Growing up in India, the holidays came during the Fall, and the main Hindu festival of lights, Diwali. I’d be back home from boarding school and looking forward to the sparklers, my cousins and desserts. Desserts are a big part of any Indian festival; Mummy, Grandma and my aunts would be prepping days in advance – chopping nuts, pounding spices and roasting different lentil flours in vats of butter. The cook would deftly stir fresh and frothy milk from our own cows into condensed goodness. And all these aromas filled our entire courtyard, up into our bedroom and into the crevices of my memories. The constant flow of food, visitors, lanterns and sparklers spelt pure joy. The joy of being surrounded by love and family made its journey across the continents with me to my new home in Boston through the aromas of food.
This year, in the days leading up to Diwali, on a recent crisp and clean morning, when I walked into the sun-dappled Curio Spice Co. in Cambridge, Mass, the welcoming aromas of cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg and pepper felt like a warm hug from a familiar friend. It made me smile at the memories of old spice boxes and the smells from our kitchen during festivals. Claire, the proprietor, curator and creator of the blends at Curio Spice described her various spice blends, I found the one that would crown my Diwali dessert – Fleur Spice.
I’ve developed a sweet tooth over the years, as if the distance between my childhood memories and age were narrowing the gap. One of my favorite deserts is the kheer. Kheeris simple to make but belies the layered and complex flavors built using just a few humble ingredients. Made of rice, milk, sugar and spices, I’ve made it like my mother; patiently stirring a small pot for two over the stove, waiting for the aromas to fill my home. I’ve also cooked it in the slow cooker, using whole spices during the cooking process and enhancing the flavors with ground spices at the end. But the most dramatic change I’ve made to it is using quinoa instead of rice. A lot of my recent changes to the way we eat has come out of the awareness of how and what we eat, the approach of middle age, and the need to be healthy. I’ve been swapping ingredients in traditional Indian recipes with healthier ingredients that I find in the U.S. without compromising on the flavors or the memories.
The Fleur Spice blend from Curio Spice would definitely help enhance my kheer. So, on my way home from Cambridge, I stopped at Richardson’s Farm in Middleton, MA where I get my milk each week. The strong barnyard smell assailed me across the parking lot as I approached the building and for an instant I was back in the courtyard of my childhood home, watching my grandmother churn fresh butter.
Getting to work on this version of the kheer was exciting, since I’ve always made this recipe instinctively, but this time, I was armed with my recipe book and a pen, jotting down, what I did and when. If you’re not familiar with kheer, it’s like a rice pudding, and if you have your own memories of kheer, I’m sure you will be intrigued by the swap of the ingredients but more so by the use of some new spices that are in the Fleur Spice blend.
I’m totally in love with its floral aromas, from the hibiscus, lavender and rose spices that add a nuanced layer, to the cardamom and saffron that I traditionally use. The pink pepper, anise, mint and fennel will have any foodie guessing at what lies beneath the luxurious creamy pudding that results from this quinoa kheer using fresh milk, like my family did, and freshly ground spices, like those that Curio Spice is curating for trips down memory lane.
Kheer, A New Take on Traditional Indian Rice Pudding
Makes 4-5 servings
Total time: 30-45 mins
In My Basket
1½ cup skim milk (from Richardson’s Farm, Middleton, MA)
½ of heavy cream or half & half (from Richardson’s Farm, Middleton, MA)
¼ tsp. Fleur Spice blend (from Curio Spice Co., Cambridge, MA)
From the Pantry
½ cup quinoa
1¼ cup water
¼ cup pure cane sugar
1 tsp raisins
¼ tsp crushed cardamom
4-5 strands of saffron
- Place the quinoa, water and milk in a thick bottomed pan, and bring to a slow boil.
- Lower the heat and simmer, stirring in the sugar.
- Stir intermittently, keeping an eye on the pan so that the liquid does not scorch the bottom of the pan or overflow onto the stove.
- After about 20 minutes when the quinoa feels softer and is starting to sprout, add in the spices and raisins.
- Simmer for about 15 minutes and add the half & half or cream, simmer for another 5-10 minutes. Transfer to a serving bowl.
- Serve each portion in a small bowl. Garnish with slivered nuts and a pinch of Fleur Spice. Serve warm with Indian breads or serve cold like a pudding.
Suman Shah is a local chef and vegetarian recipe developer. Her Market Day and Vegetarian Voyager recipes, on her blog Fork on a Road, show us her instinctive style of cooking from different corners of the world. She makes familiar foods in unexpected ways: healthy, versatile and easily adaptable for a busy life. Follow her on Instagram @forkonaroad