A dessert cooked to welcome rains during the mighty Indian Monsoons in the plains of Punjab!
The monsoons are a time of renewal for the entire Indian subcontinent. It is of course another matter that these rains are unpredictable and the distribution is often wonky. So while some parts yearn and pray all year-long for a few centimeters of rain, climate change has made flash floods a frequent occurrence in other regions.
The sad and miserable aside, monsoons have been immortalised in Indian art and culture as a time of romance and rejuvenation. For me the mention of monsoon rains conjures the fragrance of rain falling on parched earth. Growing up in Rajasthan, I remember the rains were often preceded by sandstorms. The sky would turn a rosy pink followed by the rushing in of grey, moisture laden clouds. The sudden, untimely dusk was always welcome. Best though were the rainy day holidays from school. Every morning during the monsoon season, I would hope for a heavy downpour!
Monsoons coincide with the Indian month of Shravan, from mid July to mid August. According to the hindu calendar, Shravan is an auspicious month host to many festivals. In northern parts of the country, the month of Shravan is called Saawan, literally monsoons and it does coincide with the season. My maternal aunt, who lives in the Punjab, recently mentioned that during the monsoons a superbly indulgent dessert is made in the region. It is two preparations served together. Malpua, which is a sweet pancake and kheer, Indian rice pudding.
So presenting to you my masi’s (mother’s sister – the word literally means mother like) recipe for Kheer and Malpua, the seamless, indulgent coming together of contrasting textures and extreme sweetness. My aunt was very diligent in recording all the steps. Thanks to her we have a pictographic recipe.
How to Make Kheer and Malpua
Servings: 4 to 6
Preparation time: 15 minutes
Cooking time: 1 hour 45 minutes to 2 hours.
For the Kheer
3/4 cup rice (basmati),
2.5 litres milk, (low-fat)
1 cup, heaped sugar,
Dry fruits: 1/4 cup sliced cashews,
1/4 cup blanched almonds,
1/4 cup golden raisins,
12-15 green cardamoms, ground.
For the kheer, take a thick bottomed large pot, a stock pot is preferable. Pour in the milk. Wash the rice thoroughly before adding it to the milk. Cook them on high until the first boil. Then reduce the heat to medium or medium high and stir occasionally to avoid the formation of a creamy layer on top. When using low-fat milk, I use 2%, this will not be too much of a problem in the beginning. But as the milk reduces, you will see a layer form on the top. The only way to avoid it is by stirring the mix. Cook until the rice are cooked. They should be almost double in volume and easily squished when pushed against the side of the vessel. Some people like a thick pudding and others like it more runny. Depending on how you like it or imagine you’ll want it, continue cooking. Beware, you won’t be able to reduce the milk as quickly after sweetening it with sugar. So get the consistency right before moving on.
Once the rice are done and the milk has been reduced to almost half its original volume, it is time to add the sugar. Stir in well. Turn the heat down to low. Add in the blanched and slivered almonds, raisins, cashews and ground cardamoms. For those of you with little time and patience to prepare the dry fruits at home, feel free to pick up packets of already slivered almonds at the grocery store. In India, and most Indian desserts, we use golden raisins. Turn off the heat. You can cool the kheer in an ice bath. Stir it constantly until it is at room temperature or cooler, otherwise you will find a thick layer of fat/cream on the top. Once cooled, transfer to a bowl and refrigerate until serving. You can garnish with a few slivers of pistachio.
For the Malpua
3 tbsp sugar,
3 tbsp maida i.e all purpose flour,
3 tbsp suji i.e fine semolina,
1 1/2 cup milk,
2 tbsp ghee i.e. clarified butter.
Malpuas can be made in two ways. First, the more heart friendly, low guilt pathway is to make them like pancakes. The second is to go all out and shallow fry the batter in clarified butter. My aunt sent me instructions for the first with a photograph of the one she made. While I tried out the second at home and was told repeatedly by my husband that he would not eat the artery clogging stuff! My advice to you, go the way of least guilt.
Just as you make pancakes, for this method you need a non stick griddle. Heat it up and oil it with some ghee. Mix all the ingredients together in a bowl. Make sure there are no lumps. The mixture will be runny and thinner than the usual pancake batter. Once the griddle/tawa is ready layer a ladle full of batter on it. Cook it on low heat and cover it until the underside is done, check to see if its browning. Flip and cook for a few minutes. Drain on an absorbent paper towel before serving with kheer. The malpua is tricky to cook because of the sugar. It can caramelize quickly and stick, therefore make sure you grease the tawa properly and cook on medium heat.
For the frying type, you will have to tweak the batter. It needs to be thicker, so cut back on the milk. For 3 tbsp of flour, sugar and suji add 1 cup milk. In a wok i.e kadhai, add ghee. You will need a lot more ghee, almost 2 inches high. Add the batter in small batches and fry until golden to a deep brown, flipping once to evenly cook both sides. Drain excess butter on a paper towel before serving with kheer.
Hope you will take the leap and try this sweet on sweet dessert.