Kheer is, I suppose, a kind of rice pudding, but Indian. If I were Jhumpa Lahiri, I’d describe it as “a sweet dish made with rice cooked on a gentle flame with sweetened, thickened milk and flavoured with cardamom and dried fruit.”
But I am not Jhumpa Lahiri and I don’t have any other description.
Anyway, kheer is also known as payasam and it has lots of variations. Broadly, it’s either made with rice or with vermicelli, but again, different people from different parts of India have different ways of making it. Some people put dates, some put different kinds of sugar and spices. I almost always love kheer, and eat tons of it during Eid, when our lovely neighbours send us biryani and kheer. We usually end up tasting three or four different kinds and I become a kheer gourmande.
The recipe I’m posting here is a Nestlé Milkmaid (sweetened condensed milk) kheer, which means it’s much easier and much less laborious to make since you don’t have to thicken all of the milk yourself. It’s also a good recipe to have because it’s so standard; you can afford to do your own variations without ruining it. Being standard, though, all its ingredients are easily available and not very expensive.
I really want to try this with dates, but I’d have to add a lot more milk because the sweetness of the dates will definitely enter the milk and thicken it. An experiment for another time.
You can try the recipe from the scan below or use my version, which is slightly different. Naturally I recommend my version over Nestlé’s.
I made this for last night’s dinner. It was my friend Philipp’s last day in Bangalore before he moved back home to Germany and we gave him a nice Indian dinner. I made palak paneer (my mother and aunt did the rest of the cooking) as well and he was all ‘That must be so easy to make: it’s just cottage cheese and spinach.’ Someone please tell him it’s not so! Palak paneer isn’t the most difficult thing to make, but it’s not exactly easy, especially when you have all of two Indian curries in your repertoire. (But tell him nicely; I already gave him all the dirty looks.)
Anyway, the kheer: it’s not difficult at all, but it does require some patience.
Doesn’t mention cooking time, does it? I hate to say it, but I didn’t time this either. (Off hand, I’d say 45 minutes to an hour.) Most Indian cooking requires instincts that I don’t entirely have, but my mother and aunt were around while I was doing this, and I shall pass their ancient wisdom (seriously ancient: they have more than a hundred years between them) on to you.
The two variables that are extremely important are the the amount of milk and the cooking time. Start with the recommended amount of milk, but some more on standby and add as required. The sugar level is decided by the condensed milk, so if you want the kheer to be less sweet, you need to add more milk.
As for the cooking time, really, don’t bother using a timer. Instead, cook on a slow/medium fire and keep checking on the kheer. You also want to use a heavy-bottomed vessel so that the rice doesn’t catch and burn at the bottom. My mother says kheer tastes great when the rice is over-cooked and quite soft. I say she’s right.
1 litre (4 cups) whole milk, plus more as required
100 g (3.5 oz) good quality white rice*, washed and drained
1 tin (400 g/14 oz) sweetened condensed milk
5 – 6 pods cardamom, peeled and crushed
½ cup mixed dried fruit and nuts**
1 tbsp ghee (or butter)
*I used Basmati, which was good, but next time I want to use rice with a shorter grain.
**I used raisins and cashew nuts.
1. Cook rice in milk in a large, heavy-bottomed vessel on medium-low. Cook till the rice is done, stirring occasionally so that a skin doesn’t form on top. Try not to cover the vessel.
2. Stir in the sweetened condensed milk and crushed cardamom. Keep cooking till the kheer is quite thick. (Here’s when you want to check the sweetness and add more milk if it’s too sweet.) The volume should have decreased visibly. Turn off heat.
3. Heat the ghee (or butter) in a small kadai (wok, whatever you call it) and fry the dried fruit and nuts for a minute or so.
4. Mix about three-fourths of the fruit and nuts into the kheer. Pour the kheer into a serving dish. Sprinkle the rest on top. Serve warm or cold. (I prefer it warm.)
Serves 10 to 12***
***I completely reject Nestlé’s notion that this quantity serves six people. You would need very large bowls, very large appetites and very high sugar tolerance levels to eat that much kheer. In moderation, people!