia made.
Little did I realize.
This dairy-free rice pudding is some of the best rice pudding I’ve ever had. No joke. There’s a little bit of a catch, though.
The ingredient that makes this rice pudding so decadent and delectable is cream of coconut. The sweetened kind that makes your pina colada so tasty, as in Coco Lopez.
Unsweetened cream of coconut is to coconut milk what condensed milk is to fresh milk. The sweetened kind is akin to sweetened condensed milk. It give a strong, sweet coconut flavor that’s very hard to replicate using sugar and regular coconut milk, or even unsweetened coconut cream. I barely use sweetened cream of coconut—really only for drinks like this coquito—but, when I want it, I haven’t found anything else that works. (If you have, please let me know!)
So what’s the problem? Well, the ingredients list is far from ideal and contains controversial polysorbate 60. Cream of coconut is not something that you want to have on hand, but once a year, or some such, won’t kill you. And since I don’t drink pina coladas, this pudding is my once-in-a-while cream of coconut indulgence. But, honestly, I don’t blame you if you want to skip it—and this recipe—all together.
If you’re with me, though, this is quite a treat. I served it with raspberries and chopped pecans, but mango and/or pineapple and macadamia nuts would be killer, too. I think that’s how I’ll do when I make this next, in 6 months…. with a drink umbrella, just because.
Dairy-Free Coconut Rice Pudding
(Can be shared with kids 24+ mos)*
3 cups water
1 cup short grain rice (sushi or aborio)
5 whole cloves
1 cinnamon stick
Peel of 1/2 lemon
3/4 cup sweetened cream of coconut (such as Coco Lopez or Goya Coco)
3/4 cup coconut milk
Ground cinnamon, for garnish
1. Add water, rice, cloves, cinnamon stick, and lemon peel to a medium pot and set over medium-high heat. Bring the water to a boil, stir to ensure that the rice isn’t sticking to the bottom, and reduce heat to medium. Allow a strong simmer until the rice is cooked and the water is absorbed, about 20 minutes.
2. Remove the pot from the heat and stir in the cream of coconut. Add the coconut milk slowly, stirring all the while, until the rice takes on a desired consistency. You may need a little more or less than the amount called for. Pull out the cloves, cinnamon stick and lemon peel and allow to cool before serving with cinnamon sprinkled on top. Fresh fruit is also a great accompaniment.
*Note: This is best saved for older children due to the high sugar content and also the fact that cream of coconut is not a pure ingredient. In fact, I might consider saving this for even bigger kids! No matter how old your eaters, be sure to serve an age appropriate portion. A little bit of this sweet treat goes a long way for, even for grown ups.