Growing up in Gurgaon (a suburb of Delhi in north India), I’d look forward to the many religious functions at my neighbours’ and friends’ places. Our colony was a mini-India with people from Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Kerala, Bihar and Haryana, among many others. Religious festivities often meant being invited for special lunches or Prasad thalis delivered home.
I have fond memories of visiting the homes of friends and neighbours with other little girls to partake in special lunches prepared for kanchak – a festival celebrated in north India during the religious nine-day of Navratri in March and November when young girls are considered to be little goddesses, fed special sweetmeats and given little knick-knacks like bangles to adorn themselves.
As a kid, I also had a standing invitation to my Maharashtrian neighbour, Aunty K’s Vaibhav Lakshmi Vrat Udyapan – literally, conclusion of a series of religious fasts observed in honour of Vaibhav Lakshmi, the Goddess of Wealth). A fortnight ago, my visit to my parents’ place coincided with aunty’s Udyapan and as always, she offered us the Vaibhav Lakshmi Vrat Udyapan prasad (food that is offered to people after it has been ceremoniously offered to the Lord). The thali she puts together for the Udyapan includes coconut pieces, poori (fried Indian bread), aloo subzi (potato curry) and chawal ke kheer (rice pudding).
Vaibhav Lakshmi Vrat Udyapan Thali
Aloo Subzi (Potato Curry)
I always feel any dish prepared for prasad takes on a lovely unique taste, largely due to the sentiments attached with the event. I just love the kheer aunty prepares for Udyapan. This rich kheer is a labour of love and requires loads of patience as it takes at least an hour of cooking time over and above the preparation time.
This is how she prepares it:
Chawal ke kheer (Rice Pudding)
Rice – ¼ cup
Milk – 4 litres (I’m not joking!)
Ghee/clarified butter – 2-3 tbsp
Sugar – ½ cup
Nuts – a handful (she uses a mix of cashew nuts and almonds)
Jaiphal/Nutmeg – ½ (or ½ tsp powdered)
Cardamom – 3-4 (or ½ tsp powdered)
Chopped nuts for garnishing (optional)
Wash rice thoroughly in several changes of water and drain
Heat ghee/clarified butter in a saucepan and add the wet (drained) rice
Sauté for a few mins on medium heat till the rice puffs up and becomes crisp
Boil milk in a large heavy bottomed container/pot
Meanwhile, when the rice cools down, grind it with the nuts and spices into a coarse paste
Once the milk boils, reduce heat to a minimum
Every ten mins or so, add the ground rice paste a tablespoon or two at a time to the milk and mix well
Keep stirring the milk every now and then to prevent scorching
Once you’ve added all the rice, keep cooking till the rice seems totally soft. At this stage, the milk should be down to a third/fourth of the original quantity. Add some milk now to adjust consistency if it is too thick. The entire process from boiling the milk to this stage will take around 60 mins
Add sugar and cook for a while longer
Remove from heat
Garnish with chopped nuts and serve warm or chilled