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Basmati rice (Recipe: aromatic rice pudding)


If you've been watching Top Chef (of course you have), you must remember this season's Episode Six, the quickfire challenge that asked the chefs to identify a range of food products by sight or by taste.

Some of the tests were easy: tapioca pearls, oatmeal, bow tie pasta (Top chefs? My six-year-old grandchildren could identify bow tie pasta.). Some were a bit more difficult: hearts of palm, fish paste, Thai eggplant.

So, here's my quickfire challenge.

Should a Top Chef be able to identify basmati rice, just by looking at it?

Yes, indeed. Pure basmati grain is four-to-five times as long as it is wide, and has a slightly and uniquely twisted tip, almost like the toe of Ali Baba's shoe.

For centuries, basmati -- the word means "queen of fragrance" in Hindi -- has been grown in the foothills of the Himalayas, in the Haryana and Uttar Pradesh regions of India and the Punjab region of India and Pakistan. The best quality pure basmatis are from Dehra Dun (Type 3) and Punjab (Type 370, which was the first basmati released for commercial cultivation, in 1933). The basmati rice plant is delicate, and needs to be tended with care.

When cooked, the rice (which is available in white or brown varieties) expands both in width and, especially, in length. It is famously aromatic, with a slightly nutty flavor that works particularly well in traditional pilaf and biryani, and in somewhat less traditional stuffing and fried rice.


Washing and pre-soaking the basmati results in a softer and more elongated grain. It's often soaked for 30 minutes or up to two hours, with or without salt, so the rice becomes less brittle. To prepare the rice for cooking, pour the rice into a large bowl. Fill the bowl with cold water and swoosh around with your hand. Immediately pour out the cloudy water, leaving the wet grains in the bowl. Repeat 3-4 times; on the fourth fill, leave the water in the bowl and let the rice soak for 30 minutes. The soaking water, which is full of starch from the rice, usually is discarded, though in some families in India, according to rice experts Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid, the water is used for ironing -- a great way to recycle.

Aromatic rice pudding

From Seductions of Rice, by Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid, this rich and sweet pudding originates in Calcutta. Serves 6-8.


1/2 cup basmati rice
8 cups whole or 2% milk, plus more if necessary
5 inches cinnamon stick, broken into several pieces
4 green cardamom pods
Generous pinch of salt
6 Tbsp palm sugar or brown sugar


Wash the rice thoroughly until the water runs clear, then drain in a sieve. Spread on a towel on the counter and use a rolling pin to break the rice into smaller pieces. You do not want a mush, or evenly sized pieces, you just want to break it down a little. Set aside on a plate or in a sieve to dry while the milk reduces.

Place the milk in a large, heavy pot and bring to a boil, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon, then lower the heat until the milk is barely simmering. Add the cinnamon stick and cardamom pods. Cook for 45 minutes, stirring frequently to prevent sticking and to prevent a skin forming on the surface (if a skin does form, stir it back in), or until the milk has reduced to about 6 cups.

Add the rice and salt and continue to cook over low heat, stirring frequently, until the rice is tender, 35-40 minutes. As it cooks and absorbs liquid, the mixture will thicken; if necessary (if the rice is not yet cooked and the mixture is very thick), add a little more milk.

When the rice is very soft and tender but not a mush, add the sugar and stir gently to dissolve. Cook for another 5 minutes, then taste for sweetness and add a little more sugar if you wish. Remove the cinnamon stick and cardamom pods. Serve warm or at room temperature.

[Printer-friendly recipe.]

More in The Perfect Pantry:

Cranberry rice pudding
Vegetable nori rolls
Sushi rice
Salmon fried rice

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What a fabulous way to use that soaking water!

I wish I could have watched Top Chef -- we don't have Bravo here, for some reason. Anyhow, I'm enjoying the rice posts.

queen of fragrance sounds just about right. I adore basmati

Love Basmati! When we moved to Cork, Ireland, there was a lady in the English Market that introduced me to lots of different rices, including Basmati. I will forever be grateful to her.

Basmati has become so frequent a guest in my kitchen, that it's now a fixture. I buy it in bulk, those big burlap bags fr/ an Indian grocer, very economical, and so many more varieties to choose from.

Anything with rice has a special place in my heart, Lydia.

And if I were there, at the quickfire challenge, hearts of palm would save me from being cut off the show. :)

I'd have to say my sentiments are the same as Susan, anything with rice has a special place in my heart...fun finding this blog!

And...I have a 25lb. sack of organic brown basmati rice in my kitchen. I eat lots of grains on a macrobiotic diet, but rice is my hands-down favorite.

I'm enjoying these rice facts and rice rhymes, keep blogging!

Basmati rice is the standard rice we have at home. We usually make this mixed in with a little yoghurt ,oil and a little salt to get the crust at the bottom Iranians call Tah-dig.
For special occassions here's a dish that I featured last year on my blog. It's called Barberry rice and it is made with basmati rice.

Lucy, I would never have thought of it, but it's a pretty cool idea!

Kelly, Top Chef is a bit of an addiction. It's not so much about cooking -- it's more like a game show. But it's still fun, and I hope it makes it to you eventually.

Lobster, Queen of Fragrance sound very fancy, doesn't it? I love that.

Katie, so nice to think that you discovered basmati in Ireland!

Susan, I always see those big burlap bags (25 pounds?) and wonder who buys them. Now I know!

Patricia, I hope I would have recognized hearts of palm -- certainly by taste, if not entirely by sight, but for sure I would have been able to identify bowtie pasta. My goodness....top chefs?

Meg, so you're another buyer of those giant sacks of rice! Of course it is the perfect base for a macrobiotic diet. And as for the rhymes, well, my bad poems, songs, rhymes, etc., do show up from time to time!

Veron, thanks so much for your link. I've heard the word tah-dig, but never knew what it meant. So thanks for that information, too. I learn so much from my readers!

Love basmatic rice cooked briyani style. When I go for indian buffets, I will always head for that :)
I don't buy basmatic rice at home though.

I love the delicate texture of basmati rice but never thought of using it in rice pudding. This is a great idea, Lydia.

Basmati rice is something I truly adore. I store a big package in my pantry, too! Like your idea of making rice pudding from it.

Yea - I LOVE rice pudding. I was waiting for a recipe :)

Do you happen to know about red rice? I was asked about it recently and was waiting to see if it would come up on your site during rice week (I referred that person to your site too)

Tigerfish, Nora, Anh, I can't take credit for the idea, but the rice pudding is delicious.

Hillary, this is the second rice pudding recipe I've posted (the first is linked at the end of this post). Red rice? Yes, I've used it, on its own and in combination with white rice. Although I do have some in my pantry, I don't use it often enough to blog about it. But email me if you have specific questions and I'll try to answer them!

I LOVE rice. I like Basmati rice alot but jasmine is the best!


We use basmati all the time and I had never noticed its shape, the things you learn. Very cute that it is curled up like Ali Baba's shoe, I'm sure I'll never forget that!

Excellant post! I love rice, and you're giving great advice for us all!

Paz, I do keep a bit of jasmine rice in my pantry, too.

Neil, I just want to make sure that if any Pantry readers end up as Top Chef contestants, they will be prepared! Are you getting Top Chef in Australia?

Sher, thank you so much.

Basmati certainly is the queen of my pantry! What a beautiful post, Linda. The rice pudding sounds creamy and delicious.

I didn't know that Basmati means "queen of fragrance" it's so beautiful.Have I told how much I love your blog! Everybody needs this kind of information when cooking. We can't go without it. It's like learning a language but without a distionnary. Impossible!
Have a great weekend Lydia.

You know what's sad? Until this month, I didn't know what rice pudding was. I did know that one of my favorite snacks as a child was a bowl of Minute Rice, cooked, then sprinkled with brown sugar, cinnamon, and nutmeg, and swimming in 2% milk.

I'll have to try the recipe you posted, a decidedly grown up version of my somewhat ghetto rice pudding.

Nupur, thank you. Rice pudding made with basmati is lovely.

Rose, what a wonderful thing to say about The Perfect Pantry! I'm so glad you are enjoying and learning. Whenever I put together a post, I try to share at least one new thing I've learned about the ingredient. And there's so much I don't know!

Abi, welcome to The Perfect Pantry. Lots of us grew up on Minute Rice -- it was the age of convenience, and my mom, who worked full-time, went for anything that you could boil in a bag or dump right into a pan. There's nothing wrong with Minute Rice, but now as adults we have more options.

A twisted tip like Ali baba's shoe??? You are the best! I never noticed, shamefully. Good to know in case I endure a Quickfire ingredients challenge. I love TopChef!

OH! thats why we salt our basmati!!!

Callipygia, I love Top Chef too, I'm ashamed to admit! I'm not a trained chef, but I definitely was familiar with more of the ingredients in that quickfire challenge than some of those chefs. It made me realize how limiting working in a restaurant can be, if you're focused on only one cuisine and don't experiment beyond it. Maybe this would be a good course in culinary school -- "Name the Ingredient!"

SK, I never used to salt any rice; I just salted the stew or stir fry or whatever I was serving with it. But when I use the rice as an ingredient in the dish, instead of as a stand-alone side dish, I have to remember to salt.

Seriously! Casey gets bow tie pasta and somebody else gets mirin?! I've made many rice puddings in my day but almost always with arborio or white rice. I'll have to try it with basmati now. Thanks for the delicious idea!

Susan, I can't wait to see what idiotic challenges they've got coming up on Top Chef... try the pudding with basmati, if you get a chance. It's delicate and fragrant.

This is the rice I buy regularly, and I really like Tilda best! The taste is so good, but even the smell of the uncooked rice is just so comforting.

Kelly-Jane, I like the Tilda too, and I was surprised to find it in my regular grocery store out here in not-so-sophisticated northwest Rhode Island!

Yes we do. Can you believe they're rerunning the first series...again.

Neil, they rerun all of the Top Chef series willy-nilly here, too. It makes you realize that with each series, they are getting farther away from actual cooking, and closer to a three-ring circus sideshow....

is there a difference between basmati rice and jasmine rice? at my natural foods store in the bulk section they have both, but they look very similar to me and both give off a lovely fragrance when cooked. i generally use them interchangeably, which ever one the store is having a special on.

Connie, they are different strains of rice, though you can substitute one for the other in many dishes as both are long-grain and aromatic. Jasmine is from Thailand; basmati is from India. I'm a bit partial to basmati, but that's a personal thing. Both are delicious.

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