Healthy comfort food can be hard to find in the supermarket, especially when you want something that's tasty and inexpensive and appeals to everyone. But homemade rice pudding can fulfill all those desires. This ultimate comfort food is found on almost every continent where rice is available (I didn't find any on Antarctica during my month there) and has many names: arroz con leche in Spain, risalamande in Scandinavia, pulut hitam in Malaysia, riz bi haleeb in Lebanon.
But when you make your own rice pudding, be selective when it comes to the milk.
Cow's milk, usually the most commonly used milk in this dish, is among the big eight allergens, with increasing numbers of people avoiding the highly processed homogenized, pasteurized milk in the dairy case. I remember the days when milk spoiled in a week. Today, the expiration date on the carton is roughly four weeks from the day you buy it.
Hemp nondairy beverage is becoming more available and offers a non-GMO and gluten-free advantage: It has no lactose, unlike cow's milk, which can cause flatulence and gastrointestinal distress. (Hemp beverage has no THC, the psychoactive substance found in hemp's cousin, marijuana.)
Hemp "milk," which is made by soaking hemp seeds and grinding them into a creamy, nutty-flavored beverage, is a great vegan source of all essential amino acids. Research is under way, however, to determine whether hemp seed beverages contain phytates, which can interfere with essential nutrient absorption.
Another good "milk" choice for a healthy rice pudding is coconut milk. It provides a creamy texture and delicate flavor. Don't worry about the saturated fat content in coconut. It is not a factor in coronary heart disease until the oil is hydrogenated into nondairy products and toppings.
Bring home that extra rice from the Asian restaurant and make it into rice pudding, or choose your favorite rice — jasmine is mine — and transform it into a sweet treat.
Betty Wedman-St Louis is a licensed nutritionist and environmental health specialist in Pinellas County who has written numerous books on health and nutrition. Visit her website at betty-wedman-stlouis.com.