Kheer Classic Milk Puddings
"Aah, yes. More sweet rice please."
Or, "Mmm, some ambrosial sweet rice please."
Two typical requests for seconds on what devotees in ISKCON call "sweet rice." In India the dish is more aptly known as chaval kheer. Kheer is a common term for several varieties of condensed-milk pudding, and chaval means "rice." (The Sanskrit word for kheer is ksira.)
Depending on the region of India, kheer might also be called payasa, basundi, or payesh. Readers of Vaisnava literature are likely familiar with the beautiful Deity Ksira-cora Gopinatha, or "Krishna, the ksira thief." This Deity of Lord Krsna in Remuna, Orissa, is famous for having stolen a pot of kheer as a gift for His devotee Madhavendra Puri. Visitors to the temple today can sample some of Gopinatha's delicious kheer prasadam.
Varieties of Kheer
In its simplest form, kheer is nothing more than sweetened milk that has been reduced by boiling it down to one-half or one-third its original volume. To that condensed milk one can add numerous other ingredients for body and flavor, yielding such varieties as rice kheer, nut kheer, yam kheer, pumpkin kheer, zucchini kheer, semolina kheer, cracked-wheat kheer, shredded-carrot kheer, fresh- or dried-fruit kheer, angel-hair-thin-vermicelli kheer, and more. In preparing the original manuscripts for the cookbook Lord Krishna's Cuisine, I came up with more than twenty-five varieties. (After editing, we left seven.)
When kheer is cooked down further, to one quarter or less of its original volume, it is known as rabri. Though little except some crushed cardamom pods is usually added, Srila Prabhupada sometimes requested rabri with added sliced mango, banana, papaya, or orange segments. He enjoyed it served chilled, although that's not traditional.
If you've been faithfully following this cooking class series, you know that you have homework over and above preparing the recipe here. Make at least three kinds of kheer from the class textbook, using different ingredients and cookware. Study the effects that heat, cookware, and cooking time have on the result. If possible, try to ferret out farm-fresh or unhomogenized milk, and compare it with store-bought. Instead of refined white sugar, use some of the unrefined sweeteners available where you live. In the United States I've tried date sugar, maple sugar, maple syrup, turbinado sugar, organic sucanat, and Florida Crystals (unrefined cane sugar), to name a few. Besides sweetening, these sweeteners will add unique flavors. If you opt for honey, add it after the kheer has finished cooking. Swirl in the honey off the stove until melted. According to the Ayurveda, honey when boiled becomes toxic.
Yamuna Devi is the author of the award-winning cookbooks Lord Krishna's Cuisine: The Art of Indian Vegetarian Cooking and Yamuna's Table. She is a regular contributor to The Washington Post and Vegetarian Times.
Cracked Wheat Kheer (Dalia Kheer)
A traditional favorite in cool weather, this kheer is warming, substantial, and fairly quick to make.
(depending on appetites)
2 teaspoons ghee or unsalted butter
½ to 2/3 cup cracked wheat
8 cups milk
½ to 2/3 cup sweetener
½ teaspoon crushed cardamom seeds
¼ cup raisins or currants, if desired
Melt the ghee or butter in a 1-gallon or larger heavy-bottomed pot over moderate heat. Add the cracked wheat, and, while stirring, toast the wheat until the grains darken a shade or two. Add the milk, sweetener, cardamom, and perhaps raisins.
Increase the heat to high. While stirring, bring the mixture to a rolling boil. Stirring frequently, boil until the grains are swollen and the thickened milk puts a thick coating on the stirring spoon (up to 25 minutes). As the kheer cools, it will continue to thicken.
Offer to Krsna and serve warm.