Sunday, 18 November 2007

sweets for Diwali

Diwali was actually celebrated on the 9th of November this year so I’m an entire week late, but I’m sure Ganesha’s appetite for sweets is the same all year around. And as for Lakshmi (even though she’s a tough cookie – my friend’s words, not mine), surely my rice pudding is sweet enough to sway her.

Diwali, the festival of lights, is celebrated big in the area where I live, with lots of fireworks. My friends who celebrate it make sure their house is spic ‘n span clean from top to bottom, in anticipation of Ganesha and Lakshmi’s visit. These Hindu deities bestow wealth, success and happiness, but only upon clean households. In addition to all the cleaning, there are also sweets. Lots of them.

Now why would I be celebrating Diwali - blonde Belgians and Indian festivals, surely that’s a strange mix? Well, blame my friend S, a crazy (in a lovely way crazy) Mauritian girl, from Indian descent. She not only decided that I was going to be half Indian, but also introduced me to Bollywood music and films, textiles, henna, and of course Indian sweets. Which, with all their spices, are absolutely perfect for this time of year. And after restraining myself with the custard last week, I was itching to make something else with a mix of heart-warming spices.

Many moons ago I made gajjar ka halwa (carrot halwa) – an extremely sweet dessert with grated carrots and lots of cream, butter and milk – which was delicious but took me an entire afternoon to make, and I just didn’t have that much time on my hands. Ras malai is my absolute favourite – it’s a sort of milk curd ball in sweetened milk with pistachios and rose water – but I have absolutely no idea how to make that myself. And so I thought I’d give my gran’s rice pudding a go.

A bit nerve-racking, considering her rice pudding is heaven on a plate (and that’s a lot to live up to!), and also a bit of a challenge, with the vague instructions she gave me. It turns out her vague instructions are absolutely spot on though, there’s no way to make them any clearer. Gran only adds saffron to her rice pudding, but I added a bunch of spices. Other than that, I stuck to her ‘recipe’. And the result? A very Flemish dessert, with an Indian twist.

1 cup of rice (I used Arborio, but any rice that is suitable for risotto will do)
a knob of butter
full fat milk (about 1 litre)
a squeeze of honey
1 teaspoon vanilla bean extract
half a stick of cinnamon
a pinch of saffron
1 star anise
5 cloves
3 cardamom pods
a pinch of nutmeg

Melt some butter in a saucepan, add rice to pan and make sure it is coated with butter. Add enough milk to cover rice and add all the spices. Keep on stirring and adding milk (I added a tiny squeeze of honey halfway through) until the rice is soft, about 45 minutes.

It’s basically like making a risotto, so it takes some dedication, but the results are more than worth it. The spices I listed are the quantities I used, but you can of course adapt according to preference (S tasted and said it was ok, but he thought the star anise was too overwhelming), add some cream instead of only milk, and sweeten it as much or as little as you like.


tammy said...

Mmmmm, I do love rice pudding. Your pictures are absolutely gorgeous. I could learn a thing or three from you.

(Thanks for the blog birthday wishes. I've been meaning to blogroll you for ages!)

Tartelette said...

I love Ras Malai and if i find a good recipe, I will make sure to forward it to you. I have the same love for rice pudding...oh watch me get in the kitchen now!!
Great recipe!

Annemarie said...

Nice twist on the regular rice pudding, and your pictures do look the part for the Diwali theme.