After the prayers, everybody gathered for an elaborate feast. It was nearly lunchtime by now and most of us were ravenous. According to tradition, however, no one can begin eating until the priest has first had his fill. All eyes were on Lal, who had a huge appetite. He had never been known to dine hurriedly--at least not when he had the opportunity to eat food as sumptuous as had been laid out that day.
To my surprise, when my mother reverently served the portly Brahmin a large steel platter of food, containing generous portions of about half a dozen savory dishes, he shook his head. "Today I will eat only mota maa (fat stuff)," he declared in Hindi, with a near-toothless grin.
Intrigued, I asked my mother what the priest meant by "fat stuff." I got my answer when my mother, ignoring me, scurried to the kitchen and returned with a small brass bucket of \o7 kheer\f7 --at least five liters of rice pudding laden with raisins and the choicest nuts and spices. My mother had cooked the dessert overnight in an earthenware pot over slow-burning cakes of cow dung, following local tradition.
To my utter astonishment, Lal devoured the entire bucket of \o7 kheer\f7 . "Fat stuff," for him, was "rich stuff." The holy man's rustic rationale for having only \o7 kheer\f7 ? Why fill the stomach with "lesser foods" when one can eat the queen of milky sweets to one's heart's content.
That day, even sour old Uncle Ram ate a whole plate of sweets.
Carrot Pudding orange throw from Windows, Pasadena.
Indian Style Rice Pudding (Kheer)
Active Work Time: 30 minutes * Total Preparation Time: 2 hours 30 minutes plus 3 hours cooling
\o7 Served at banquets, weddings and religious ceremonies, kheer is the "queen of desserts" in India. It is quite different in taste and texture from its Western cousin--the often lumpy rice pudding. Indeed, some kheer aficionados are offended if kheer is even called rice pudding. 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.\f7
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 cream 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.
8 servings. Each serving: 209 calories; 122 mg sodium; 33 mg cholesterol; 11 grams fat; 5 grams saturated fat; 18 grams carbohydrates; 10 grams protein; 1.05 grams fiber.
Carrot Pudding (Gajar ka Halwa)
Active Work Time: 1 1/2 hours * Total Preparation Time: 3 hours
\o7 This sweet is a visual delight, especially while it's cooking. Bits of grated carrot float on a sea of milk, imparting to it a deep-orange color. Appropriate for both formal and informal meals, this dish is almost always eaten warm but may also be served cold. It tastes best when reheated after a night or two in the refrigerator. To clarify butter, microwave 1 cup (2 sticks) of butter until melted, skim off the foam from the top, then pour off the butter and discard any milky water on the bottom.
8 cups milk
4 pounds carrots, peeled and grated
3/4 cup usli (pure) ghee (clarified butter)
6 tablespoons sugar or honey to taste
1/4 cup lightly fried, unsalted cashews, optional
1/4 cup lightly fried, unsalted pistachios, optional
1 teaspoon ground cardamom
Combine the milk and grated carrots in a heavy-bottomed pot. Bring to a boil. Lower the heat to medium and cook, stirring occasionally, until all the liquid has evaporated, about 1 hour.
Add the ghee, reduce the heat to medium-low, and cook the carrot-milk mixture, stirring frequently. Keep doing this until the carrots turn reddish brown, 45 minutes to 1 hour.
Add the sugar (or honey) and, if you like, the cashews and pistachios. Cook the mixture, stirring, for about 5 minutes. Turn off the heat and transfer the pudding to a serving bowl, garnished with cardamom.
8 servings. Each serving: 431 calories; 370 mg sodium; 80 mg cholesterol; 26 grams fat; 16 grams saturated fat; 42 grams carbohydrates; 10 grams protein; 6.44 grams fiber.
Active Work Time: 1 hour * Total Preparation Time: 3 hours plus 2 hours cooling