This recipe has been lurking around the back of my brain for quite some time now. In fact, it evolved quietly out of a bizarre marathon of desserts (starting with this) which would all fall into the category of rice puddings… in one form or another. Quietly because only one of these wonderfully starchy things made it up here, and bizarre because as Jason accurately pointed out that this new found interest in rice pudding suddenly emerged out of nowhere.
Right. I have never taken an interest in rice pudding in the previous 3 decades of rice-eating and never thought I would. As an Asian who was happy with her rice sitting comfortably in the savory food section, the idea of a sweet, milky and gooey porridge didn’t strike as normal. But as new moms probably have to get used to pureed things, as a non-baker who gave birth to a new blog I realized that my desserts repertoire needed serious expansion, so rice pudding suddenly found itself moving smoothly into the non-bakery dessert section. It is quick, comforting, and a perfect home for left-over rice. But as I ventured deeper into the world of rice puddings, the more I wanted a more interesting choice of grain to substitute rice.
So this is where barley comes in. It seems that both of East and West has agreed to regard barley as some sort of health food with benefits such as lowering cholesterol, containing antioxidants blah blah blah… Asians even promoted pearl barley to the status of beauty foods, said to reduce bloating and rid the body of excess water. Well, I don’t eat earl barley for any of the above purposes as I have accepted early on that when it comes to beauty, sorry, genes reigns supreme. Besides, don’t condescend. No body drools at the words of “healthy grain”. Pearl barley deserves enforcement simply because of its wonderfully nutty flavor and its pleasantly silkier texture than its peers, which makes it perfect for puddings especially this Indian-style dessert called “kheer”. Of course you can choose good-old basmati or even arborio rice. In fact, they will save you at least an hour in the cooking time, but for people who like the idea of foods with benefits or simply want something different as I did, I say let them eat pearls.
I made this with vanilla seeds which I found over-powering and so switched to using 1/4 tsp of vanilla extract at the end. I like to use rock sugar instead of general white sugar whenever I can because… it tastes better. I don’t know how to explain that difference to you but it just isn’t as… one note. You can easily find it online or in most Asian grocery stores.
- 1 cup of pearl barley
- 5 cups of water
- 4 tbsp of rock sugar
- 1/2 cup of heavy cream
- 1/4 tsp of vanilla extract
- 1/2 tsp of ground cardamon
- 1/4 tsp of ground allspice
- 2 tbsp of crushed pistachios
- Chopped raisins
- Little bit of honey
Place pearl barley in a sieve and rinse it clean under cold water. Then put barley in a large pot, add 5 cups of water and 4 tbsp of rock sugar and bring the water to a boil. Once the sugar has completely dissolved, turn off the heat. Put the lid on and let the barley soak in the water for 1 hour.
After soaking, bring the water back to a simmer and let it cook for another hour (stir occasionally to prevent burning at the bottom). Check the done-ness of the barley which should be tender and soft. If the water has evaporated before they barley gets cooked, add a little bit more. Once the barley is soft, add 1/2 cup of heavy cream and keep simmering until the mixture gets thick and creamy. Stir in the vanilla extract, ground cardamon and ground allspice, and sweeten with more sugar if needed.
I like to eat it warm, but if you like it cold, you could chill it in the fridge but you might need to stir in a little milk before serving as it gets thicker as it cools.
Sprinkle crushed pistachios and raisins with a little dab of honey.