Whip Up Traditional Indian Pudding Called Kheer for Diwali

Celebrate the Hindu festival with this flexible recipe for rice kheer made with whichever fruit, grains, and spices you prefer.

Rice Kheer
Rice Kheer | Design by Maitane Romagosa for Thrillist
Rice Kheer | Design by Maitane Romagosa for Thrillist

Basmati rice simmers in milk infused with saffron and cardamom, filling the entire house with its distinct aroma. My mother is making kheer, a type of dessert similar to rice pudding and often prepared for festivals. As a child in a small town of Madhya Pradesh, India, this scent and dish is inextricably linked to Diwali, one of the biggest Indian festivals. Even still today it reminds me of this holiday.

The name Diwali or Deepawali translates to “row of lights.” The five-day festival marks the victory of good over evil, knowledge over ignorance, and light over darkness. It falls in October or November, depending on the Hindu calendar, when people will light small oil-filled earthen diyas, or lamps, outside their homes to symbolize the inner light and decorate their homes with garlands made of golden-hued marigolds, a flower associated with the sun. Throughout those five days people come together to make feasts featuring dahi wada, or lentil dumplings, served with flavored yogurt, deep-fried noodles called sev, and kheer.

Food is an integral part of festivals in India, and sweets, or mithais, hold a special place because they’re believed to bring joy and good luck. Indian traditions encompass many cultures, each with its own distinct sweets speciality. That means there’s usually a dizzying array of options at festivals like Diwali.

Puddling-style kheer is easy to make and one of the most common special-occasion sweets, not to mention my personal favorite.

A versatile dish, kheer can express the culture, history, and tastes of its maker. To the baseline canvas of milk, sugar, and dry fruits, you can add any spices, grains, fruits, or other ingredients. Want veggies in your kheer? Add stewed pumpkin or carrots. A custard kheer might include fresh fruit like mangoes, peaches, bananas, or apples. Grains span rice or vermicelli, or you can make a gluten-free version with ragi vermicelli. The options are seemingly endless.

I like to make mine with rice, chopped nuts, and rose petals. Rice kheer reminds me of good food, family, the light of earthen lamps filled with oil, and the fragrance of red and yellow marigolds. It reminds me of Diwali.

Rice Kheer Recipe

Serves 4

• ½ cup basmati rice
• 2 tablespoons clarified butter or ghee, divided
• 5 cups whole milk
• 3–4 tablespoons sugar, depending on how sweet you prefer your desserts
• ½ teaspoon ground cardamom
• 1 teaspoon raisins
• 1 teaspoon cashews
• 1 teaspoon almonds, roughly chopped
• 1 teaspoon chopped pistachios, roughly chopped
• A handful of rose petals

1. Rinse the rice in a colander and soak in a bowl of room temperature water for 10 mins. Drain.
2. Put one teaspoon of clarified butter or ghee in a non-stick pan over medium heat. Add rice and cook, stirring constantly, for 15 minutes. Remove from heat, put the cooked rice in a bowl, and wipe out the pan.
3. Heat another teaspoon of clarified butter or ghee in the same pan, melt over medium heat, and add cashew and raisins. Cook until golden brown, and then transfer them to the bowl.
4. In the same pan, pour in milk over medium heat and stir constantly until the milk comes to a boil. Then, add rice. Stir and cook until it’s soft but not chewy, approximately 5-7 minutes.
5. Reduce heat to low, and stir in sugar, the softened cashews and raisins, and cardamom powder. Cook, stirring, for 2–3 minutes.
6. Remove from heat and cool to room temperature, then transfer to a serving bowl and store in the refrigerator until chilled, 1–2 hours. Its consistency will thicken.
7. When you’re ready to serve, garnish the kheer with rose petals, crushed pistachio and almonds.

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Aishwarya Gupta is an SEO specialist at Thrillist who will graciously write about kheer and Diwali, among other topics.