A recent frosty January day called for my ultimate comfort food: rice pudding. It wasn’t so much for the weather, nor was it seasonal as the ingredients are so simple and available year-round. It was purely for the comfort that such a dish would bring, both to the palate and to the state of mind. I had recently found out that the premises I was hoping to get for my new shop had come through. The bank loan documents were awaiting my signature at the branch. My local ‘angels’ were ready with their investments in my business. It all lined up quite nicely and even better, it happened on the day that marked my two-year anniversary in the UK. I wrote the final post for my other blog, The Fishbowl Manifesto, and sat in awe of all the changes that had taken place and the ones that were about to begin.
I couldn’t think of a more appropriate slow food than rice pudding – a particular style of South Indian rice pudding that had been passed down to me by my father. It’s not like the English rice puddings that are baked in the oven, and its flavours are different to other Indian rice puddings or kheer that have almonds, pistachios and rosewater (though I do enjoy these too!). This one, called ksheerana, is infused with saffron and cardamom and laden with roasted cashews and raisins. It takes about two hours to make on the stove and there are no short cuts – my father used to wake up early in the morning on special occasions to make it so that we could eat it for brunch.
There is something about this dish that is a throwback to simpler times, when even items like milk and butter were considered to be luxuries because they were so fresh, but rice was a household staple. The amazing taste comes from boiling and reducing a lot of milk into a creamy consistency and stirring in home-made clarified butter, or ghee, towards the end. Trying to make it a bit more nutritious than the family recipe, I toned down the sugar and used brown basmati rice and it was just as comforting. It’s a traditional dish made even more so by the fact that we get our ‘milk with personality‘ delivered straight from a local dairy farm to our door.
In the home I grew up in, we didn’t say grace at the table before tucking into a meal. Rather, I was taught that preparing a meal – using wholesome ingredients, with positive intention, and spending the time to make it properly – that, in itself, is a way of saying grace or giving thanks. And so, rice pudding is my humble thanks for all the adventures had, and those yet to come when I open my very own shop.