The humble rice pudding of India known as Kheer has always maintained its timeless appeal among desserts and has continued to delight every person who tastes it with its rich deliciousness and simplicity. Although many kinds of ancient unique dishes that had the potential of remaining immortal in taste throughout the pages of history had lost the quality of its temptation with the passing of time, it is really curious that the dish that is made by boiling rice and milk still continues to entice people with the rolling of days, months and years.
With a glorious history as rich as its taste, the Kheer is extremely versatile as it will greatly satiate your taste buds even if you add any kind of fruit or vegetable to it during its preparation or even in garnishing it. With the appeal of its taste remaining distinct in its many forms, it is no wonder then that Kheer has its own versions in different countries. Romans consumed Kheer as a simple rice pudding mainly for the purpose of detoxification after a hearty meal. Due to the calming properties of Kheer, the Romans ate it as it is believed to help in good digestion. Meanwhile, China’s Ming dynasty prepared a fruity version of the Kheer known as the Eight Jewel Rice Pudding. After the fruits were soaked in honey, they were put in layers in a wide-bottomed pan and cooked following which sweetened cooked glutinous rice is poured above it. The mixture was then steamed till the rice completely blends finely with the honeyed fruits. The rich version of the Kheer was prepared by the Persians and Afghans. Popularly called Firni, the Persians elevated the taste of the simple rice pudding by adding rose water and dried fruits to it. However, the richest version of the Kheer was prepared by the Afghans with saffron, rose water, kewra essence, cinnamon, cardamom, raisins, almond, pistachio. Known as Shola-e-Zard, the Afghani version of Kheer was garnished with an edible gold leaf and served cold. The Europeans turned Kheer into a baked dessert with the inclusion of egg and nutmeg in it. The mention of the Europeans’ baked rice pudding can be found in the book ‘Dining with William Shakespeare’ by Madge Lorwin which comprises of an original recipe from Thomas Dawson’s ‘The Good Huswifes Jewell (1596)’: “To make a Tart of Ryse, boil your rice, and put in the yolks of two or three eggs into the rice, and when it is boiled put it into a dish and season it with sugar, cinnamon, ginger, butter, and the juice of two or three oranges, and set it on the fire again.”
In India, the sacredness and healthiness of Kheer have been maintained and believed for quite a long time due to its fascinating history in Hindu texts and the mention of its purity and goodness in Ayurveda. The first mention of Kheer as ‘Kshirika’ in Sanskrit is found in the fourteenth century Padmavat of Gujarat as a form of pudding made not with rice but jowar millet and milk. Known also as Payesh or Payasam in India, Kheer has interesting stories associated with the famed Ambalapuzha and Konark Temples. According to legend, Lord Krishna once visited the king of Ambalapuzha in the disguise of an old sage and challenged him for a game of chess as he was one of the finest players of that time. The king accepted the offer and asked the Lord to tell him about the gift He wanted in case the game of chess was won by Him. The gift Lord Krishna sought was a number of rice grains for each square of the chess board, each pile having double the number of grains than the previous pile. However, when the quantity of rice increased to millions, Lord Krishna asked the confused king to pay him by offering Kheer to every devotee who visits the temple in the town. For this reason, Kheer is served daily for free to all devotees who visit the Ambalappuzha Temple. Meanwhile, it is said that the foundation of the Konark Temple could not be laid until the chief architect’s son showed how it could be done so by using small rice balls dipped in warm milk. The Kheer that helped in the construction of Konark Temple came to be called as Gointa Godi Kheer which became one of the main desserts of Odisha.
A simple bowl of Kheer cannot be simply called a dessert as having it will greatly take away all pangs of hunger for a while. It is not unusual to see the humble rice pudding consumed at the times of breakfast, lunch, dinner, and even during the period of snacking in India. From religious festivities to weddings, the Kheer makes its deliciousness felt anywhere and at any time in the country.
Some reasons due to which Kheer has been one of the loveable dishes in India are-
As Kheer is one of the easiest desserts to prepare, its wide consumption pattern is quite understandable. The simple form of making this dish is boiling milk, adding rice and sugar, and letting it steam till it reaches the desired consistency. Served hot or cold, the delectable taste of Kheer can be enjoyed every bit in the tongue till it is gulped completely. One of the interesting aspects of Kheer is that it can taste heavenly as a boiled dessert. Moreover, the preparation of the dish with easily available ingredients and the ability to make it within less time are some of the factors due to which Kheer has been able to maintain its popularity for ages.
With a high level of taste and yet requiring expertise and knowledge behind maintaining its perfection in preparing it, Kheer is thereby also considered an important dish in Indian festivities. Due to the high place of importance it occupies in Indian religion and culture, it is served as a part of bhog in many temples and festivals. Moreover, Kheer is also a highly preferred dessert considered for serving to special guests in Indian homes simply because of its deliciousness and the reason that it can be conjured up quickly.
Nice for innovation
With almost everything in the modern world undergoing innovation, why will Kheer be left behind? Due to its versatility, Kheer is easy for cooks to create culinary experiments with it. The best thing is that Kheer mingles perfectly with every accompaniment to elevate its taste. Today, the modern and well-known versions of Kheer include Boondi Kheer, Chocolate Kheer, Lauki Kheer. However, the modern list of Kheer can seem to go on as people can come up with their own creative versions of it.