Walk into an Indian wedding and the first thing to catch the eye is glamorously turned out people in the latest Indian fashion…Well, not mine, this food aficionado’s eyes seek out the ‘Hot Jalebi’ live food counter instead.
At Indian weddings, this is a familiar sight: a rotund guy (generally with a large moustache) sits cross-legged dangerously close to a gigantic pan of hot oil; piping out delicious batter into hot oil and dipping the jalebi in warm sugar syrup…from where it appears on the plate. Just one more mouthwatering memory from India.
Indian desserts don’t generally share the spotlight with other well-known Indian kebabs and entrees. Many Indian desserts require a level of expertise which can be a deterrent to making them at home (think of the complexity of candy-making.)
However, there are plenty of simple Indian dessert recipes which are wholesome and delicious…like the Pistachio & Saffron Rice Pudding (Kheer) recipe below.
But first, let’s take a look at some popular lip smacking Indian desserts and what makes them special; do feel free to add your favorites to the list:
Jalebi (of course, I’m going to start with this one) is made from a batter of all-purpose flour and sour curd (yogurt); piped into hot oil with the deftness required to make pretzel shapes, to give it a mini funnel cake-like look. The fried jalebi are dipped in sugar syrup and served warm at most Indian festivals and weddings. Nothing beats a hot Jalebi, freshly made served with a steaming cup of this Chai.
Peda:Burfi:Halwa:Kheer:Payasam are all names for Indian sweets made using milk, sugar and ghee (solid fats) in a particular ratio.
Consistency ranges from fudge-like in burfi & peda to pudding-like in kheer, halwa & payasam. Many mithai (Indian sweets) have a main flavor ingredient; a dry fruit (pistachio burfi, almond burfi), fresh fruit or vegetable (mango peda, carrot halwa) and even lentil or rice (mung halwa, rice kheer, lentil payasam) The mithai found in north India is generally softer in texture than the pedas from southern India, which use a combination of jaggery, lentils/rice and coconut (Mysore pak, coconut burfi.)
Rasgulla and Rasmalai (the word Ras means syrup) and their variations are from the eastern region of India. They are desserts made using fresh cottage cheese (called chenna). The fresh cheese is shaped and served in sugar syrup or sweet flavored milk.
Shrikhand, typical to western India is made with churned yogurt; sweetened and naturally flavored, generally with cardamom, pistachio, saffron or mango. Growing up in Mumbai, shrikhand was and still is one of my favorite desserts. It is delicious when served with warm deep-fried puffed Indian bread (poori.)
Gulab Jamun,is a popular festive dessert served at weddings and occasions. Milk solids (called khoya or mawa) is used to make sweetened dough, which is fried and dipped in sugar syrup. They are best served warm with a scoop of vanilla ice cream or Kulfi (naturally flavored Indian ice cream).
And now a simple recipe inspired by the Indian dessert ‘Kheer’ (Rice pudding); this is my slimmer adaptation with no compromise on taste.
Pistachio and Saffron Rice Pudding (Kheer)
4 cups milk (I use low fat milk; use whole milk for a richer dessert)
½ cup rice, washed and drained
4 tablespoons sweetened condensed milk (or 3-4 tablespoons sugar)
5-6 whole cardamom seeds (or pinch of cardamom powder*)
6-7 strands saffron*
¼ cup pistachio, crushed with a mortar and pestle
*Cardamom powder and saffron are strong flavors; use only a pinch of each.
Bring the milk, rice and cardamom to a boil. Reduce flame to low and let it cook for 20-30 minutes, stirring every few minutes to avoid it sticking to bottom of pan. Check if the rice is cooked. Using a hand blender or the back of the spoon, churn the rice and milk mix (this step is only meant to break up the rice grain, not blend it.)
Add the condensed milk or sugar and saffron to the kheer. Stir the pistachio nuts into the rice pudding and check for your desired level of sweetness. Remove from the flame when it reaches a pudding-like consistency (remember puddings get firmer as they cool.) Serve slightly warm or well-chilled.