Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Milk- Rice Kheer/ Paal Payasam

There are some things that I love in American Cuisine and then there are somethings I absolutely refuse to touch. Though the things I like clearly outnumbers the things I hate, these pet peeves have been too strong to change, thanks to the diversity of tastes we were raised with! Let me share with you the topmost one of my Peeves: Its "Too Sweet"!
Yes, Too sweet are the desserts that I have found in the pursuit of good grub, even with the substantial sweet tooth of mine. I swear, I make this statement purely on the basis of the desserts I have tasted.
The very first thing I took a bite of and never took another bite was an Apple turnover, my husband bought for me from a local bakery, The delicate pastry had a sweetened, flaky puff pastry shell. (Good, so far! ) Inside was a filling of tender cooked Granny Smith apple slices, with brown sugar. OK, Its slightly above the head now. I'd still eat it if it stopped at that. But to my shock, it had a white icing drizzled on the top and dusted with powdered sugar. The beauty and the simplicity was lost in the throat-dizzying, coma-inducing sugary sweetness. And as if that was not enough, the serving suggestions showed it served a la mode (with a scoop of ice cream). Forget the obesity, and other health issues, I wondered if the peeps buying these "killer" treats had exponentially jaded taste buds, to have it as a dessert, on top of a meal.
Later on, I came across Pies, Shakes and Cakes that were not only a shoo-in for the "too-sweet" category but also made me create a new Category-"Too Rich"!
On our way to Idaho for a family Vacation, we had one of these shakes at a fast food chain. My kids are big fans of Oreo cookies and on display of good behavior, I don't mind treating them with a plate of the Mint Double stuffed ones, which also happen to be my favorite. So no wonder, as soon as they saw, a Mint Oreo Shake on the Menu, they wanted to try it. My hubby bought the tray of food and drinks to our table and I almost fainted, when I saw the tall glasses, filled with at least half a pack of Oreo cookie chunks, mint ice cream and milk so thick, I could've sworn it was cream. I mentally calculated the possible number of calories in that glass and couldn't think of any thing less than 500. My kids were overwhelmed with the size and after the initial excitement died down, could finish only 1/3 of their portion. Skip, my hubby, took a sip and wrinkled up his face as the cold gooey sweetness, hit the back of his throat. "Its too thick and too sweet", he grimaced. The kids decided to take a nap in their car seats, and we decided to hold on to the shakes, if they asked for it later, as we cleaned up and left.
But the kids' nap turned into temporary sugar comas and they didnt wake up for the rest of the trip. I chucked out the remaining shakes, that were now melted, disgusting frothy goo, in the first trash can we came across, and decided firmly..."No more of these Junk for my kids". It was still a far cry from the one scoop icecream+skim milk+ chocolate syrup sahkes that we make for them at home.
Before you decide, I was harsh and hasty in judging, you must know I was raised in a home, where sweet food was never eaten until 4 in the evening, and even if something mildly sweet was made before that time, it was probably rare, something steamed and usually we had it for breakfast.
As kids, our sugar rush came from Glucose biscuits at evening tea, and fruits that were left out in the kitchen and never lasted more than a day, once ripened. Most of the time, we would have a whole bunch of bananas hanging from low beams of the eating room, or the room right outside the smoky kitchen.
For special occasions like a festival, sweet kheers or payasams, mildly sweetened, and slow cooked in milk and jaggery or sugar, and thickened with coconut milk was "THE" treat. My Grandma and Aunt, on rare occasions made "Ada", a palm sized dumpling, wrapped in banana leaves and steamed , usually made from wheat or rice flour and stuffed with fresh grated coconuts and jaggery. A variation was "Kozhukkattas" which were made from the same flours and same fillings but poached in a flavored mix of ground coconut, cumin seeds and water. Once cooled, the soup in which the balls were simmered would go just as fast, as the kozhukkattas.
I remember as kids, we loved eating the sweet part in the center, and leaving the doughy part for adults.

Kheers or Payasams are one of the main desserts that is omnipresent in every Keralite Festival or special occasion. The milk based, white payasams are regular fare, and eery household makes them for Worship as offerings to God, for birthdays, for festivals. The darker, jaggery based payasams, called "pradhaman" are reserved for festivals like Onams and Wedding Feasts. The more kind of Payasams in a wedding, the grander the affair! The Pradhamans usually take more ingredients and have to be slow cooked, to achieve the rich perfection. The white varieties such as "Palpayasam" or Milk Kheer and "Semiya Payasam" the Vermicelli Kheer are popular due to their simplicity and ease of preparation. In weddings, the vermicelli kheer is served with "Boli" or a stuffed Flat bread made of refined flour and stuffed with a sweet lentil mixture.
That brings us to this simple dessert, which tastes divine and is superbly easy to make. Its preferred by me over any of those too rich or too sweet shakes, cakes and pastries, any day. almost any rice can be used to make this. Purists believe Basmati gives it more flavor and aroma. I have made it even with Jasmine rice. Starchy rices like Chinese sticky rice, give the kheer a creamy richness, making it worth all the effort. Serves 8. (1/2 cup servings)

2 cups of whole milk;
1/2 cup rice, rinsed twice.
1 tbsp sugar
3 tbsp ghee (clarified butter)
4 crushed cardamoms, remove the seeds, and reserve the shell
1/2 cup condensed milk
a pinch of saffron (optional, for that light peach color)
2 tbsp of raisins
2 tbsp of blanched, slivered almonds or halved cashew nuts

The last picture was clicked here. After this, as every bowl was filled, it was taken away immediately  with no way to grab a picture that was actually presentable. 

In a thick bottomed, non stick pan, heat ghee and when its hot, fry the nuts and raisins in it, until the raisins puff up and the nuts turn lightly brownish. Drain and keep aside. In the same ghee, add the drained rice and roast, stirring frequently, until its glossy and rosy.
Add  1 tbsp sugar and 1 cup of water to the rice and stir well. Add a pinch of saffron (optional) and reserved cardamom shells to it and bring to a boil. Cover it with a snug lid and lower the heat to low, for 10 minutes. Resist the temptation to lift the lid.
After 10 minutes, remove the lid. Remove the cardamom shells, discard. Stir in the milk and the reserved nuts. Bring up the heat and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and let it simmer for another 30 minutes, without a lid. Stir occasionally, scraping the sides and bottom, to dislodge the cream accumulating there.
Meanwhile, roast the crushed cardamom seeds, and ground them in a coffee grinder or by using a mortar and pestle.
After 30 minutes, the kheer should be now thickened slightly, and creamy.  Stir in the  crushed cardamom and condensed milk and turn off the heat. Cover and let it rest for another 10 minutes and serve warm or chilled.

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