Opinion – Terra Vegana: Make sweet rice like grandma’s, but in a vegan version


Dear reader, dear reader, I haven’t written for four months. I come back from maternity leave today with a confession and a prescription. I hope you forgive me.

Today’s recipe, for a vegan rice pudding, was not made during my postpartum period — being able to make a coffee or put one of the lunch boxes in the oven that I prepared while I was still pregnant was all I could do.

Sweet rice. Creamy. Very sweet, but not cloying. Sprinkled with cinnamon. It was never lacking at my grandmother’s house, who pretended not to see the transgression of her granddaughter who stuck the same spoon that was going to her mouth on the serving platter.

I never suspected that sweet rice was a Portuguese invention, until I moved to Portugal. Every Portuguese family —and many Brazilian ones— has its sweet rice recipe.

It can be pale or very yellow, which reveals the presence (or absence) of yolks in the dessert. You can take cinnamon sticks and strips of lemon or orange peel in the rice cooking water. It can be finished off with an anarchic shower of cinnamon, or with a detailed embroidery of the spice in the form of cobblestones.

Rice pudding in Portugal is typical of wedding parties and Christmas dinner, but it is also the dessert of ordinary days. It can be easily found in any tavern.

On my first outing after giving birth, I walked along Rua dos Pescadores, in Costa da Caparica, on the south bank of Lisbon, in search of some comfort that I didn’t even know how to name or where to find.

I went into a tavern and sat down. All I could see was the rice pudding in the window, as if my grandmother had come back to Earth with a platter, just for me. I didn’t see the cow, I didn’t see the injured teat sucked by machines, I didn’t see the blood in the milk. I saw only a little bowl of comfort overflowing the edges.

That rice pudding was white like my grandmother’s, creamy like my grandmother’s, warm, freshly made. My vision blurred like that of the baby who was waiting for me at home, I took a spoonful, and another, I felt that my grandmother was there, in that pagan act half funereal, half festive.

It was my way of telling her that she had another grandchild, although she will never meet him.

I didn’t stop being vegan because of that, I believe. It was a mistake (whoever you want) that led me to create a 100% vegetable sweet rice recipe that leaves nothing to be desired for Dona Teresinha’s, or for the tavern.

The best rice to make dessert is broken rice (lucky for us), but if you want to use the rice you have at home, you can finely grind it in a blender. Breaking the rice helps to release the starch, which is important for the creaminess of this dessert.

To make the sweet rice even more creamy, this recipe brings a reduction of Brazil nuts, which can be replaced by raw and skinless peanuts in a more economical and equally delicious version.

Grandma’s Vegan Sweet Rice


1 cup uncooked white rice (200g)

1 cup Brazil nuts, or raw, skinless peanuts (100g)

¾ cup demerara sugar (135g)

500 ml of water + water to cook the rice

Peel of 1 Sicilian lemon

2 cinnamon sticks

Powdered cinnamon, to finish


  1. Bring the rice to cook with 2 cups of water over low heat and with the pan covered, until the water almost dries up. Turn off the heat and reserve the rice.
  2. While the rice is cooking, prepare the cream: beat the Brazil nut with the water in the blender at maximum speed for 3 minutes. If you choose peanuts, cook for 15 minutes and drain the water before adding it to the blender. Transfer the cream to a pan, add the lemon zest, cinnamon sticks, sugar and bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring occasionally, for 20 minutes.
  3. Sift the cream into the rice cooker. Mix and cook over low heat for three minutes, stirring constantly, as if it were a risotto.
  4. Serve in small bowls with cinnamon sprinkled on top, warm or cold.

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