Ukrainian Comfort Food: Milk Rice with Jam

During these cold days, I’m craving comfort. I open my grandmother Valentina’s notebooks and browse her favorite recipes. She loved to cook and she meticulously noted down different dishes she made and how she altered them over the years. However, one recipe is not in the books because it’s too simple to be written down. It’s a recipe for a milk rice that Valentina made almost every week. It included only four ingredients–rice, milk, salt, and sugar, but it tasted heavenly.

The secret to a delicious rice pudding is in slow simmering. The quality of the ingredients matters, and while Valentina used whole-cream milk from her neighbor’s cow, the pudding comes out perfectly even with the supermarket milk I buy. The flavors are pure and inviting, and this is the ultimate comfort food.

In Ukraine, milk rice is usually served for breakfast, but of course, it makes a delicious dessert. A garnish of jam is a must. Raspberry, black currant or cherry jams are my favorite, but anything will do. In the winter, Valentina sometimes made a quick compote of dried apricots and almonds and served it with the rice pudding. If you would like to try it, soak apricots in water till soft and bring to simmer. Add sugar to taste and then top the compote with roasted almond halves.

Milk rice tastes good straight out of the fridge, but when it’s cold and overcast, I prefer it warm. I stir the jam into the white creamy mixture and invariably think of Thomasina’s observation in Tom Stoppard’s Arcadia, “When you stir your rice pudding, Septimus, the spoonful of jam spreads itself round making red trails like the picture of a meteor in my astronomical atlas. But if you stir backwards, the jam will not come together again. Indeed, the pudding does not notice and continues to turn pink just as before. Do you think this is odd?” Some things may be irreversible, but scents and flavors can evoke days gone by.

Valentina’s Milk Rice (Рисова Каша на Молоці)

While you can add a variety of flavors to rice, from rosewater to cinnamon, my grandmother’s version is very simple. She didn’t even add vanilla. The flavor of the milk she bought from her neighbor was so luscious and rich that any other addition seemed unnecessary. Sometimes I also skip the vanilla. What I never skip is the jam garnish. Tart jam like raspberry is particularly delicious against the creamy rice.

The pudding can be cooked a day or two ahead and stored in the fridge.

Arborio, Japanese sushi rice or any other short-grain rice works perfectly for this recipe. Different varieties of rice absorb liquids differently, so you might need to adjust the quantity of milk to achieve a loose, creamy texture.

Serves 4-6

Ingredients:

Rice Pudding
1/2 cup (100g) short-grain rice, soaked in water for 30 min to 2 hours
2-3 cups (625-750ml) milk
a pinch of salt
1/4 cup (50g) sugar + extra to taste
1/2 vanilla bean or 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
jam for garnish

Steps:

  • Set a thick bottomed pan on medium heat, add 2 cups of milk and rice and bring to boil. Lower the heat to low and stir, scraping the bottom. If you are using a vanilla bean, split it in half and add it to the milk right now. Depending on the type of rice, the pudding will take 20 to 25 minutes to thicken. As it cooks, add more milk if needed. The texture should be loose and creamy. Add salt.
  • When the rice grains are soft, add sugar. The cold pudding will taste less sweet, so keep this in mind when adjusting the sugar quantity. Add vanilla extract, if using. Remove from the heat immediately and cover the pan.
  • Garnish pudding with jam and serve either warm or cold. Enjoy!

Photography by Bois de Jasmin

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41 Comments

  • Kathleen: My grandmother’s recipe included vanilla with cinnamon, a pat of butter, and brown sugar on top. Ultimate comfort food in my childhood. This version was popular in the the Netherlands. December 9, 2022 at 9:11am Reply

    • Victoria: It sounds wonderful, and I’m going to try it. December 9, 2022 at 12:41pm Reply

  • AR: I am Hungarian and this is also one of my favorite comfort dishes. It is also heavenly with just a sprinkle of cinnamon. And in the summer it makes a wonderful treat straight out of the fridge. 🙂 December 9, 2022 at 9:48am Reply

    • Victoria: I remembering traveling in Italy as a college student and tasting rice gelato. It instantly reminded me of my grandmother’s milk rice straight out of the fridge. December 9, 2022 at 12:41pm Reply

  • Alityke: My fathers family recipe is the pudding of my childhood & so sweet it makes your teeth hurt.
    It includes the rice, milk, evaporated milk, golden syrup, sugar, butter & burned on top.
    As in your recipe the rice & milk were cooked on the hob. Then all the other ingredients were added, stirred together then thoroughly topped with freshly grated nutmeg. Into the oven until it’s all hot & a skin has formed on top. Delicious but too sweet for me.
    I would like it more tempered by an unsweetened version of that apricot & almond compote. December 9, 2022 at 10:38am Reply

    • Victoria: The flavor must be amazing, but yes, it sounds like a sugar bomb. December 9, 2022 at 12:42pm Reply

  • Patricia Wilks: What memories Victoria!
    Rice and milk …a staple of my Slovenian childhood . Plain with salt…a quick dish before weekly shopping for more hearty food.
    Thanks for your post
    Patricia December 9, 2022 at 11:08am Reply

    • Victoria: I love how such a simple dish resonates with so many of us! December 9, 2022 at 12:43pm Reply

  • AndreaR: Rice pudding was not a tradition in my Canadian Ukrainian family from western Ukraine. Our Greek neighbor brings rice pudding to us regularly, but I will make Valentena’s recipe this weekend. Your grandmother was a beauty. It’s wonderful you can remember her through taste and smell. December 9, 2022 at 11:20am Reply

    • Victoria: Thank you, Andrea. I hope that you will enjoy it, and of course, please let me know what you think. December 9, 2022 at 12:43pm Reply

      • AndreaR: I just made a batch of your grandmother’s Rice Kasha. I used arborio rice and needed just two cups plus a splash of milk. I’ve already had a taste and it’s delicious. It will be my dessert treat for lunch today topped with a bit of homemade berry jam gifted to us by our neighbor. I will also try it with my beloved buckwheat honey from the Canadian prairies.
        I spoke to a distant cousin who said rice pudding with raisins was a favorite in her family.
        A dear Ukrainian friend adds apples to it and a bakes it as a dessert.
        Many cooks and many ways to prepare rice pudding.
        Thanks for sharing. December 13, 2022 at 2:27pm Reply

        • Victoria: So glad to hear that you made it and liked it.
          Baked rice pudding is another favorite. I haven’t made it for a while, so it’s time to repeat it. December 14, 2022 at 5:05am Reply

  • Susanne: Thank you for sharing this comfort food in cold and grey times, with beautiful stories as ever 🙂 My friend makes a version with added candied orange peel and after it is cooked very dark chocolate slivers. I like it as a dessert or a decadent breakfeast, when nourishing and solace is needed. All the best to you all. December 9, 2022 at 1:15pm Reply

    • Victoria: Pastry chef Pierre Hermé has a recipe for a chocolate rice pudding with candied orange peel and raisins in one of his books. It’s so decadent. December 12, 2022 at 5:10am Reply

  • Kathy Parsons: We have just returned from South Africa and enjoyed the following saffron infused rice pudding, honey blossom ice cream and cardamom streusel. Not sure if the origins but it was delicious! December 9, 2022 at 1:33pm Reply

    • Victoria: Sounds like you had wonderful desserts on your trip. December 12, 2022 at 5:11am Reply

  • matty1649: Your Grandmother was a beautiful lady X December 9, 2022 at 4:10pm Reply

    • Victoria: Thank you, she was. December 12, 2022 at 5:11am Reply

  • Sharon: This milk rice pudding is just luscious and soothes the soul. Sometimes I use coconut milk in lieu of half and half. Your Grandmother is lovely, and kindness shines from her eyes. Thank you for sharing! December 9, 2022 at 5:49pm Reply

    • Victoria: Coconut milk with rice is delicious. December 12, 2022 at 5:12am Reply

  • Ewan: My Nain [ Welsh Grandmother]’ made it always with a ‘skin’ on top, which was quite chewy.

    A friend uses Vanilla essential oil in her cooking. She owns an aromatherapy shop, so it’s more convenient than toddling off to the shops to get a vanilla pod. December 10, 2022 at 2:45am Reply

    • Victoria: Mmm, I like that chewy skin that forms on rice pudding. December 12, 2022 at 5:13am Reply

  • Aurora: What an appealing recipe, I’m going to make it with almond milk for a vegan treat. Your grandmother looks so pretty on the photo December 10, 2022 at 3:39am Reply

    • Victoria: It works perfectly with almond milk! December 12, 2022 at 5:13am Reply

  • Amalia: Thanks for sharing ! My mother often did this, when the custard cooled it formed a very tasty membrane. In Greece the classic accompaniment was cinnamon powder, now some young cooks accompany it with grated superior quality green Aegina pistachios. I wish from the bottom of my heart, the end of the war, Ukraine to be freed, and to be filled again with beautiful smells, from the houses that are cooking, and happy voices of children! December 10, 2022 at 8:53am Reply

    • Victoria: Thank you for your kind wishes, Amalia.
      I think that I will try the pistachio version next. December 12, 2022 at 5:14am Reply

  • Zazie: Thank you so much for sharing this! I also love to read everyone’s comments- it looks like milk and rice is a shared tradition among many different countries.
    However it is not something I have ever tried, and while I know some versions of this recipe exist in Italy, it is not a typical breakfast staple – at least not that I know of.
    Your recipe comes at the right moment – I have all the ingredients – and I feel inspired to try it out! Simple recipes are often the best.
    I have the perfect milk, and a wonderful homemade jam that is not too sweet.

    PS love the picture of your grandmother, she looks so beautiful and expressive. December 10, 2022 at 4:38pm Reply

    • Victoria: I typically don’t eat milk rice for breakfast but rather for dessert. I still don’t make it too sweet, as it’s easy to add enough jam to adjust the sweetness level. Hope that you try it. December 12, 2022 at 5:15am Reply

  • Michele O. Brown: Michele: Thank you for sharing a picture of your beautiful grandmother. You definitely favor her. Beautiful eyes. Also, thanks for the rice pudding recipe. I’ve only ever eaten Rice Pudding cooked with raisins and sometimes sprinkled with toasted almond slices. In the southeastern sections of the USA, we eat it as a dessert. I know I would love your grandmother’s version just as much. I’ll have to show this recipe to my granddaughter for my little g-granddaughter. She will love it, when she can eat more solid foods…no teeth yet. 🦋🫶 December 10, 2022 at 5:59pm Reply

    • Victoria: All of these versions sound wonderful! December 12, 2022 at 5:15am Reply

  • Nicole: Valentina was very beautiful indeed. Thank you so much for sharing her recipe. It’s simmering on my stove as I type this. I used a plump vanilla bean and the scent has lured all the members of my family into the kitchen at different points!

    My husband is from Denmark and grew up eating two different kinds of rice pudding in the winter (one savory and the other, a dessert). December 11, 2022 at 5:46pm Reply

    • Victoria: So happy that you tried it. I hope that you and your family liked it. Making milk rice with real vanilla is such a great experience, both when you cook and when you eat. December 12, 2022 at 5:16am Reply

  • Riika: A lovely story and recipe, thank you for sharing it with us.

    In Finland rice porridge is a traditional Christmas dish and it’s customary to hide one almond in it for one lucky eater to find. Usually the Christmas version is accompanied with sugar, cinnamon, milk, plum jam and/or soup made out of prunes and raisins.

    It definitely should not remain limited to winter season, though. My beloved grandmother, who was very crafty in making the most of humble ingredients, made an amazingly fresh rice pudding dish with just rice, water and loads of fresh apple slices from her garden for flavor and sweetness. Delicious! December 12, 2022 at 2:01pm Reply

    • Victoria: I enjoyed reading about different rice pudding traditions. I will have to include it as part of our Christmas rituals. December 13, 2022 at 4:34am Reply

    • Samantha: Sounds Delicious! December 14, 2022 at 9:47am Reply

  • Wara: Muchas gracias for sharing this wonderful memory and your GORGEOUS grandmother’s recipe for arroz con leche. Your flag in front of my casita is a daily reminder of our love for UKRANIA💙💛💙💛💙💛💙💛💙💛💙💛💙💛 December 13, 2022 at 12:27am Reply

    • Victoria: Muchas gracias, Wara! December 13, 2022 at 4:36am Reply

  • Samantha: I’m not much of a cook, but you inspired me to buy some fresh rice pudding, made with clotted cream, sprinkled with cinnamon. It indeed served as fitting comfort food, while outside is covered in snow at the moment, it warmed me up inside and I sat and read the interesting comments from your 5 Festive Scents For Winter post. December 14, 2022 at 9:45am Reply

    • Victoria: This also sounds wonderful! December 17, 2022 at 11:41am Reply

  • Jessie: I’m a December baby, so my very favorite birthday treat is rice pudding with cherry compote (or cherries flambe!) with a healthy dousing of cinnamon. For most it’s a Christmas treat, for me it’s a private celebration whenever I taste it. December 18, 2022 at 11:52am Reply

    • Victoria: Rice pudding with cherries and cinnamon sounds wonderful. I know what I will make next. December 20, 2022 at 4:15am Reply

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