REALLY good rice pudding.

The news from U.S. Rep. Katherine Clark that Nazda Alam was to be her guest at President Obama’s State of the Union address brought a round of cheers in Democratic party circles here in Massachusetts. 

My first introduction to Nazda started with a phone call. She was running for Democratic State Committee and hoping I would consider voting for her as an Affirmative Action add on candidate. She talked about the importance of encouraging civic and electoral participation in immigrant populations and communities of faith. She talked about her own experiences as a Muslim American and her love of this country that she chose to pledge her allegiance to as a new citizen. She was gently insistent and passionately sincere. I said yes.
Her hard work and advocacy has led to an appointment to the Governor’s Advisory Council on Immigration and Refugee Policy and the State Treasurer’s Diversity Council. Nazda is a great Democrat and even more impressive she is a faithful American patriot. She says her dedication to voter participation is driven by her belief in “core democratic values and fundamental human rights.“ 

So what's that got to do with rice pudding? Nazda throws a women's luncheon picnic every year for women in politics. The ethnic dishes are always the best. So tonight, I'll be enjoying a sweet treat from Bangladesh, where Nazda was born. On birthdays, for weddings and other big days, we Americans most often opt for cake, but in Bangladesh this rice pudding is the dessert of choice, Fortunately, it's not necessary to wait until a birthday or wedding to enjoy this dish. All we need is a reason to kick up our heels. 

Tonight I celebrate my friend, Nazda Alam.


BENGALI RICE PUDDING (PAYESH)

1/2 cup rice (basmati is best)

1 cup whole milk
1 cup coconut milk
3 tablespoons sugar (adjust to taste)
1/8 teaspoon ground cardamom
pinch of ground nutmeg
pinch of saffron
1 tablespoon slivered almonds
1/4 cup white raisins
1 teaspoon ghee*
1/2 teaspoon orange zest

Rinse the rice, changing water until the water appears clear. Heat the ghee in a non-stick frying pan on medium heat. Add the rice and stir-fry for 1-2 minutes. Add the whole milk and the coconut milk, cook until the rice is tender and the milk creamy and reduced to about half. Stir often to ensure the milk does not burn in the bottom of the pan. Add sugar, saffron, cardamom, nutmeg, raisins, and almonds and let simmer for a few more minutes. Remove from heat. Stir in orange zest. The pudding will become thicker in texture as it cools. Payesh can be served chilled or warm.  


*To make ghee: Cut one stick of sweet butter into cubes. Heat the butter in a small saucepan over medium heat until completely melted. Cook for 8-10 minutes on low. Let cool slightly for 2-3 minutes and then slowly pour through a wire mesh strainer lined with two layers of cheesecloth. Store ghee in a covered container in the refrigerator.


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