Featured in iVillage.ca – Diwali edition.
It’s the quintessential dessert of the Indian cuisine. This traditional Indian pudding does not just round off the meal in an occasion at home, at a restaurant, or in festivities; it is a comfort food. And this ever popular dessert is also much revered, as it is often offered as a “prasad” during worship.
Fragrant rice is delicately flavored with cardamom and saffron; and along with the nuts and rose, this creamy, silky dessert will steal your heart.
And it is that time of the year again. Diwali, the Indian festival of lights is here again!
Along with a wide range of history behind this festival, it is also a celebrating the light that dwells and shines within us all. It is the time for worship and flowers, a new beginning and new year.
Happy Diwali to all of you and yours! Wishing you lots of happiness, and prosperity!
It has been about 17 years that I have not been home during this time. I do miss it a lot and what I mostly remember is my childhood spend with my family and cousins, lighting up the candles and the diya all over the house and then spend the evening doing some fireworks – usually the mild sparklers. What I do not miss is the loud noises of the fire crackers. In Bengal, Diwali is not as big as the Durga Puja, but it does hold its own strong place and has its own enchantment. The dark moonless night would light up with the shimmering glow from every house. Rows of lights are adorn the terrace, balconies and the window sills. The adults would fast all day until the worship in the late evening. The fast would be broken only when the “prasad” (offering to God), is offered after the worship was done. The children just concentrated on having fun with fire crackers, eating and decorating the home.
And as with all festivities, food of course is an integral part.
The Indian rice pudding is a simple dessert where mostly rice or broken grains of rice is simmered in milk until cooked and is flavored with cardamom, saffron and sometimes rose water. Usually the long grain Basmati rice is used, but in the eastern regions of India, a short grain extremely fragrant rice called Kamini Bhog or Gobindo Bhog is also used to make Kheer.
Unlike a lot of rice puddings in other cuisines, Indian rice pudding uses no egg. The creamy custard like texture is achieved by slowly simmering the milk and therefore thickening and reducing it with constant stirring. While Kheer is a common term for rice puddings, it can also refer to puddings made with milk and vermicilli, semolina or tapioca pearls. In some regions of India, fruits and fruit pulps are added to the rice pudding.
Nuts and/or raisins are added for extra bite and the fancier versions may be garnished with edible silver foils or rose petals.
While Kheer, is what it is called in the northern parts of India, this pudding goes with many names; Payesh in the eastern regions and Payasam in the southern regions are the more common ones. Payesh in the eastern regions of India have a very unique version made with gur/jaggery and it is pale brownish in color with a very different flavor than the pudding that is sweetened with sugar.
I have a confession; I would absolutely detest Kheer or Payesh while growing up. Ma would spend many hours making this so wanted dessert, and I would never even look at it. There were however others in the family who loved it. In Bengal, the birthday celebration is incomplete without the rice pudding. The cakes and pastries were almost non existent in traditional families. Among the Bengalis and probably in some other regions of India, the very first solid food for a child begins with the taste of Kheer served in a silver spoon . I used to dread going for parties for the fear of having this concoction of milk and rice; yes that is what I saw it as. It was almost an act of blasphemy when I would refuse that bowl of Kheer placed in front of me. I suppose no one ever understood (other than my family) that it is actually possible to not “like” a rice pudding.
I have learned better now. The times have changed and so have my tastes and fancies. I have no clue how I never took a second look at this so creamy fragrant dessert. But to tell you the truth, I still prefer the Phirni/Firni: Broken Rice Pudding, to this traditional Kheer.
I do however fancy the Kheer a lot now, but only in the way I have done it today; with lots of saffron – enough to turn the pudding into pale yellow, plenty of almonds and pistachios, subtly flavored with crushed cardamoms and drizzled with rose water is how I like it, and no other way.
Kheer – Indian Rice Pudding with Nuts and Saffron
Ingredients: (serves 3-4, in really small portions)
- 1/4th cup long grain rice, I prefer Basmati or Gobindo Bhog, washed and drained, and partially dried
- 2.5 cups milk + 1.5 cups half and half (or 5 cups milk)
- 3 tablespoon almonds, blanched silvered
- 1.5 tablespoon pistachios
- 4-5 small green cardamom pods, peel removed and the seeds powdered
- a very generous pinch of very good quality saffron, soaked in a tablespoon of hot milk
- 4 tablespoon sugar (or to taste)
- 1 tablespoon raisin, optional
- few drops of rose water, optional
- rose petals (Optional) – make sure they are organic and edible.
Wash and drain the rice. Spread it out on a paper towel and allow it to dry out for about 45 minutes.
I usually break up the rice in smaller pieces as the smaller the grain the better they soak up the milk. The dried rice (after soaking) can be just crushed with your hands/palms). However this is not required if you do not want to.
Soak the saffron in a tablespoon of hot milk. Chop the nuts.
In a thick bottomed pan bring the milk (and half and half, if you are using it) to a simmer. Constantly stir to prevent sticking at the bottom of the pan. Add the rice, saffron and cardamom in a pan; let it come to a boil and then lower the heat of the burner to minimum and gently simmer until the rice is soft, cooked and the grains are starting to break up. During the entire time, keep the heat to very low and stir very frequently to keep the rice and the milk from sticking to the pan and from keeping the rice from clumping. This could take as long as 45 minutes to an hour.
When the rice is cooked and milk is reduced almost to half, add sugar, almonds, pistachio, and the raisins if you are using them, and simmer for about five more minutes, while constantly stirring for the sugar to dissolve completely.
Remove from heat and set aside. If you are using the rose water, add it to the kheer and stir it in, when chilled (or stir it in or just before serving if you are serving warm). Garnish with rose petals and more nuts before serving if you want.
We love our Kheer chilled. However I know others who like theirs warmed up. So serve it the way you like!