Saturday, 1 December 2012

Stirring up sweet somethings


I wrote the other day about the nomenclature of kheers by family kids, so here is more about kheers.

I made some phirni recently for my Mama and Mami who were visiting. Well, actually, I am not sure if it can be called kheer without offending some of my North Indian friends. Years ago, when I had served some vermicelli kheer at a do, I was corrected snootily by a mighty matron, “This, my dear, is seviayn, not kheer. Kheer is made with whole rice and milk.” My heart froze and the kheer, sorry - seviyan,  must have set into a kulfi .

My heart has since thawed, and I no longer smart from the telling-off, but hang on, in Marathi - my mother tongue, anything with milk and sugar and semi-solid or semi-liquid in consistency is kheer.

And why not? The word kheer comes from the Sanskrit word (quite obvious) Kshir meaning milk. Payas/payesh/payasam- words for kheer in various Indian languages also evolve from the Sanskrit word for milk.

Payasam or kheer is often made during religious ceremonies. That reminds me, I once proposed making phirni for a festive dinner to family elders. I had to explain what it was, and when told what it was – a rice kheer – they were mildly apoplectic! How could I forget that rice kheer is made only for the shraddh lunch of a dead forefather or family member! 

Well, to grant it, the exotic sounding phirni is a far cry from the frumpy rice kheer that is made for shraddh  -which one is not allowed to appreciate and relish, nor have second helpings on those sad occasions, by the way!

And why is a phirni called a phirni? My friend Google doesn’t seem to have an answer, so I must ask my other friend Encyclopaedia.

Till then, I will hazard a guess. A phirni is called a phirni because it has to be stirred all the time. 

To stir is ‘to phirana’ in Hindi. So....


1 ½ litre full cream milk
5 tbsps basmati rice
6-7 tbsp sugar/Splenda (or more)
½ tsp cardamom powder
½ tsp kewra water
½ tsp rose water
7-8 threads of good quality saffron
4 tbsp almond meal
100 ml cream
Pistachios, chopped

Wash and soak rice in water for 1 hour in a cup of water. Using the same water in which the rice has been soaked, grind the rice into a grainy paste. Keep aside.

In a heavy bottomed pan, heat the milk on low heat and bring it to a rolling boil. Keep stirring continuously using a perforated ladle to break the malai skin. Also take care to scrape the bottom of the pan/pot all the time.

In another saucepan, heat the cream gently till it starts bubbling. Keep on stirring and add a cup of the hot milk. Let the mixture boil well. This is to remove the raw taste of cream. It also ensures that the milk will not curdle – sometimes when you add milk of different fat content, temperatures and even from different bottles, it can curdle – leaving you very disheartened and your plans awry!

Add the boiling cream and milk mixture to the larger pan of boiling milk and add the almond meal and keep stirring for a few minutes. Then slowly pour the grainy rice paste in a thin stream into the boiling milk, continuously stirring. The milk will thicken immediately. Keep stirring till the mixture cooks and looks translucent.

Then add the sugar/ sweetener, cardamom powder, kewra and rose water and saffron. Yes, all of these together -they make a very fragrant combination!

Allow the phirni to cool and then chill for a few hours before serving with a garnish of pistachios. You can garnish with rose petals as well.

Traditionally, phirni is set in clay pots - but I didn't have any. 


My Melbourne friends - roses are in season and I am sure your gardens must be in full bloom!

And with the sun is baking everything golden, it's perfect time to make your Gulkand or rose-petal jam! Yes, you can make gulkand even with the non-desi gulabs.

Just select the best petals once the rose starts to shed, wipe each one clean and in a wide necked jar layer the petals alternately with sugar and keep the jar covered in the sun for as many days as you can. Keep stirring the gulkand from time to time.  In a few days, you will see a sticky jam forming.

Once formed, keep the jar in a cool and dry place or in the fridge. Gulkand keeps forever!

I am still using the one mum made with the glorious roses from my brother’s house- two years ago!


  1. Can I make gulkand with Splenda?

    1. Hmmm - I don't think so - you need the sugar to become a thick syrup to preserve the rose petals... But you know what! There is a better option - use fresh rose petals with sweetener! It's tastes gorgeous and looks fantastic too! :)


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