Kheer, if you want to get boring, is a form of rice pudding. But get a little adventurous and it can be so much more. The variations of flavors are endless – cardamom, nutmeg, saffron, cinnamon, rosewater, raisins, almonds, pistachios. Even the forms of kheer vary – it can be made with rice, vermicelli, semolina… It is believed that phirni, from which kheer is derived, originated in Persia (it means 'the food of angels'), from where it was brought to India by the Mughals. Depending on which part of India you’re in, you’ll encounter a different version but with one common denominator – they’re all delicious.
4 tablespoons Basmati rice
5 cups milk
1/2 vanilla bean
Flavoring: a pinch of saffron or 1 teaspoon rose water or 1/2 teaspoon each of cinnamon and nutmeg
1/3 cup slivered pistachios (or cashews/almonds)
Step 1Soak the rice in warm water for 30 mins. Drain the rice and grind coarsely using a mortar-and-pestle. (You can leave also leave the rice whole or grind using a processor.)
Step 2Pour the milk in a heavy-bottomed saucepan. Split the vanilla bean lengthwise and scrape the seeds with a knife into the milk. Add the vanilla bean too. Bring the milk to a gentle boil. Take it off the heat and let steep for 30 mins.\r\n(If you don't want to use a vanilla bean, you can skip this step entirely.)
Step 3If using the saffron, soak the strands in 1 tablespoon of the warm milk.
Step 4Remove the vanilla bean and bring the milk back to a boil. Add drained rice and simmer on low heat, stirring occasionally to ensure no lumps form. Continue until the rice is cooked. and the mixture reduces to one-third of the original volume. (Or reduces to the consistency you prefer. It takes 25-30 mins to reach the consistency I like; also remember, it will continue to thicken as it cools)
Step 5Add the sugar and mix well, cooking just until it dissolves.
Step 6Stir in the saffron milk/rose water/spices. Serve warm or chilled as you prefer garnished with the nuts.