It’s that time of year, the holiday season, time for feasts and tradition. I will admit I never was a fan of ceremony or tradition, but I do love the food.
Being from India, it can be hard to explain to Americans just what our holidays are like.
Diwali is the biggest and brightest, and maybe it feels the most like Christmas, because everyone is in the holiday spirit.
Diwali food is an absolute bash. Some dishes are elaborate or exchanged as gifts, but my favorite foods are home-cooked, carefully made but not hard to make, made by and for one’s family.
Today I have for you a family recipe which everyone seems to love. We not only make it for Diwali, but for any special occasion. You might even find it familiar.
It’s rice pudding – or that’s what most Americans or Europeans call it. We call it kheer! It is said that Europeans learnt from India both to enjoy rice and rice pudding, over one thousand years ago. Indian recipes similar to mine for kheer are at least a couple thousand years old.
Of course, our version of rice pudding features Indian flavors, most often cardamom, nutmeg, saffron, topped with almonds and pistachios. But it’s a simple, flexible dessert, so use what you like.
I hope you find kheer as comforting as I do. It’s a food that helps me survive the rest of holiday tradition. I wrote this recipe straight from memories of my mom slow-cooking kheer, and it really takes me back.
Use the freshest ingredients you can. I like to buy my spices in small quantities from Market Spice store at Pike Place Market. You can buy as little as an ounce there!
One last word of advice — patience! Do not scorch the milk. Take your time, keep stirring, use a heavy-bottom pot, whatever it takes but do not let it scorch.
Oh and Happy Diwali!
1 teaspoon ghee (unsalted, clarified butter)
1/4 cup basmati rice
1/2 cup water
2 cups warm whole milk, 2% will work!
1/2 cup unrefined sugar
a pinch of saffron
a pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon freshly crushed cardamom
a few chopped almonds
a few chopped pistachios
1. In a sauce pan, roast the rice in ghee for a few minutes, on medium heat, until lightly toasted and aromatic.
2. Add the water, cover, and let the rice cook until it is almost cooked, but not completely.
3. Add the milk, bring it up to a simmer, and then turn the heat to medium, stirring constantly. I use a whisk to prevent breaking rice.
4. Once the liquid is reduced to half or less, add the saffron, nutmeg, cardamom, and sugar, and cook some more on low heat until the kheer thickens. Crush saffron strands in a tablespoon of warm milk, so they break up and and dissolve in the dish quickly.
5. Keep stirring and reducing the milk until it comes together with a porridge-like consistency.
6. Top with nuts and serve hot; or, chill, add nuts and enjoy cold!
Makes 4 small servings.