Indian rice pudding is simple to make, though it takes some loving time and care to simmer the milk and rice together until tender. It needs frequent stirring, but in the end, you will have a profoundly creamy, comforting, glorious bowl of rice pudding. It is also easy and—very importantly—a make-ahead dessert. Double or triple the quantity, dress it up with garnishes and plop in the middle of the table so everyone can serve themselves. Add a pretty plate of cookies alongside, that you may or may not have made yourself, and the sweet course is sorted.
Payasam or Kheer
Rice pudding is a favorite, must-have dessert throughout India. Each region has their favorite ingredients and cooking methods. As I am working on an exploration of the food of Kerala at the moment, I present you with an enriched coconut dessert. In North India, rice pudding is called here, and in South India, it is called payasam. I am looking forward to comparing these puddings from state to state, starting with the basics of rice, a sweetener, and some milk.
Your Indian Rice Pudding
Keralan cooks often use dried mung/moong beans, tapioca, or vermicelli instead of rice for Kerala payasam. Or if rice is the choice, it might be the parboiled red rice of Kerala called matta rice or rosematta. Broken rice is also used, both of which cooks more quickly than regular rice. And jaggery, a homegrown unrefined sugar with a touch of caramel and smoke, is often the sugar of choice. Brown sugar is an easy substitute, and you can use that here if you prefer. Basmati is the rice I usually have on hand, so that is what I used. I find it cooks faster than other rice, but use the rice you like to cook with. Keep in mind, however, that cooking times may vary.
Indian Rice Pudding (Kerala Payasam)
- 1/2 cup rice ~ I used basmati
- 3 cups full-fat milk ~ If you soak the rice, start with 2 1/2 cups
- 1 cup coconut milk
- 1/2 cup sugar ~ Granulated or brown sugar or jaggery
- 6 cardamom pods ~ 1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
- 2 tablespoons ghee ~ Or coconut oil if preferred, for garnishes
- 1 tablespoon cashews ~ Optional
- 1 tablespoon pistachios ~ Optional
- 1 tablespoon raisins ~ Optional
- 1 tablespoon flaked almonds ~ Optional
- 1 tablepoon large coconut flakes ~ Optional
- 1 pinch saffron ~ Optional
- Gather all your ingredients.
- Gently rinse the rice in a bowl filled with water to cover it. Rinse until the water is clear enough to see your hand.
- If you want to shorten the cooking time, soak the rice you are using for 30 minutes. This not only shortens the cooking time, but you will need up to 1/2 cup less milk.
- If using whole cardamom pods, coarsely crush them in a mortar and pestle. Remove the seeds, discard the shells and grind to a fine powder. You can also use a heavy pan or another heavy object to open the pods up and grind the spice. Skip this step if you are using ground cardamom.
- In a medium-sized heavy-bottomed saucepan pour in the milk, coconut milk, and the rice and bring to a boil. Lower the heat to simmer and add the sugar and ground cardamom. Stir to melt the sugar. Cook until the rice is tender, not mushy, stirring frequently to keep the mixture from sticking to the bottom of the pan. This will take between 30 to 40 minutes if you have soaked the rice. If you haven't the cooking time will be between 1 hour and an hour and 20 minutes, depending on the rice you are using. Keep an eye on the pudding as it cooks, and add a little more milk if it is getting too thick.
- Gather the garnishes you would like to use and while the rice is cooking, toast the nuts and raisins.
- If you are using a mix of nuts, start with the whole cashews and toast in a small pan over medium heat until they are starting to brown. This will take a couple of minutes. Add the almonds and toast another 2 more minutes. Finally, add the pistachios and raisins and sauté for another minute or two. The pistachios should just be warmed up and the raisins softened.
- Test the rice between two fingers, starting at the 30-minute mark for soaked rice, and at the 50-minute mark if unsoaked. It should be cooked through, but not mushy. Add milk if you would like the pudding to be a little soupier. Top the Indian rice pudding with the toasted garnishes and shower with saffron, if using. Serve warm, room temperature, or cold.