Posted on August 17, 2021 at 11:30 AM by Madhu Gadia
August 17, 2021
Jolie Cooks with Madhu Column:
Halwa and Kheer - Basic Indian Desserts
|RECAP: CHAI & CHAT
I started with the humble Halwa, but one dessert often leads to another. Kheer immediately came to mind
Cream of Wheat/Sooji Halwa
Cream of Wheat makes another appearance in Jolie Cooks with Madhu, this time as a dessert. Madhu says Sooji Halwa is the most popular kind of halwa or sweet semolina dish in India. I started by browning the Cream of Wheat in butter, and again a yummy scent was released. I’m not sure if I’ve ever seen or tasted halwa before, so I wondered if mine was the “golden brown” called for in the recipe. I’ll have to wait for Madhu’s comments to find out. I added the other ingredients, and it was ready in 15 more minutes.
When Ted and I had it for dessert that evening, we agreed that this humble looking dish hides a blend of sophisticated flavors. The halwa was light and refreshing with just the right amount of almonds, raisins, cardamom, and sugar. Great recipe, Madhu!
On a roll with that success, I moved on to the next dessert recipe in New Indian Home Cooking.
Rice Pudding/Kheer: Version #1
Rice pudding is one of Ted’s top comfort foods, and I often make it for him. He always has kheer at Indian buffets. I’ve assumed that it’s basically the same as American rice pudding. Wrong. The ratios of milk to rice are strikingly different. Madhu’s kheer calls for 8 cups of milk to 1/3 cup of raw rice, while my American recipe calls for 3 cups of milk to 1 cup of rice.
Hmmmm, how does it get thick? By adding the rice to the milk and cooking it down to half its original volume. Because I kept the heat very low to avoid any possible burning, it took more than twice the time expected to reduce the milk, 2 ½ hours instead of 1. Feeling unsure about its consistency, I took it off the burner. According to the recipe, the pudding gets firmer as it cools.
Not to worry. Ted loved it and wants me to make it again. He said it tasted great, although not as thick as restaurant versions. I found it light, the flavors subtle, and a great touch after any meal. Next time I make it, I thought, I might use whole milk and crank up the heat a bit as it cooks.
Rice Pudding/Kheer: Version #2
That was yesterday. This morning I woke up ready to take another crack at kheer, this time using whole milk. In her recipe notes Madhu says that “traditionally kheer is made with whole milk and cream.” Hey, let’s go traditional. From the get-go of stirring in the rice, I could tell the result would be creamier.
Another idea must have come to me while I slumbered, because today I knew when to stop simmering the milk. I grabbed a ruler (yes, I washed it first) and measured the depth of the milk before cooking. When it looked like it was down to half, I popped the ruler in again and measured. No guessing needed. Everything went smoothly.
Ted and I gave the second kheer a taste. We agreed that while it was understandably creamier than the first, both variants had the same delicate, enticing flavor. We like them both.
“Life is Short, Eat Dessert First,” Indians totally subscribe to that saying. Indian desserts are a genre of desserts, totally different than Western desserts. Indian desserts are called Mithai; halwa and kheer are the two most popular dessert categories made at home.
Sooji Halwa is the most popular halwa in India. It is often the choice of sweet/dessert offered as prasad (communion) at temples or prayer meetings.
I grew up eating Sooji Halwa, a sweet porridge, for a special Sunday breakfast. My kids love sooji halwa, it is a must for their birthday breakfast. They expected it. My son loves mom’s halwa and would request it often. It’s quick and always festive.
Kheer is a generic name for rice pudding, although there are so many kinds of kheer. All other types of kheer have to be qualified; samai/vermicelli kheer, sooji/cream of wheat kheer, sabutdana/tapioca kheer, and so on. Kheer is often made at home as an easy dessert. It’s a choice of dessert served at Indian buffets.
Jolie, I'm impressed that you made the kheer twice. Yes, as you discovered, it does taste better with whole milk. Kheer, as it is cooked on low heat, does take time. Once the milk is boiled, you set it to a slow simmer, the milk will thicken as it evaporates and even turns a bit yellow; like condensed milk. The key is that it should simmer, a slow consistent boil. A good creamy kheer (rice kheer) takes 1.5 to 2 hours.
Cream of Wheat/Sooji Halwa: New Indian Home Cooking, page 216.
Rice Pudding/Kheer: New Indian Home Cooking, page 217
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Disclaimer: "Jolie Cooks with Madhu" is an independent column. The views expressed are Jolie Zimmers's personal cooking experiences and do not represent any product or company. They are not paid or reimbursed by any third party for their viewpoints.