Sutlijas aka rice pudding

Sutlijas is one of the first desserts I remember as a child. It is a simple dessert, easy to make and I assume our working mums, who were also  good housewives had to come up with a handy solution. Sutlijas was certainly one of those. A rice cooked in milk, sweetened with sugar, but not too much, and dusted with cinnamon on the top – that is Sutlijas. It’s made like this or similarly, around the world and quite often it’s just the name that is different.

It wasn’t always my favourite dessert but I never said no to it. I guess I learned to appreciate it later in my life more than when I was little. Some things take time but not this dessert. That is another beauty that comes with age as well; you learn to appreciate time as well. Don’t get me wrong, I am one of those people who can wait for hours for the dough to rise but when you are in a hurry and you still want to finish your dinner with a nice dessert – Sutlijas is the way to go.

And then I remember exactly when and where I tasted my first rice pudding. There was a place in New York that will always be called “Hasan” by my sister’s family and me. We used to go there together every time I visited and we all loved the food. I remember you had to move a thick velvet curtain to get in. It was almost hidden from the rest of the world, somewhere between 53rd and 57th  street on the west side of Manhattan. We enjoyed spicy lentil soup, pastries stuffed with minced meat and dipped in yoghurt aromatised with fresh mint and at the end, almost always, rice pudding in a thick flute glass with curly/floral ends (one of those created just for the movies back in the 60’s), would be served. It was always decorated with pistachios. Years after we realised that Hasan was just one of the waiters’ name, not the name of the restaurant, but it stuck with us anyway. I loved that rice pudding. It was made slightly differently from the Sutlijas I knew; It was more creamy, with a slight scent of lemon and of course decorated with crushed pistachios instead of cinnamon. Still we are talking Sutlijas here.

I cook or bake rice pudding quite often and with different milk or toppings. Today I felt like having it this way – almond milk and freshly made plum jam as the right topping. Let me know if you like it too.

Almond milk rice pudding with plum jam

200 gr  short- grain rice (I used arborio rice)

750 ml almond milk

2 teaspoons honey

1 lemon zest

1/2 teaspoon vanilla paste

4 tablespoons of plum or apricot jam

*candied orange peel

fresh mint for decoration

Boil rice in the milk on a very low heat for about 20 minutes or until almost all the milk is absorbed. Stir occasionally just to check if the bottom is not stuck and burned. When the rice is very soft and milk almost absorbed add honey and stir to help dissolve.

Cook for another 5 minutes but don’t let it become too dry. Turn off the heat, add vanilla paste and lemon zest and stir again. The pudding should still have liquid (milk) once off the heat (the rice will absorb it while cooling down).

Serve in your favourite ramekins or glasses, top with jam and decorate with candied fruit. Can be served hot or cold.

* I tend to make my own candied fruit. It comes from cooking many syrups I made for different pies (and I will post the recipes eventually). For this particular one I used one orange peel cooked in a syrup made of water and sugar. You can use the syrup to top the rice pudding as well.

1 orange peel (sliced julienne)

100 ml water

200 gr sugar (I use raw)

1 teaspoon Grand Marnier (optional)

Wash orange thoroughly before use. Peel as thin as you can using a sharp knife – I don’t mind keeping a bit of the white soft part – and slice julienne. Cook in 200 ml of water for 2-3 minutes, take off the heat, discharge water and keep orange strips. In a different pot boil water and sugar, add orange strips and cook for another 15 minutes on a medium heat. Be careful not to burn or change the colour of the orange strips too much. At the end add Grand Marnier (optional) and remove from the heat.

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