A few months ago I wrote about my obsession with rose tea, also called rosebud tea. Not to be confused with rose hip, or the those things your boyfriend is supposed to give you for Valentine's Day, rose tea uses the buds from a rose bush. 玫瑰茶 (meigui cha) is usually blended with black tea or other herbal teas, but I think it's great on its own.
Since I moved to Beijing, I would drink rose bud tea in cafés but never bought any to steep at home. Maybe it was a subconscious move to associate it with the pleasant dim cafés of Beijing's university district - the clatter of Mandarin-English exchanges, the walls of books and French New Wave posters - rather than my bleak florescent-lit apartment. Or maybe it was just pure laziness.
Earlier this week Jacob and I went to Maliandau, also known as Beijing's "Tea Street." This is where restaurants and shops come to source their tea wholesale, and where tea obsessives buy their leaves and gadgets in bulk. We went around and bought a bunch of gifts for his family and, of course, ourselves. I couldn't resist the rose tea, sitting in a big bin and whispering my name. Now that I have it at home, I can't stop thinking of desserts I can make with it.
Persian rice pudding is usually made with rose water. But since rose water seems to be nonexistent in Beijing, tea seems like a good substitute. (You can also get rose bud tea outside of China; yay globalization.)* The rice pudding I made today is a more pared down version, the Middle East by way of China. No clarified butter, jasmine rice instead of basmati. I also used soy milk instead of regular milk, for personal and practical reasons: I don't really like the taste of bovine milk, and soy milk actually gives you more room for error. If you accidentally overheat the liquid, there's no nasty film on top.
Go sparingly on sugar, so the fragrance of the rose tea comes through. New Yorkers may know Rice to Riches down in Soho, that ultra-mod shop specializing in rice pudding. I went there once and couldn't finish half a portion of the small size; the sugar and cream were overwhelming. This is meant to be the exact opposite of a Rice to Riches pudding.
*If you don't live in China, here are two online tea specialty shops that sell rose bud tea.
Rose Tea Rice Pudding
1/2 cup jasmine rice 1 1/2 cups water for rice, plus extra 1/3 cup rose tea 1 cup hot water for the rose tea 1 1/2 cups soy milk 3/4 cup sugar (to start. Add more if necessary) 6 saffron threads 1/4 teaspoon cardamom 1 tablespoon golden raisins, chopped
Rinse rice in a fine mesh sieve under cold water. Transfer to a small to medium sized pot filled with water, and bring to boil. Lower the heat to very low and simmer, stirring regularly, for 30 minutes. Add more water if necessary, if rice begins to look too lumpy.
Meanwhile, in a small dish or cup, soak saffron in a tablespoon of water. Set aside.
Steep 2 tablespoons of rose tea (flowerets?) in 2/3 cup hot water. Set side.
After the rice as been simmering for 30 minutes, at soy milk and sugar. Stir to dissolve. Add more sugar if needed, but keep in mind that too much sugar may overwhelm the subtleness of the rose tea. Simmer for another 10 minutes, stirring constantly. Strain rose tea and add about 3/4 to the rice (reserve some for drizzling over pudding). Stir in saffron liquid and cardamom. Cook for another 2 minutes, then remove from heat.
The rice pudding can be served warm or at room temperature. (The longer it stands, the thicker it gets; to thin, add more soy milk.) Top with golden raisins, drizzle a bit more rose tea over the top, and serve.