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Creole Cooking: An Impromptu Rendezvous with Rice Pudding

Woke up one morning and was in the mood for rice pudding, Haitian Creole style of course. The truth is, I almost purchased pre-made rice pudding while grocery shopping the week before but decided not to because I just figured I could probably try to make this at home one day. Certain things are better homemade anyway—that way you can control exactly which ingredient goes into your dish, and you don’t have to worry whether your food was prepared in a safe and healthy environment.

Didn’t do any advance planning or grocery shopping before committing to trying out this rice pudding recipe that I vaguely remember from my childhood growing up in Haiti. Luckily, rice pudding is one of those dishes where you most certainly will have most of the ingredients you will need in your home already. Also, I am truly the Queen of improvising when it comes to cooking or just life in general. Motto is you roll with the punches and do the best with what you got or as the saying goes when life gives you lemons, you make lemonade!

The most basic rice-pudding recipe will include the following ingredients:

1. Rice

2. Brown Sugar

3. Milk

4. Vanilla extract/Cinnamon/Star Anise (whichever you have in your pantry will do the trick)

5. Butter

6. Pinch of salt

7. Dry fruits such as raisins are commonly used to garnish the plated dish, but this is optional

So, you might be thinking, what’s the difference between regular rice pudding and Haitian style rice pudding? First, in my opinion carnation milk is a must for Haitian style rice pudding. Second, Haitians typically eat rice pudding warm, right off the pot or at room temperature, rather than refrigerating first and eating cold. Of course, if you have leftovers you may store in the fridge for later use but most times the dish is eaten warm. Rice pudding is definitely comfort food! Finally, Haitians sometimes make this dish without sugar so it’s sort of like a creamy, boiled rice with milk and butter dish. Further, if you’re making it without sugar, you can replace the cinnamon, vanilla and/or star anise with a few black peppercorns along with pinch of salt for some additional flavor and use a lot more butter. Both dishes, with and without sugar, is delicious. If you don’t believe me, well the proof is in the pudding! Haha see what I did there, and for those who don't know, the expression simply means that the best way to find out if something is good, you have to try it for yourself. So, try making rice pudding at home one of these days rather than purchasing store bought kind and judge for yourself which is better. There are tons of step-by-step recipes online that you can follow, with proper measurements rather than my usual eyeball method of measuring ingredients, which won’t be too helpful to share here. When it comes to cooking though, one piece of advice that I have is to have fun with it, be creative/flexible, and improvise when you need to or adjust recipes to your own liking and dietary restrictions. For example, if you don't want to use carnation or whole milk, you can use oat milk--which is an excellent substitute if you can't have lactose, nuts or gluten. I actually added some vanilla flavored oat milk, in addition to carnation milk, in the rice pudding I made, and it worked out perfectly.

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