Diwali: To celebrate the Hindu Festival of Lights, make kheer
Diwali, or the Festival of Lights -- one of the most important holidays in the Hindu religion -- started Sunday. The five-day new year celebration centers on festivals, gift giving and family gatherings that invariably include a parade of sweets, or mithai.
Galub jamun (the Indian syrup-soaked dessert made with fried dough with milk) and halwa (a nut- and flour-based confection) are to Diwali what candy canes and sugar cookies are to Christmas: served to guests, presented as gifts and offered to Lakshmi, the goddess of good fortune.
The lanterns and candles lighted for Diwali honor the flame of divinity and, as legend tells it, the return of the deity Rama from 14 years of exile. The sweets -- and the more the better -- are part of the spirit of Diwali. What better sweet than the “queen of desserts,” kheer -- Indian-style rice pudding?
This kheer recipe includes coconut and nuts, among the important flavors of Diwali.
Diwali Indian-style rice pudding (kheer)
Note: From Ajay Singh. “Ground cardamom is best prepared at home by crushing cardamom seeds -- make sure they are black and not brown and dry -- with a mortar and pestle, or with a rolling pin on the kitchen counter.”
5 tablespoons basmati rice
8 cups milk
10 cardamom pods, slightly crushed
2 tablespoons sugar or honey to taste
1/3 cup slivered, blanched almonds
1 cup grated coconut, optional
1/2 cup raisins, optional
1 tablespoon ground cardamom
Wash the rice and combine it with the milk in a heavy-bottomed pan. Place the cardamom pods on a piece of cheesecloth and tie the ends of the cloth tightly together, fashioning a pouch. Toss the pouch into the milk. Bring the milk almost to a boil. Decrease the heat to medium-low and allow the milk to bubble -- but not bubble over -- stirring occasionally, until half the quantity remains, about 2 hours. (Don’t be alarmed if it forms a crust at the top -- simply stir it into the milk.) Turn off the heat.
Remove the cardamom pouch and discard. Add the sugar, almonds, coconut and raisins, if using, to the milk. Mix well. Allow to cool, about 1 hour, stirring occasionally. Pour the mixture into a serving bowl. Sprinkle the cardamom on top, cover and refrigerate 2 hours. Serve chilled.
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