When I'm not helping out in the SAVEUR test kitchen, I work as a private chef here in New York City. One of the families for whom I cook on a weekly basis decided recently to start eating only whole grains, while simultaneously cutting out dairy and refined sugar. In the course of making some serious menu changes, I was especially stumped by the prospect of health-ifying dessert, since my usual repertoire includes plenty of baked goods and ice cream. But then I hit on the perfect solution: rice pudding! As a kid, rice pudding was one of my favorite weeknight treats, and the sweet, milky concoction I remember seemed ripe for a whole-grain update. (See the recipe »)
I kicked off this makeover by replacing the pudding's standard white rice with whole grain brown, which has a sweet, nutty flavor that's perfect for dessert. Using coconut milk, rich and creamy, allowed me to cut out both dairy and egg yolks. Building on that southeast Asian flavor, I added a hint of cardamom to the spice in addition to the traditional cinnamon and nutmeg.
To take advantage of some of the beautiful seasonal produce in my market, as well as veering away from the standard accompaniment of raisins, I paired the pudding with a sweet-tart raw rhubarb compote, which gets a spicy kick from crystallized ginger. A chef friend of mine introduced me to the unexpected flavor combination of rhubarb and ginger, as well as opening my eyes to the fact that rhubarb doesn't always need to be cooked to be enjoyed. Dolloped on top of pudding that's been plated into individual bowls, it's a grown-up, whole-grain-friendly reimagining of a favorite childhood dessert.