Saturday, November 20, 2010


I love South Asian and Middle Eastern desserts. Like, LOVE. I can't even express.

Imagine the most amazing dessert you've ever eaten in your life, multiply it by a thousand, and that's almost how delicious Pakistani and Indian desserts are. Almost.

I, personally, am no expert in making such desserts. They're super time-consuming, often very easy to destroy, and very difficult to find authentic recipes outside the realm of family. But earlier this week, on Eid, I decided I had to try one. Not being home, I don't really have access to good recipes, and I don't trust Indian cookbooks for reliable dessert recipes, so I spent the week pestering my mom, via email, to jot down her amazing kheer recipe for me. Which she did, and which I was extremely excited to try.

Now, kheer is a very traditional Pak-Indian dessert made by boiling rice or broken wheat with milk and sugar, and flavored with an array of possibilities [cardamom, saffron, pistachios, almonds, to name a few]. Sounds simple, yes?

Not so.

This is a very delicate recipe, and one that requires your constant attention. For over an hour.
Believe me when I say that I pulled up a chair, plopped down next to the stove with my laptop and PSP, and kept myself entertained for 75 minutes while stirring the kheer. But it was well-worth the effort, because it turned out almost as well as mom's.


You'll need:

  • 1/2 cup basmati rice
  • 1/2 gallon whole milk
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 3 pods of cardamom, cracked, or a generous pinch of ground cardamom
  • 1 drop of kewra or rose water [the two are not the same, and both cannot be used]
  • 1/4 cup raisins, if desired
  • ground almonds and pistachios, to garnish, if desired

Soak rice in warm water for 30 minutes. Meanwhile, In a large pot, heat the milk on medium-high heat until warm. Drain the water, and puree the rice with about 1/4 cup of the milk in a blender. Add the pureed rice to the warm milk and increase heat as to allow the milk to come to a boil, stirring constantly to prevent rice from forming clumps. Continue stirring until milk boils, and immediately reduce heat so milk does not overflow. Allow milk to simmer for an hour, stirring every 5 minutes. Once milk has begun to thicken, add sugar. Continue stirring on and off for 5 minutes. Taste for sweetness and add more sugar if desired. Toss in cardamom and kewra or rose water, and stir until blended. Toss in raisins, if desired, and stir. Turn off heat.

To serve, use a ladle to pour kheer into bowls. Sprinkle ground almonds and pistachios on top, if desired. Kheer can be eaten either hot or cold, and keeps well in the fridge for up to 5 days.

So in my kheer, I used essence of kewra instead of rose water, though both can be found in any international market. Kewra is an extremely fragrant species of shrub with flowers that is widespread in southern Asia and is used as a perfume, aromatic oil, or fragrant distillation. Essence of kewra is also very common in many South Asian desserts. Just one drop gives the dessert an explosion of flavor. I can't imagine kheer without it, though, so it's a must-have for me. I can't describe the fragrance at all; it's unlike anything I've ever smelled, but believe me when I say that it's irreplaceable.

Luckily, the international market here in Cville sells it, as well as rose water, so now my spice cabinet is fully equipped to suit all of my Fobby needs. In fact, it may be time for a bit more kheer soon...

In other news, Thanksgiving is less than a week away and I cannot WAIT. I've got my menu totally planned out, and it's going to be epic. Mustafa, Murtaza, and Ali will be joining us, as always, so it has to impress. Not to mention Yusra will be helping me out in the kitchen, so it's going to be a ton of fun.

Mom's probably praying that our house won't burn to the ground. I'm still deciding whether or not this is a legitimate fear.

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