Geraniums are very popular in Lebanon; even the most modest home will adorn its doorsteps or balcony with a pot filled with these cheerful flowers; as a kid, I would secretly pluck the petals of our potted geraniums with a girlfriend: the idea was to blot them onto our 10-year-old lips hoping to wear that bright pink hue.
This rice pudding however is flavored with a type of geranium that is extremely fragrant, but has almost no flowers; a few leaves are dropped in the milk while it is heated; then the pudding is sweetened with some grape molasses, which was the main sweetener in Lebanon before refined white sugar became available; this creamy mixture delivers a faint butterscotch flavor with the scents of rose, orange blossom and geranium added to the mix.
• 1 cup of round rice, such as Italian arborio or sushi or Turkish or Egyptian
• 2 1/2 cups of milk
• 2 large tablespoons of cornstarch (heaping)
• 1/2 cup of white sugar
• 3 or 4 tablespoons of grape molasses or apple molasses or date molasses
• 2 or 3 leaves of fragrant geranium, (can substitute a cinnamon stick)
• 1 teaspoon of rose water or rose syrup
• 1 teaspoon of orange blossom water
1. Place the rice in a heavy-bottomed pot and add enough water to cover the rice and extend up by one inch; simmer the rice till it is almost cooked or at least al dente and the water is almost evaporated, stirring occasionally.
2. Pour 2 cups of the milk with the geranium leaves (if using) in a pan and scald the milk, adding the sugar, stirring a bit to dissolve the sugar; (heat till small bubbles form on the edge of the pot).
3. Add the milk (discarding the leaves) to the rice and cook, stirring constantly on low heat until the rice and milk start to form a creamy mass; dissolve the cornstarch in the remaining 1/2 cup of milk and add to the rice mixture; keep stirring; the rice pudding should thicken within minutes; add the molasses and stir some more.
4. Add the rose water and orange blossom water and mix; remove the pudding from the heat, either dividing into individual serving bowls or one large bowl; taste with a spoon to adjust the seasoning.
5. Cool on the counter and then refrigerate.
6. Serve cold or at room temperature.
NOTE: Can decorate the rice pudding with candied walnuts.
Can sweeten the rice pudding strictly with molasses, adding more as needed.
Recipe courtesy of Chef Ramzi The Culinary Heritage of Lebanon, Arabic edition. (adapted)
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