What is Phirnee? It's an Indian version of rice pudding that's flavoured with Indian spices and made with good Basmati rice. I use cardamom here.
This is my go to recipe for a not so greasy finale to an Indian meal when we entertain. It's easy to put together and tastes like you've spent hours on the stove making it, but it's actually a breeze to make!
I'm sure everyone has their own version of Phirnee.Why it's even spelled in a number of different ways - Firnee, Firni, Phrini and so on. But most recipes definitely have fragrant Basmati rice, milk and sugar as a base. Then you can put your own spin on it by varying the spices or adding nuts or dried fruit.
My mother makes a version of Phirnee that's rich but not in a cloying sort of way. Phirnee at home is a Sunday affair or reserved for special occasions when we have guests at home. A typical Sunday lunch would consist of Chicken Biryani, dry fried chicken, peppery mutton chops, some cucumber pachadi to help cool the taste buds from all the spices and chillies, plain steamed rice with pepper rasam to help digest the enormous meal!
But everybody still had room for Phirnee. My mother's Phirnee differs from the way I make it in many ways.She uses khova that imparts richness to the dish and helps thicken the phirnee. Khova is the result of heating milk on a slow steady flame for long hours with frequent stirring.She does not grind the rice to a paste and adds it whole instead.
Delicious as it was, it also took hours to make and the recipe devours quarts of whole milk, khova, sugar and ghee(clarified butter), cashew nuts and raisins all simmering away in a huge cauldron shaped vessel. It also needs constant attention like my 2 year old on a bicycle lest it should burn or turn out be lumpy. But it sure was a hit with everyone and she was constantly reminded and asked to bring some to parties and gatherings. My mum's a fabulous cook.
My version of Phirnee is quicker to make and can be whipped up with ingredients that are easily found in your pantry. It is not heavily spiced or calorie laden.But it sure puts a smile on your face.
It is essential that you use good quality Basmati rice as this is what brings out the "Indian-ness" of the dessert.
2 Litres Whole milk
1/4 cup Basmati rice
3/4 cup sugar
3-4 cardamom pods
1/4 cup Pistachio
1)Bring the milk to a boil over a low flame. Take care so as to not burn the milk. It is advisable to use a thick bottomed vessel for this purpose.
Ensure that the vessel is larger in volume than the amount of Phirnee you intend to make.(the hot milk would overflow otherwise)
2)Wash the rice in cold running water. Drain the water and let the rice dry for a couple of minutes.Do not soak the rice in water as this would make the Phirnee gummy.
3)Grind the rice with a couple of teaspoons of cold water.The paste does not have to be too fine.It needs to be granular as this is what gives the Phirnee a slightly chewy and nutty texture.
4) Lower the flame and slowly add the rice paste to the milk stirring all the time to prevent any lumps in the Phirnee.
5)Let the rice cook in the milk and you will feel the consistency starting to change and thicken in about 5 minutes. Continue to stir. The rice needs to be thoroughly cooked but does not have to dissolve into a mush.
6)Add the sugar at this point.If the Phirnee is too thick you can add some milk to thin it out. Be warned that this dessert gets thicker on cooling. The final consistency when it is served should be creamy . Not too runny or stiff.
7)Remove the Cardamom husk/skin and powder the seeds.Turn off the flame and stir in the cardamom powder.
8)Let cool slightly before transferring to your serving dish.Chill for at least 4 hours or more in the refrigerator.
9)Before serving - mince the pistachio and sprinkle on top of the Phirnee.
Options - you could also turn this into a Rose Phirnee by omitting the cardamom and adding some Rose powder instead. Rose powder is made with edible rose petals that are dried and then ground to an ultra fine powder. Garnish with fresh edible rose petals or Gulkand (candied Rose petals). this results in beautiful ever so slight hue of pink that looks irresistible. A teaspoon
of Rose water or gulab jal makes it even rosier and fragrant.
You could add almonds instead of Pistachio.There are endless versions of the Phirnee that you can make with this basic recipe.
As an added note I served my Phirnee in earthen bowls or matkis.Matkis are made with clay and mud and it soaks up a lot of water helping the Phirnee set more easily and uniformly. It also lends an earthy flavour and aroma that I can't describe. It almost captures the essence and smell of fresh rain pouring down on the parched dry playground at school. Lovely.
If you do go out to buy some of these earthen bowls make sure you soak them in a bucket of water overnight to remove impurities, dust and grime.It also helps the matkis soak up some water so whatever you put into them isn't zapped out of moisture completely.