Indian Rice Pudding
We often categorised dishes into one of two categories:
Savoury foods, which make up the bulk of your meal. So these are your meats, vegetables, appetisers, soups, and most other things that come before dessert, and
Sweet foods, constituting desserts, cakes, tea-time snacks, and most other objects of gluttony.
While most dishes do fall into one of these two camps, there are some that stand firmly on the border of the two.
Take breakfast foods like pancakes, cereal or a PB&J sandwich, for example. Or if you’re Malaysian, consider a kaya toast. These breakfast foods are often a delightful mix of savoury and sweet. Pancakes and waffles are mostly made with a savoury, more-salty-than-sweet batter, but they’re then doused in sticky sweet honey or maple syrup. In the best PB&Js, the cloying sweetness of the raspberry jam or grape jelly is nicely countered by the salty nuttiness of the peanut butter. Or in the case of kaya toast, there’s the subtle, sweet, hearty coconut jam, perfectly balanced with the salinity from chunks of salted butter and the saliva-sucking savourinesss of the toasted Hainanese bread.
Or take popcorn. There’s the right way of having them—glazed in caramel—and then there’s the other (read: wrong) way—tossed in salt. They both serve the same purpose—a simple enough snack to keep your mouth busy without having to avert your eyes from the big screen—but one variant is clearly sweet, and the other is savagely salty. But rarely do you hear popcorn being classified as a ‘savoury dish’. Conversely, consider a pumpkin soup, made from the softened flesh of honey-sweet kabochas, giving you a lavish puree that’s definitely more sweet than savoury. But you would never hear a soup labelled as a ‘sweet dish’.
So maybe there should be a whole new class of food, wholly reserved for dishes that tow the line between the two existing categories. As for a name for this new category of food, since smexy is a combination of smart and sexy, maybe this new category should be called… swavoury? All the aforementioned foods would be in this new swavoury class we just made up. So would flavours like salted caramel, miso ice cream, bacon crème brulees, and ditzy, fruity palate-cleansers like roasted pineapple and grilled watermelons. They’re all swavoury through and through.
But really, I suspect all this rationale for a swavoury category is really just to excuse this Marilyn Manson of a dish I made—a mango masala rice pudding!
Yes, mango is sweet, and pudding suggests dessert. But if, for the rice pudding, you use long-grain rice generally reserved for savoury applications, but cook it in a rich broth of coconut milk with some salt to bring out its fragrance, is it still purely a sweet pudding? And, if instead of building up the dish with conventional dessert flavours, you take inspiration from the savoury, spice-laden cuisine of India—say, by spicing up the pudding with a smidge of masala powder—is it still a dessert? Finally, if you take further cues from Indian food, and top the pudding with a salty cucumber granita and a dollop of yogurt—flavours reminiscent of the cucumber and red onion raitas served alongside rotis and lentil dals—wouldn’t it further detract the dish off the dessert path?
So is it sweet? Is it savoury? Maybe it’s neither, Maybe it’s both. Maybe it’s… swavoury.
Oh and if you’re wondering, the rice I used is a heirloom variety called nasi keladi (yam rice), because when cooked, it emits this earthy, engulfing scent of yam and sweet potatoes! I got it from the super sweet people at Langit Collective, a social enterprise helping farmers in East Malaysia. They’re doing some amazing things out there in the rural communities of the Lawas Highlands of Sarawak, so do check them out and support them!
Mango Masala Rice Pudding
Makes 3-4 portions
Cucumber & lime granita
juice of ½ a lime
2 tablespoons caster sugar
¾ teaspoon salt
90g rice, the more flavourful the better (I used Langit Collective’s nasi keladi.)
100ml coconut milk
50g jaggery, or any dark brown sugar
1 teaspoon (5g) salt
½ teaspoon masala powder (I used a blend of cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, and ginger.)
80g plain greek yogurt
½ teaspoon masala powder, for garnishing
Cucumber and lime granita: Juice the cucumber. (If you’re like me and don’t have a juicer, you can blend it up in a blender, and strain out the pulp through a sieve.) Then, add in the lime juice, sugar, and salt. Stir until the sugar is melted. Pour this into a container and pop it into the freezer overnight until it’s completely frozen.
Rice pudding: Rinse the rice 2-3 times to remove the excess starch. Put the milk, butter, jaggery, salt, and masala powder in a small pot or saucepan, and bring it to a boil. Stir until all the sugar has melted, then add in the rice. (It’ll look like there’s a lot of liquid for the amount of rice, but trust me the rice will absorb most of that rich, milky liquid!) Keep this on a simmer for 35-40 minutes, or until the rice is completely cooked through, stirring every few minutes to prevent any rice from sticking to the bottom. Once cooked, remove the pan from the heat and let it cool to room temperature.
Garnishes: Take the frozen granita out of the freezer, and using a fork, scrape at it to get little bits of shaved ice. Once you get enough granita to serve, keep it in the freezer until you’re ready with the serve. Meanwhile, peel and slice up the mango, ready your greek yogurt, and prepare a small sieve to dust the masala powder.
Serve: There’s no one right way to serve this really. You don’t have to go (overly) fancy like mine, haha. As long as you have a few spoonfuls of rice pudding, serve it with plenty of mango, and garnish it with a dollop of greek yogurt and a scoop or two of cucumber and lime granita, you’ll be in swavoury-land in no time.