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My Diwali Payesh

No Indian festival is complete without sweets and for Arundhati nothing can match grandma’s kheer (Payesh).

Arundhati Banerjee
Sun, Oct 26 2014

Photography: Arundhati

About Arundhati

A vagabond at heart, love of travel has taken me places and made me a wiser soul with an open mind to learn and respect the people and cultures that I have encountered along the way.
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On a moonless night in the autumn, when communities dazzle up their homes with thousands of diyas, lamps, candles and lanterns, it ushers in the festival of lights, Diwali. In India most homes are beautified and lit up to celebrate the triumphant victory of good over evil and illuminate life with hope and prosperity.   It is the Hindu festival where the burning of crackers symbolizes the lighting up of one’s life by removing all darkness. New clothes, rangoli, flower decorations, exchange of gifts bring in a lot of colour and festivities. It is a time to clean up homes and renovate them, to spread happiness and cheer. It is holiday time for the family to meet and for old friends to gather.

Of course food is an integral part of each festival and Diwali is no exception. The most important food is the sweet or mithai, for Indians have a sweet tooth and no important celebration or occasion is complete without sweets. The barfis, laddoos, jalebis, rasmalais, rasgullas, gulab jamuns, pethas and kaju katlis will tingle your taste-buds and leave you wanting for more. If you have the mithai, then the namkeen or the savoury is not far behind. Samosas, kachoris, namak paras, sev bhujiyas, vadas, bhajjis, pakoras, murukkus and gathiyas will open up your senses and make you blissful. To help you wash all the food down you will have masala chai, lassi, a variety of shakes and sharbets in various flavours and colours. It is all comfort food and each region of India will serve you their mithais and namkeens from their traditional cuisine.

For me, every occasion meant the delicious kheer or payash as we Bengalis say. Grandma’s home-cooked thickened sweetened milk with rice or tiny rice dumplings,  made rich with loving handfuls of raisins and cashew nuts and garnished with powdered cardamom would aromatize the whole house. Often my mom would make the kheer with ‘patali gur’, a kind of jaggary available largely in Bengal. Over the years I have modified the recipe to add other flavours such as cinnamon or saffron and to cut down on the preparation time, use vermicelli. Although most will swear by the fact that the proportions of the ingredients should be accurate, I love to cook in my grandma’s style, which is just by handfuls, fistfuls, smell and touch. My kheer is easy to make and you can modify it according to your taste.

•    Boil 1 1/2lits of milk and reduce it to 3/4th on slow fire. The more you boil and thicken, the better it tastes.

•    To that add a 5/6 big spoons of milkmaid and let it boil.

•    When the milk is thickened enough, add a fistful of roasted vermicelli. You could use the pre-roasted one available off the grocery shelf or prepare the roasted one. To roast vermicelli, add a spoonful of ghee (clarified butter) in a hot pan and roast the vermicelli till it turns golden.

•    Allow the vermicelli to cook in the milk till it becomes soft and floats to the top.

•    When the vermicelli is almost cooked, add raisins, sliced almonds/cashew nuts.

•    Add a cup of sugar or ‘patali gur’ and sweeten to your taste.

•    Add 2 to 3 tablespoon full of powdered cinnamon and stir well to mix. (In case you have used ‘patali gur’ cinnamon may be avoided as the ‘gur’ itself will have its own fragrance.)

•     Pour it into a beautiful dish and garnish it with cashews and a pinch of cinnamon.

Share and enjoy your payash hot or cold. Serve it with a lot of love to your family and friends and welcome a happy and prosperous Diwali.

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