Paayasam or Kheer is synonymous with every festivals, celebrations and occassions in India. An essential dessert through out the history of India, paayasam or kheer is considered as a good omen for the newly weds and is followed even today. It is believed that this tradition started in the south part of India. This sweet dish is also connected to rituals and beliefs of hindus and is often served in the temples of Kerala. Ambalapuzha and Guruvayoor are the two holy places which is famous for the payasam. Ambalapuzha paal paayasam (made with fresh milk of cow)is famous world over. It is the tastiest of the paayasams which I have tasted.
The word paayasam in Tamil is derived from the word “Peeyusham” meaning ambrosia or nectar. Payasam is a Tamil culinary term commonly used to refer to a creamy pudding, made with rice, vermicelli or rice flour which is called ada, milk and sugar as the base ingredients and flavoured with cardamom, raisins, saffron, cashew nuts, pistachios or almonds. The use of saffron and cardamom in the preparation not only adds delicate and subtle flavors but it also contributes to the creamy color of the dessert complimenting its creamy taste.
Rice paaysasm can be found in varied forms in India. Similarly you can find this in the west too which is named as rice pudding or porridge. Since I was a foodie from childhood and both my paternal and maternal ancestral homes were always abuzz with guests and feasts, I always had an eye for what happened behind the scenes. My maternal ancestral home was an old styled mansion with acres of land. Since my grandpa was a social figure who was politically and socially invloved, there were always a decent crowd of minimum 50-100 people at home. Many of them would be there for the appropriate meal of the day. So the large kitchen would be always filled with helps, maids, cooks which was lead by my grandmother, my mother and her sisters.
My grandmother ued to mix up the curry base, masalas and spices for the dishes that were being cooked. But certain dishes were always made by her completely which she never handed over to anyone. This Ari paayasam was one of them. For any festivals especially vishu or onam or any important family occassions, she would prepare this. Early in the morning the preparations will start. Cleaning the whole area specially when this is made. The brass vessel or otturuli is washed with charcoal and then water is boiled in it and thrown out thus sterilizing it.
Then the process of making the Payasam starts. High quality basmati rice is used for this kheer. I always use India gate Basmati rice. I’m not a great fan of Tilda as I’ve not found it as superior as it is stated. Soaking the rice for half an hour will make it softer and will help in reducing the sticky nature of the rice. Why I do this is that, we are cooking rice just to perfection. Means just cooked inside but should be firm, as in medium rare. Otherwise you won’t get the long sterdy grains which will make a mushy kheer. So be careful when you cook the rice. Attaining a perfect texture of rice is one factor which makes this Payasam more perfect.
I’ve added 2 cups of sugar as I did not want to go with the usual kheer sweetness. If you prefer that kind of sweetness please go with 3 cups of sugar. I used around 2.5-3 litres of milk to get that extra creamy texture though I have mentioned only 2 ltrs of milk in the ingredients list. Once the milk starts to boil, reduce the flame to medium and keep stirring as often as possible, by not letting the milk burn. This will also help in getting a great texture for the Kheer.
With handful of ingredients, this is one of the tastiest of the lot. Cardamom and Saffron give that all Indianess to this kheer. Preparing this paayasam is in the Otturuli is the highlight. I somehow feel that when milk is cooked and reduced in this pretty traditional vessel, the payasam gets moved to another level. This should make this dish a must try dessert. Hoping and wishing that you all had some great celebrations and great prosperous year ahead.
Wash and Soak the Basmati rice in water for half an hour.
Boil the water in an heavy bottomed pan. Add the rice and cook till al dente and water absorbed.
Add the sugar and cardamom seeds and combine. Cook till the sugar melts and the liquid is completely absorbed.
Add the milk and combine. Keep stirring as often as possible. Add the saffron.
When the milk boils, reduce the flame and cook till reduced to quarter, creamy in texture and off white in color.
Fry the cashews and raisins in ghee and pour over the prepared kheer.
Serve hot or cold.