indian-spiced rice pudding

arborio rice pudding with Indian spices

I’ve never been much of a fancy girl. Were it up to me, I’d spend my days in jeans and tank tops. Don’t get me wrong, I clean up rather nicely, but I am at my happiest just hanging out. Getting dressed-up never feels natural. Even when I get my hair cut, I hate to have my hair blown-out, choosing instead my unruly mess of frizzy waves. My affinity for the informal is probably why I don’t yet own a single little black dress. Not one. That should soon be rectified: a wedding I’m in this year wants the bridesmaids in LBDs, so I will be shopping for one pretty soon. Anyhow, dresses are dresses and jeans are jeans and I will forever have a love affair with the latter and regard the former with a bit of annoyance. Pizza, beer, jeans, and a tanktop – and I’m one happy camper.

scraping vanilla beansarborio rice pudding with Indian spices

At least I’m consistent. As unfussy as I am about dress code, I like to apply the same to food. Comforting and soothing is something I’ll take any day over fancy and engineered. I’ve deep respect for fine, jacket-and-tie kind of dining, but were it up to me, were I running a restaurant, mine would be focused on soothing souls and nurturing the senses. I’d serve rice pudding for dessert and call it a night.

arborio rice pudding with Indian spices

I think that rice pudding is just about one of the loveliest things there is out there. Like cozy wool socks, or homemade marshmallows. It’s my go-to comfort dessert, and one that I welcome this time of year with open arms. It also makes your house smell deliciously divine: sweet, warm, wintry. I prefer my rice pudding slightly warmed, but a friend of mine recently confessed to having an unhealthy addiction to eating cold rice pudding early in the morning before work. A breakfast pudding, if you will. While she felt pangs of guilt about indulging her rice pudding yen in the morning, to me – nothing sounded better because I was reared in a type of morning rice pudding in Russia. Except in Russia we didn’t call it rice pudding – we called it “risovaya kasha” or kasha made of rice. Kasha, in Russian, denoted a porridge of sorts, usually eaten for breakfast and made with a whole grain. My arch-nemesis was something called “mannaya kasha” – which, I think, in the US is called farina. I still shudder at the thought.


Of course, as a kid I was an impossible-to-please-picky-eater; I gagged on practically everything that was milk-based. Grass-fed cows’ milk, folks. Cows that knew not what hormones or antibiotics were. Cows that spent their days in the pasture, calmly, thoughtfully (I like to think) chewing on grasses and mulling around. And I gagged on such a thing.

I grew up in a household that thought (rightly so!) that milk equaled health; and a healthy child was what the zenith of family goals should be. Thus various milk products were force-fed down my through as if I were a foie gras goose being readied for the plumping. Breakfast was almost always a hot grain cereal: sometimes buckwheat, sometimes cream of wheat, sometimes the overcooked, glue-like oatmeal my grandmother loved to serve. And sometimes, when I was lucky, it was rice pudding. Studded with raisins and impossibly rich. I ate that with more enthusiasm than other breakfast foods mostly because the raisins served as a good distraction.

arborio rice pudding with Indian spices

By the time I grew up, I kind of forgot about rice pudding and it was eating kheer at Indian restaurant a few years back that jolted my memory. After that, rice pudding was all I could think about. I made it over and over and over. I combined the Indian flavors with the more traditional pudding recipe. And added a bay leaf as it gave the rice a slightly woodsy, herbal fragrance. Sometimes, rice pudding tastes so candy-sweet, it’s almost overwhelming. I liked having a little earthiness to the smell and the bay leaf complements the sweetness rather nicely.

While I typically share my food with friends, I never shared rice pudding. It would vanish from my kitchen with lightning speed; faster than I could snap a photograph. Last year, I made this pudding, took pictures and then immediately forgot all about it. I do this a lot – forgetting to write about recipes I’ve cooked eons ago. I hope you can forgive me because this is seriously good. And comforting. And warm. And you can have it for breakfast too and not just for dessert. Wearing pajamas. Or jeans and tank tops. Or fancy black dresses. It’s totally up to you!

Indian-Spiced Rice Pudding

4 cups whole milk (I’m curious how this might work with soy or coconut milk)
1/2 cup rice (I prefer Basmati or Arborio)
1/4 cup demerara sugar (palm sugar sugar works nicely, but I’ve also used white and gotten away with it)
1/2 vanilla split bean, split, seeds scraped out
2-3 cardamom pods, cracked, seeds ground in a spice grinder or a mortar and pestle
1 whole bay leaf
1/4 cup golden raisins (optional)
1/4 cup almond slivers (slightly toasted for 10 minutes in a 300 degree oven)

1. Place all the ingredients in a medium saucepan. Over medium to low-medium heat, bring to a gentle boil and then reduce to simmer, stirring periodically to ensure that the bottom doesn’t get stuck or burnt. Cook for about 30-35 minutes tasting at the end for doneness. The rice granules should be soft, but slightly firm to the bite, especially, if using Arborio rice. Remove from heat.

2. Serve immediately, or wait for a cooler rice pudding (my favorite). Or, if you’re like my friend, chill it and eat it cold. For breakfast. Because you can.


  • tara

    I pretty much jumped when you mentioned this elsewhere. Kheer is one of my all-time-hall-of-fame-never-to-be-replaced comfort desserts. So glad you got over your aversion to milk; I’d hate for you to miss out on something as good as this looks.

  • Michaela

    You have me here – completely. Coming to you from the Vermont wilds, I will tell you for a fact that although I do own a black dress, I am not sure of where it is at the moment. There’s no place like home and the country comfort of a pair of jeans and a t-shirt. And rice pudding for breakfast. You certainly are my kind of girl.

  • Radish

    Tara – i could eat kheer every single day of my life and never feel bored. It’s THAT good. I hated eating most things as a kid. Though I liked being in the kitchen and there were foods I loved. Here’s to growing up!

    Michaela – thanks :-)

  • Mike

    I love rice pudding. It was one of my favorite desserts growing up, but my mom only made the most traditional version. I think this Indian-spiced twist sounds brilliant. Thanks for the inspiration.

  • Amy @ Cheerful Cookery

    I adore rice pudding. I’ve always used a shorter grain rice, so never tried it with basmati, but that’s the standard rice in my kitchen – love the flavor and imagine it would add a wonderful sweet flavor. I haven’t made rice pudding in years – thanks for the reminder, perfect comfort food for a very cold day!

  • lo

    I have such fond memories of rice pudding. My mother would always make it for me when I was sick… as an easy-to-digest comfort food, as it seems. Love, love the idea of an Indian spiced version — all those warming spices in one spot. Nothing less than thrilling!

  • yulinka

    When I was growing up, rice kasha was my absolute favorite breakfast. Milky, creamy, always served with a big pat of butter and raisins or chopped, dried apricots. Or dollops of jam. I can’t imagine eating it cold, though. It has to be piping hot, and served for breakfast, not dessert.

  • Katie @ Cozydelicious

    I adore rice pudding. Mostly because, as you say, it’s just the least fussy of foods. My Mom used to take me to a fabulous little deli when I was a kid and we would always share a little cup of raisin-filled rice pudding. It was our special gril treat, since my father and brother both hated rice pudding. I’ve always made my version as close to that old deli’s as possible – very creamy, tons of raisins, a little cinnamon and a tiny bit of sugar. But I have never had cardamom in rice pudding, and it sounds amazing.

  • Sweets at Vicky's

    I tried rreallly hard to fall in love with rice pudding. Even went around looking for the best Melbourne had to offer, but I’m still not convinced. Maybe this asian take on it will do the trick since the spices makes it more ‘perky’

  • Barbara

    Interesting flavor with the bay leaf and cardamom added. I adore rice pudding, any kind, so I’ll try this ASAP. Comfort food, for sure.

  • Kate @ Savour Fare

    I adore kheer — I think it adds another fantastic dimension to ordinary rice pudding. And your stories of gagging on the milk made me laugh — remind me of the classic A.A. Milne poem: “Whatever’s the matter with Mary Jane? She’s screaming with all of her might and main. And it’s LOVELY rice pudding for dinner again!”

  • molly

    I’m ALL for rice pudding at breakfast. And lunch. And dinner. In between, also. Oh! And dessert. It’s the perfect food. (And with cardamom… Perfecter?!) Lovely.

  • kamran siddiqi

    Um, delish! I couldn’t help but to make some this morning! I left out the raisins and added a little more than 1/4 cup of slivered almonds because I love the stuff dearly! And anything that is this similar to kheer is absolutely delish! Out of 5 stars I’d give this a 9 for pure yummaliciousness! Time for me to go back to the rice pudding. :)

  • Radish

    Kamran – 9 our out of 5 stars? That’s recipe rating gold right here! I love the pudding with almonds, and in fact, just finished making a batch myself. It’s so comforting on a cold Sunday. Here’s to pudding!

  • laura

    Olga, your writing and photography are lovely. I agree, rice pudding is a quintessential comfort food. I have tried several versions of Indian rice pudding – even in India! – but have never made it at home. This recipe looks deliciously rich and flavorful, and I believe I now have zero excuse to put off trying it myself!

  • Megan Gordon

    Wow…I just made snickerdoodles with cardamom and have been wanting to experiment more with Indian spices. Timely that I just ran across this recipe…looks great. I took the lazy way out and used ground cardamom, but I’m going to head out tomorrow and buy cardamom pods and give this a whirl. Thanks for the inspiration.

  • rpglegal

    Yum and Yum! After having Indian food for lunch on Sat. I came home and found this on your blog! (Which I love by the way..) Made it as part of my Super Bowl celebration last evening.. Easy and delicious.. and Almond milk worked just fine to cook the rice in by the way!

  • tariqata

    I just tried this out using a mix of coconut milk and skim milk, and the zest and juice of an orange. I had to skip the vanilla as I seem to be out, but I added two cinnamon sticks, a few peppercorns, and some whole cloves and an allspice pod, and it’s lovely.

    I know it’s a bit late, but thanks for posting such an inspiring recipe!

  • MizDahlia

    I just want you to know that it’s election night, 2010, and the only thing that’s making me feel better than the ghastly election results is the smell of this wonderful, comforting rice pudding perfuming my apartment :-).

  • Radish

    MizDahlia – I know, it was a sad night last night with a few bright spots, but overall, not so much! I’m glad that this rice pudding kept you at least somewhat comforted :)

  • nikki

    It works beautifully with coconut milk…I’ve never made rice pudding with regular milk.Give it a try. I add cardamom and raisins… sometimes pistachios because they work so well with the cardamom.

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