Rice Pudding with Caramelized Figs

You guys I finally got to try real figs for the first time ever!!! I was at Trader Joe's like most Saturday mornings getting groceries and spotted these beauties, by that I mean black figs from California. I may or may not have screeched a little with excitement. When I got home, I cut them open and enjoyed a couple of slices by itself. It tasted sweet, was pretty odorless, tender, and had a subtle earthy taste mixed in with apples or pears - not sure how to describe it exactly but I knew I had to incorporate it into something sweet. Not having a prior experience with figs, I simply caramelized them and served it over a healthy version of rice pudding which you can eat for both breakfast or dessert. 

Rice pudding (kheer in Nepali) holds a very special place in many rituals and festivities in Southeast Asian countries. It is served at weddings, funerals, religious festivals, and also while transiting babies into solid food. A ceremony called annaprashan (meaning grain initiation in Sanskrit) is celebrated by feeding a small amount of solid food such rice pudding to babies around 6-7 months of age. In Nepal, every year in July, a day is dedicated to eating rice pudding where it is savored as a meal by everyone. 

I was never a big fan of rice pudding, it was always a hit or miss depending on who cooked it. I didn't care for soupy rice pudding and if it had raisins, which almost all of them did, it was an absolute no-go for me. My idea of rice pudding has a consistency of a pudding where rice is very tender but not smushed, or cloyingly sweet but has a hint of cardamom and cinnamon. Since there are hundreds of recipes and countless variations to rice pudding depending upon who you ask, I made a lighter version by using water + milk and a little sweetener. 

Caramelized figs are optional but if you have them around, caramelize them with a little butter and brown sugar to make them sweeter and juicier. Caramelized figs can also be used with a dollop of yogurt, over your oatmeal, and with creme fraiche or mascorpone. 

Rice pudding is one of those recipes you have to shower it with love, dedicate time and give attention to. The cooking process is similar to making a risotto where you allow rice to absorb the liquid, let it simmer over a low heat, constantly stir and add liquid as needed till it reaches a desired consistency. But meanwhile, you can instagram, make caramelized figs, or get lost in your own thoughts. Whatever you do, just don't let it burn!  Rice pudding is naturally gluten-free and vegan-friendly. Figs can be caramelized with vegan butter to make it vegan as well. I am using arborio rice (or other short grain rice) because it is starchy and gives a creamy consistency without being mushy.  Rice Pudding  for 2-3 servings Ingredients 1 cup water 1/2 cup arborio rice (or any other short-grain rice) 2 cups milk of your choice (I used unsweetened almond-coconut) splash of pure vanilla extract

pinch of cinnamon and cardamom powder
1 tablespoon honey (or maple syrup for vegan), use more if desired

Directions

- In a medium sauce pan, allow water to boil, then add rice. 
- Reduce the heat to low and let it simmer until most of the water is absorbed for about 10 minutes stirring constantly. 
- Add milk at 1/2 cup increment, stirring occasionally until milk is absorbed. It will take about an hour.
- Towards the last 1/2 cup, stir vanilla, cardamom, cinnamon and honey. 
- Cook rice until it is tender and creamy.
- Remove from heat and keep it aside. 
- When ready, enjoy it warm or cold with caramelized figs and additional honey if desired.
 
Caramelized Figs
 

Ingredients

3-5 figs, cut into half
1 tablespoon butter (or vegan butter)
1-2 tablespoon brown sugar 
 
Directions
- Melt butter in a small pan, toss in figs and sprinkle brown all over it.
- Face the figs down and let it cook for 2-3 minutes until tender and golden brown.
- Remove from heat and set aside or serve it over rice pudding. 
 
Fig recipes around the web:
Fig bars @sproutedkitchen (I made this version with dates)