Thursday, December 18, 2008

Pal Payasam, make way for the King

Dear foodies,

It's been a year since this post and the festivities are in full swing. We had our floor Christmas luncheon/potluck last week, and yet again I was confused. We usually have multiple tables set-up for each individual course - entree', salads n dips, desserts, chips n drinks, cos there is tonnes of food with everybody pitching in. There aren't any vegetarian entrees at this gathering though, even the salads have meat in them. The dessert section is my only solace and the variety is awesome [and most have chocolate in them :)] Chocolate coated nuts, cheesecakes, cakes, truffles, assorted chocolate, toffee and then there are pies, many pies! and almost all of them are home-made! I initially planned on making a curry and puris to go along with it. But the thought of making the quantity I needed on a weeknight totally scared me from it. So I took the easy route again and made dessert. I find making desserts and sweet dishes easy, or may be I've done the easy ones only ;)

Pal payasam - an enticing combination of rice, milk and sugar that can never go wrong. Indian rice pudding is what I called it at the potluck :) Its my favorite payasam of all, one of the few sweets you'll never find me saying no to. It has simple beginings, but the end product is exotic and can in no way be called ordinary. Its lusciously creamy and decadent and will demand attention in any festive spread that it becomes part of. I remember being told a story about this payasam's greatness, it goes something like this - " A great King in southern India once held a grand feast inviting all his subjects and holy men. There was one Brahmin amongst them who was known for his huge appetite. He emptied huge bowls of rice drowned in sambar and rasam and the numerous curries prepared for the occasion. And just as the cooks started to worry about running out of food, the brahmin stopped, claiming that he was satisfied and could not have even a single extra grain of rice. Right then one of the people serving the dessert walks in with pal payasam. The King, who was watching the Brahmin devour his meal, expected him to decline the dessert, but to his astonishment the Brahmin called for a second serving! The puzzled King questions the Brahmin on his false claim of being 'full'. To that the Brahmin replies, 'Oh King, no matter how full the great hall is with your subjects, when you walk in, people will always make way for you, similar is the case with the pal payasam, the King of desserts". Now don't come asking me about the history and authenticity of this story. I heard it somewhere and it stuck to my mind!

Anita and Manisha have already given detailed therapeutic recipes for making pal payasam. I was in no mood for therapy or meditation on a week night and so used condensed milk. Though it does a really good job in the tasting dept, if you are going to make a small quantity, I would recommend their method. A reader of this blog suggested we could also use a slow cooker. I totally miscalculated the amount of rice I needed to use and had a LOT of payasam for the potluck, I could have served the entire block and not just the people on my floor!
Pal Payasam
  • 2 1/2 cups - long grain Rice (I used basmati)
  • 3/4 gallon - Whole milk (that's how much I had)
  • 3/4 gallon - 2% milk
  • 2 cans - Condensed milk
  • 1/2 -1 cup - Sugar
optional garnishes:
  • 1/4 tsp - Saffron strands, soaked in 2 Tbsp of warm milk
  • 3 nos - Cardamom pods, seeds crushed
  • or 2 Tbsp - toasted, slivered Almonds
  1. Wash the rice until the water runs clean and soak it for about an hour.
  2. In a deep saucepan (I used the vessel of my pressure cooker), bring the milk to a boil, reduce the heat to medium and allow the milk to reduce fow a while ~ 20-30mins. In the meanwhile I microwaved the 2% milk to heat it through.
  3. Drain the rice and carefully add it to the milk in the pot. Allow it to cook, stirring continuously. In about 10 mins most of the milk would have been absorbed by the rice, now add the 2% milk and cook until the rice grains become soft and can easily be turned to a mush between your fingers.
  4. Slowly drizzle in the condensed milk, stirring all the while. Simmer for about 15-20 mins, giving the payasam time to thicken and turn a creamy color (don't forget to stir). Taste to check for sweetness and add sugar as needed, cook for few more minutes.
  5. Remove from the stove and drizzle the saffron milk (along with the pretty strands) over the payasam and stir in the cardamom powder. Serve it warm or chilled and droooll.
  • Since I had no option of serving it warm, I stored it in the fridge overnight. I covered it with a plastic wrap that sat right on the surface of the kheer, so a skin does not form over it.
  • My pictures show the raisins and cashews, but those were only for the photos :D I did not add them to the final dish that I took to the office, just topped it whith a few toasted, slivered almonds. It is the creaminess of this payasam that is addictive and the change in texture due to the raisins/cashews is a spoiler.
  • You can further shorten the cooking/stirring time by cooking the rice in a 1:3, rice to milk ratio in the pressure cooker. Once the pressure is released, add more milk if needed and simmer for 15 mins, then proceed with adding the sweetener. Adding sugar to the rice grains in the first step will stop its cooking, so save it for the end.
  • Mine was more like a pudding and less like a payasam, that has more liquid in it. I had to take it to work the next day in the car, and a thicker payasam can be easily managed.
Everyone in the office who tried it, complimented me! It was creamy, rich and delicious, everything you want in a festive dessert. I had a lot of leftovers though, but a few of my colleagues suggested I store it in the office fridge so it can be served the next day too :) I also shared some of it with my neighbors and saved a little for myself :)) Having a lot of it on hand might be a good thing, but don't go overboard like I did :D When made in smaller quantities you can easily devote the time it takes to make it without the shortcuts.

I hope you are all enjoying this holiday season and ending it on a sweet note with family and friends. My brother and I are off to spend the New Year with my parents at home, can't wait to be back, its been a really long wait. A Merry Christmas and joyous New Year to all of you.

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