The first time I ate rice pudding, I was visiting a Benedictine monastery. And that makes sense, really. While desserts generally might seem incongruous with the monastic life — at least, the monastic life as most people would imagine it — rice pudding strikes an ideal balance, and balance is what the monastery is all about. Rice pudding is economical while suggesting richness and decadence. It is sweet, but not too sweet. Creamy without heaviness. In short, it’s very good, very easy, and very versatile.
Rice puddings evolved, as I understand it, as a means to use up leftover rice. Eminently practical and budget-conscious. I wanted rice pudding, but I had no leftover rice. And I didn’t want to cook rice just so I could then cook rice pudding. I wanted to dump all of the ingredients into a dish — uncooked rice and all — and let the oven do the work. It might not be the road to the creamiest, most custard-like pudding, but it was easy and tasty. That’s good enough for me. I decided on coconut milk in place of heavy cream to lighten the pudding and call up a little island sunshine–after seemingly endless sub-zero temperatures, I needed a little sun on my psyche. I even added pineapple juice for more tropical flavor. And I used brown rice for its nutritional value. With a little sugar and vanilla, it was just right; a perfect blend of the vanilla-custard creaminess of traditional rice pudding with a hint of the tropics. Not quite vacation in a bowl, but good enough to brighten a cold winter’s day.
EASY COCONUT BROWN RICE PUDDING
1 14-oz can coconut milk, well shaken
14-oz milk (I used 2%, but use what you have)
6-oz can pineapple juice
1/2 c. uncooked brown rice (if you want a more liquid pudding, try using 1/3 c. If you sub white rice, note that the cooking times will likely be shorter.)
1/4 c. sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract
This really couldn’t be easier. Here’s what you do:
Preheat the oven to 300-degrees.
Pour the coconut milk into a 1 1/2 or 2 quart baking dish. Fill the empty can with milk, add it to the dish. Stir in the rest of the ingredients: pineapple juice, rice, sugar, vanilla.
Put the baking dish on a cookie sheet to catch any bubble-overs, the pop it all in the oven. Bake for around 2 hours, stirring every 30 minutes. Let it cool to room temperature, or slightly warmer. It will continue to thicken as it cools.
I topped mine with a few segments of orange and grapefruit, along with some toasted coconut. It would also be good, and sunny, with mango or chunks of fresh pineapple. Or you could add raisins to the mix during the last half hour of cooking, in which case I might toss in a cinnamon stick with the sugar and vanilla. The point being: this is a really versatile and easy dessert/snack to prepare. It offers the comfort of homey food with the suggestion of sunshine to cure the winter blues.