Eating Jewish: Kheer (Indian Rice Pudding)
In the middle of brunch with friends on Sunday afternoon, a leaking ceiling in our apartment left my roommate and I scrambling. In the middle of preparing the meal we were going to serve, we had to stop cooking and deal with the water that clearly should not have been coming through the ceiling. Rather than frying eggs and baking potatoes, we were trying to strategically place buckets under the leaks, mopping the water that had accumulated on the floor, moving furniture and assessing the damage. Our friends were understanding and we all sat down to a nice meal together despite the chaos that had erupted just moments before. Nonetheless, it had been a stressful afternoon and both my roommate and I decided that we needed a relaxing evening, watching a movie and eating something deliciously comforting.
What is considered comfort food differs from person to person, with there being a myriad of foods that can fill this role, depending on who you talk to. In my case, a big bowl of pasta usually helps to provide me with a sense of comfort, at least while I’m eating it, when things in life get a little crazy. Yet on Sunday evening, something sweet was in order. Not wanting to make anything too complicated, a quick look through some cookbooks led me to this recipe for coconut and cardamom flavored rice pudding. Homemade rice pudding (without raisins, please) is another one of those dishes that I would consider to fall into the realm of comfort food, and this recipe takes it up a notch with the addition of two wonderfully fragrant ingredients.
This recipe originated within the Jewish community in India, which is made up of three distinctive groups, namely the Bene Israel, the Cochinis and the Baghdadis. The Bene Israel community comes from the western coast of India in the Konkan region of Maharashtra, south of Bombay. It is claimed that they are the ancestors of a group of seven women and men who left Palestine in 175 BCE, and survived a shipwreck to end up in this area of the Indian subcontinent. The Cochinis settled in southwestern India and were divided into three subgroups, namely, the White Jews and the Black Jews, and freed slaves. Finally, it was in the eighteen hundreds that Baghdadi Jews began to settle in Calcutta due to the trading opportunities that were made available to them in this area. According to Claudia Roden, this rice pudding was particular to the Bene Israel community who ate it after the fast of Gedaliah.
This pudding comes together in two easy steps and produces a dish that is wonderfully thick and creamy. The cardamom pods, added during the second step, impart a subtle hint of their warm aromatic flavor that comes through a few seconds after you have eaten your first spoonful. This dish is absolutely delicious when served warm, soon after it has been prepared, but it is equally delectable eaten chilled after the flavors have had time to come together. Due to the fact that it is prepared with coconut milk, this rice pudding is a perfect ending to any meat meal.
The mix of coconut and cardamom in this dessert changes this rice pudding into an outstanding dish whose flavors transport you to the spice markets of India. It has, without a doubt, been added to my own list of comfort foods and I hope it can also be added to yours.
Kheer (Indian Rice Pudding)
Adapted from Gil Mark’s The World of Jewish Cooking
2 cups water
1 cup rice
About 3 ½ cups coconut milk (2 400ml cans)
1 cup sugar
6 cardamom pods
Pinch of salt
A splash of vanilla extract
In a medium saucepan, bring the water to a boil. Add the rice, cover, reduce the heat to low, and simmer until the liquid is absorbed, about 18-20 minutes.
Add the coconut milk, sugar, cardamom pods, vanilla extract, and salt. Simmer, uncovered and stirring frequently, over medium heat until the pudding is thick, about 20 to 25 minutes. Remove the cardamom pods from the pudding. Serve warm or chilled.