After much thought and delay due to foreseen and unforeseen circumstances and avoidable and unavoidable hurdles, I'm finally writing my first post. To state that I'm excited would be an understatement. When deciding the subject of my first post, I thought what could be better than the rice kheer? Thoughts of luscious grains of fully cooked rice blended with creamy condensed milk, exotic spices, dry fruits and nuts flooded my mind. And this is my tribute to the much-revered dish I cook so often and is wholeheartedly relished, savoured and devoured by my beloved R.
Widely known as chaval kheer in north India, payasa or payasam in Southern India, usually a bit thinner than its northern counterpart and Payesh in Bengal or simply kheer in most parts of India, it is cooked in homes across India with a few variations and combinations. It is even cooked in ancient Indian temples and is one of the most prized delicacies of the 2,000 year old Jagannatha temple in the Indian state of Orissa.
According to K.T. Achaya in A Historical Dictionary of Indian Food, Kheer is a sweet confection, based on rice. The Hindi word kheer derives from the Sanskrit ksheer for milk and Kshirika for any dish prepared with milk.
Although I have tasted some of the best versions of Kheer made with rice in various temples and homes, one of the best Kheers I have come across was made by this feisty Punjabi lady who happens to be my mother's neighbour. Her Kheer was simple, mainly milk and rice cooked for a long period, and without many garnishings.
Many people these days use store bought condensed milk to thicken the kheer and to lessen cooking time. I did this once, but after making it several times using the traditional method of cooking the milk for a long period, I find it not only superior in terms of taste but also rewarding in terms of the inner satisfaction that one experiences when you labour over something you want to create.
If you plan to embark upon making this recipe, do so on a leisurely weekend or when you have plenty of time on hand.
Chaval Kheer/Creamy Rice Pudding Recipe
This recipe is based on the kheer that is made as an offering to the deity of Lord Krishna in the temple kitchens of the famous Banke Bihari temple in Vrindavan, India, which I had the good fortune of tasting. A beautiful blend of rice and milk, sweetened with sugar and raisins, spiced with cardamom and studded with almonds and pistachios. This rich dessert is a treat to the senses.
¼ cup/50 gm Basmati or any other fragrant long grained rice
8 cups/2 litres Milk
½ cup/100 gm Sugar
2 tbsp slivered plain unsalted pistachios
2 tbsp blanched and slivered almonds
¾ tsp saffron
1 tbsp hot milk to soak the saffron
1 tbsp raisins
¾ tsp cardamom
Wash the rice and soak it with enough water to cover the rice for about 5 minutes and then drain the water and allow to dry. Soak the saffron in the 1 tbsp hot milk. Heat the 2 litres milk in a wide heavy bottomed pan or kadhai on a medium flame, and bring to a rolling boil. This should take about 15 minutes. Lower the flame a little, add the rice, slivered almonds and pistachios and cook for 15 minutes more. Crush the soaked saffron in a mortar and pestle or with your fingers to extract a deep orange colour and flavour from it. Put the saffron extract into the boiling milk mixture and continue cooking for 10 more minutes. Now lower the flame and add sugar and raisins. Continue to cook it for 15 minutes more on the lowest flame. Stir in the cardamom powder. Bring to room temperature and chill for a minimum of 3 hours before serving.
Note- The kheer continues to thicken a bit while chilling in the refrigerator, therefore don't make the kheer very thick while cooking it. You can add a few spoons of lightly sweetened milk if the kheer in the refrigerator is too thick for your liking.
Serves: 4 to 6
Cooking time: Almost 1 hour
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