I recently moved into my first house and it brought back memories of my grandmother’s house where I was born, a place that still feels like home despite being a distant memory. There were cows in the backyard of the house that provided milk, and I remember my grandmother describing the Indian tradition to boil milk till it overflows when moving into a new house. It was a symbol of wealth and prosperity. Regardless of the meaning, I thought I should reconnect with the tradition, if not for anything but to associate with the warm memory of my first home.
I did not boil milk. Instead, I decided to do something different using milk.
Here is a simple method to make a milk-based dessert.
Milk (whole milk, the kind that has a thick blanket of cream on the top)
Rice (arborio rice or regular Indian rice)
Vanilla bean cut lengthwise
The quality of milk is key.
Warm about three-quarter liters of milk in a heavy bottom vessel and dissolve about 40 grams of sugar in it. In a separate earthenware, oven safe dish, mix about 50 grams of rice and the split vanilla bean. Pour the warm sweetened milk into the earthenware container, mix and place in a 300˚C oven for about three hours or so, checking every 30 minutes or sooner until a dark golden brown, wrinkled, and slightly chewy skin has formed.
My friend in America calls it rice pudding, the tamil word for it is arisi payasam, and the Hindi word is kheer, and it is something one sees commonly as dessert in an Indian restaurant or in an Indian family home. Rice, milk and sugar are the main ingredients of this dish, and I thought it was steeped in the culture of the East. However, the dish from the East doesn’t bake in an oven to form a golden brown skin, instead it is cooked to a creamy consistency on the stove-top.
A few years ago my wife and I stayed at a Bed and Breakfast in northeastern Paris where the hostess took particular pride in the breakfast she served. Over the course of more than a week we had many discussions about French cuisine, cinema, and culture. Most days after breakfast we would walk to the metro station about 15 minutes away, but on some days the host would give us a ride, and we talked more. We rarely spoke in the evening because we returned late. On the day of our departure, we had breakfast, and then the hostess and host brought an earthenware pot that looked like a flower-pot with a brown skin on its interior surface. They asked us to taste it, and guess what it was. The flavors were familiar, but it looked different. Teurgoule, we were told was a Norman tradition of rice, milk and sugar baked slowly in an earthenware pot in the fading heat of a baker’s oven that had been turned-off after the morning’s baking. It was served during celebrations in Normandy, including to a newly wed bride. I didn’t guess the name of the dish but I enjoyed telling my grandmother about the Norman tradition just as much as I couldn’t help think about it now.