Sunday, 23 February 2014

The Rice is Always Greener

Budino di Tapioca & Riso Verde Vietnamese & Kumquat
Tapioca & Vietnamese Green (Com) Rice Flake Pudding with Kumquats

It was Sunday afternoon and I had been out for a long walk, as usual... but had neither stopped for a coffee or a snack... nor had I had anything sweet for breakfast! How could that have possibly happened to me?!? In a state of shock, I set quickly about improvising both the coffee and the sweet snack the minute I walked through the door... I think I turned on the stove before I even took off my jacket!

I had bought the green, Vietnamese rice flakes known as "Cốm" a while ago, knowing that it is popular as an alternative to bread crumbs or panko for crispy deep-fried dishes and also used for some sweet dishes- and of course I thought that I HAD to try it out too! So today was to be the day- what fun!

Traditionally, these green flakes of rice are made by crushing the young, baby rice corns and drying them on Pandan leaves... although I think that probably there was a little pandan flavoring as well as coloring added to these! I say that not because the color seemed particularly artificial... but because I had bought them for a relatively moderate price at the Asian supermarket- and apparently, "the real McCoy" is quite a rare and expensive commodity, enjoyed on special occasions.

So here are the ingredients I used- 1 part dine-pearled tapioca to 2 parts green rice flakes... and the total amount used filled my baking dish just about half way in their dry state. Just remember that however much you make, it will just about double in size by the time it is finished!

As a tart contrast, I had just a handful of kumquats, which I thought would add a nice, tangy, marmalade-like accent to the rice. Yep- that sounded just fine... apart from some milk and a little sweetness and spice- that was all that I figured I would need...

I filled the ramekin I intended to use twice with milk and added that to my saucepan, with a tablespoon of sugar and a teaspoon of vanilla essence... I am not ashamed to admit that I had no fresh at home... life is too short and I was too hungry for something sweet to worry!

As soon as the milk came to the boil, I added the tapioca pearls and stirred them in briskly- then turned the heat down to just a low simmer and let it bubble away for 4-5 minutes, stirring occasionally so as to keep it from sticking.

Whilst the tapioca simmered, I sliced up the kumquats, removed the seeds and popped the slices into a small frying pan with just enough water to cover the base. I brought this up to boiling point and added a star anise and a pinch of cinnamon and let the water evaporate away. I then deglazed the pan with a splash of Cointreau and again, enough water to cover the base... and to fetch up all of the heady flavors that had cooked-in. 

I added a teaspoon of sugar and let the kumquats simmer on- by now they were beginning to get a little sticky, like a marmalade... all good stuff!

After 5 minutes of simmering, I added the rice flakes to the tapioca and stirred them in... they seemed to dissolve almost immediately, turning the snow-white tapioca into a bright emerald green- what fun! Soon, the mixture became very thick and sticky and so I added a little more milk to get it to be a little smoother and more liquid. After it had boiled for 10 minutes in all, I poured it into my baking dish and allowed it to cool a little- then turned my attention back to the Kumquats.

By now, after around 10 minutes of simmering away of their own, the kumquats were soft and slightly sweetened by the sugar, but still tangy... but that would soon be attended to...

I carefully laid the soft kumquat slices on top of the sticky tapioca and rice pudding and drizzle a little honey over them, before popping them into the oven and under the broiler for 2-3 minutes, so that they would caramelize just a little- one small step- but a giant leap at the same time... because the kumquats become much more yummy after that!

Of course I had to allow it to cool off a little before I could dig-in... but the result was pretty yummy! Milky vanilla with a light taste of pandan from the rice and tangy kumquat with a touch of sugar and honey on top- mmm! Needless to say- this satisfied both my sweet tooth and my curiosity! Next time... I will try the crispy variation! Cooking is such FUN!

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