Some time ago, we were at dinner in someone’s house – someone we knew slightly and were hoping to get to know better. As we were eating, the lady commented ” I just hate to cook. I hate to go in the kitchen and I enter the kitchen only when I really need to”. Ouch. I almost choked on the morsel I was eating. Not because she hated cooking…to each her own; but because to me, what you put in your cook pot is not just ingredients – you put a bit of yourself, your moods, and your feelings towards the person you are cooking for. Food laced with irritation and annoyance was not what I wanted to eat! I guess not what anyone wants to eat.
I’ve noticed that when I’m in a bad mood or stressed out, my food does not turn out well. Even the simplest of dishes, things I’ve cooked heaps of times tend to lack that little something, that `something’ that takes food from the stage of `eating’ to `savoring’. Sometimes, bad-mood dishes turn out just plain awful – burned, undercooked or stringy (or whatever is described as `bad’ for that ingredient). Does it happen with you? I’m guessing the answer is `yes’.
So what’s with the emotional me today? I was thinking about all of this as I was cooking a special sweet treat for a dear friend, someone who has just been through a great deal and is in need of a little pampering. KHEER, an Indian-style rice pudding is wholesome, fragrant and slow cooked. It needs stirring every 5 minutes or so for an hour (!!). Like love, like relationships, it needs constant care, and a whole load of sweetness. As I was stirring the kheer (while dashing around in all the usual hurly burly of a family evening), I was adding to it not just the rice, milk and sugar but also positive feelings and (almost) an incantation – “may this kheer nourish your body and enliven your spirit, and may you find peace and tranquility in your bruised soul.”
`You can’t hurry love’ chimed the Supremes. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fQ7uXX9K7Sk (enjoy!) And that is true for this dish as well – it takes an hour to cook, it needs to be stirred every 5 minutes, but stick around, do it, be patient, sing and think happy thoughts while you are at it, and I can promise you the results will be well worth every bit (and every bite) of the effort!
KHEER / INDIAN RICE PUDDING – MADE WITH LOVE
* Whole milk – 1.5 litres
* Long grain rice – 4 fistfuls (a traditional way of measuring out rice)
* White sugar – 8 soup spoons or 4 tablespoons (Kheer is a special treat … treat it a such!)
* Green cardamom – 2 pods, smashed open. As an aside I will mention that it is interesting that in India, we never (at least not as far as I know) use cinnamon in desserts…while it is a staple in milk-based desserts/rice puddings in many other parts of the world.
* Saffron (optional) – a few threads
* Rose water/orange flower water – keora (optional) – 2 tsps.
* Almonds – 10 (roasted or blanched) – sliced or chopped
* Pistachios – 10 (roasted or blanched) – sliced or chopped
* Edible silver or gold sheets (entirely and totally optional!)
– In a saucepan, heat milk, rice and cardamoms to boiling point, stirring all the while.
– Reduce to low heat and cook, stirring every 5 minutes, until the rice is cooked.
– Add sugar and saffron, and cook until the milk is thickened and creamy and takes on the consistency of thick yogurt (don’t forget to stir!). Add in the rose water/orange flower water.
– The rice pudding is now ready – with the addition of the almonds and pistachios, it can be served either hot or cold. If you are going to serve it hot, you might want to reduce the sugar measurement slightly. For some reason (there’s got to be a scientific explanation) it tastes sweeter when hot than cold!.
It tastes pretty good without the nuts also but they add a crunch and texture that work as a great counterfoil to the creamy smoothness of the rice-n-milk combo. Personally, I usually like to chill it in the fridge for a couple of hours, top it with the chopped almonds and pistachios, layer on some edible silver or gold sheets (vark) for a touch of glamour, and I’m set!