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Rice Pudding (Kheer)

Kheer is the primary dessert of India. Home cooks generally prepare a simple rice-and-milk version; more elaborate renditions, with nuts, fruits, flower essences and spice embellishments, are served in restaurants and at wedding feasts. Scented rice, such as Gobinda Bhog or basmati, is preferred, since it is the main flavor in the pudding. Indians like a rather runny consistency and for the rice grains to be invisible, but the consistency and texture of this recipe have been adapted for the Western palate.

Jaggery, which is dehydrated sugarcane juice, is a by-product of sugar refining. Golden brown and with a maple syrup-like flavor, it is used in Indian desserts and candies. Brown sugar, palm sugar, maple syrup or maple sugar may be substituted, although they do not accurately replicate jaggery's flavor. Pieces of silver foil, known as vark, are used primarily to decorate desserts and sweets at banquets, wedding feasts and festivals. The sheets are sold in Indian grocery stores.

Ingredients:

  • 4 cups milk
  • 4 cups light cream
  • 1/2 cup basmati rice, preferably small-grain
      Gobinda Bhog or brown basmati rice,
      thoroughly rinsed
  • 3/4 cup light-colored jaggery or light
      brown sugar
  • 4 green cardamom pods
  • 1/2 tsp. saffron threads, crushed
  • 1/2 cup raisins
  • 1/4 cup sliced almonds
  • 6 pieces silver foil, each 2 inches square

Directions:

In a large, shallow pan over high heat, bring the milk and cream to a boil, stirring frequently to prevent scorching. Add the rice, reduce the heat to medium-low and cook, stirring occasionally, until the liquid is reduced to the consistency of custard and the rice is soft and creamy, about 50 minutes. Add the jaggery and mix well.

Meanwhile, pry open the cardamom pods, remove the seeds and grind them to a powder. (This is best done using a mortar and pestle; you can also wrap the seeds in plastic wrap and crush them with a mallet or rolling pin.) Discard the cardamom skins. Add the cardamom, saffron, raisins and almonds to the cooked rice mixture and mix well. Transfer to a bowl, let cool, then cover and refrigerate until chilled.

Spoon the pudding into small dessert bowls and garnish with silver foil.
Serves 6.
Adapted from Williams-Sonoma Savoring Series, Savoring India, by Julie Sahni (Time-Life Books, 2001).