I have a sweet tooth. A serious, serious sweet tooth.
As a kid, my mom managed the sugary contents of our house with an iron fist; that is to say there weren’t really any sugary contents in our house. Well, there was sugar, and I am ashamed to admit that more than once I snuck spoonfuls of the powdered sugar from the baking pantry and grabbed furtive handfuls of the Cinnamon Red Hots my mom kept as a secret ingredient for her holiday-time hot punch.
The first time I spent the night at a friend’s house, I opened her freezer to discover pints and pints of ice cream. Just SITTING there. Available for eating…whenever she wanted. Staggering.
To be fair, my mom had good reasons to be strict about sugar. My father developed typed-II diabetes when I was a little kid, and she was determined not to let genetics win with me. But the truth is, much like a teetotaler’s kid, I went a little bit nuts with sugar when I achieved the freedom of adulthood. My freshman 15 had nothing to do with beer and everything to do with Chef Roger, who took over my residential college’s kitchen and had a real way with pastry.
Those who know me know the affairs I’ve had with various kinds of ridiculous sugar products: Smarties, Bottlecaps, Laffy Taffy (but only the grape & strawberry flavors). Chocolate isn’t safe around me, either. I could SO have been one of those Willy Wonka kids.
In the last few years, though, I’ve worked to consciously change my tastes. No more movie-theater-sized boxes of candy or cartons of Ben & Jerry’s for me. Smaller spoonfuls of sugar in my tea, sometimes no sugar at all. It’s amazing how I’ve been able to retrain my palate to the point where I can appreciate desserts and flavors I would have previously overlooked.
As a kid, kheer never appealed to me—not nearly sweet enough, of course. But now, I love the subtlety of the cardamom and rosewater, tinged with just a bit of sweetness and finished with the salty texture from the nuts.
So I’m proud to say that my tastes have become a bit more sophisticated, though I have been known to buy a small bag Laffy Taffy at Walgreen’s every now and then…just don’t tell my mom!
KHEER (Indian Rice Pudding)
Kheer isn’t particularly difficult to make, but it does require patience. Cook it slowly on the stove whenever you’re already planning to be in the kitchen for a while.
The best part? Kheer keeps extremely well—in fact, you may even find that it tastes better after a few days in the fridge.
4 cups milk*
½ cup basmati rice
½ cup chopped almonds and/or pistachios, toasted
¼ cup sweetened condensed milk
2 T ground cardamom (I love this flavor, but if you don’t, cut the amount in half)
Rinse the rice while heating the milk over medium-low heat in a heavy-bottomed pot. Drain & add the rice to the milk, stirring to combine with a wooden spoon.
The main object while cooking kheer is to keep the milk from scorching at the bottom of the pan. You don’t have to stir constantly, just regularly, and err on the side of caution when it comes to managing the heat on the stove.
As it cooks, the kheer will thicken. If you prefer a thinner pudding, feel free to add extra milk.
When you’ve reached the thirty minute mark, check the rice for doneness. Once it has been cooked through, remove the pot from the heat. Stir in the cardamom, then swirl in the sweetened condensed milk, then check for sweetness—you may want to add a bit more.
Serve the kheer hot, warm, or cool. Sprinkle each bowl-full with a handful of nuts and a teaspoon or so of rosewater.
*please use 2% or whole milk, it makes for far superior kheer.