My First Published Article- Kheer: Rice Pudding in the Pakistani Manner with a Rhubarb-Strawberry Coulis

My first published article came out in Edible Toronto’s Summer Issue. Edible is a magazine based on sustainable food and the farm scene with over 65 chapters across the United States. The inimitable Gail Gordon Oliver is the founder of the Edible Toronto chapter in Canada. The article was about my move from Rome, Italy to Toronto, Canada a year and a half ago, and the aromas of my childhood which made me feel at home in a new city.

Here is the link to the article, which I have also pasted below, with the recipe and a video of myself talking about kheer.

Here I am talking to my friend Jodi about the kheer I brought to the Mother’s Day Brunch. Kheer is known as sheer berenj in Afghanistan.

The text from the Edible Toronto article:

Kheer: A Milky Spoonful Of Home

I swirl my wooden spoon in a pool of rose-hued rhubarb, soft and glossy, gently bubbling away. In go the strawberries, deepening the colour and spreading their bubble gum-sweet smell through the kitchen. Soon the guests in our home will be drizzling this coulis over kheer, a Pakistani dessert of cardamom-spiced rice pudding, each spoonful milky and sugary, with the crunch of flaky sliced almonds. And the fragrance of cardamom, the smell I associate with childhood and home – my mother’s creamy vermicelli puddings on Eid day marking the end of Ramadan, scented with whole cardamom pods. Or maybe a pod or two steamed with the basmati rice my mother’s sister – Khala Neelo – makes especially for me. The kind of rice you eat with a mere dollop of Greek yogurt on a rainy afternoon.

As I remove the coulis from the flame, I turn to my window. I can see the summer sun hanging in the sky like a plump apricot. It has been a year-and-a-half since my move to Toronto from Rome, Italy, as a new bride.

On that January day – my first morning in my new home – I stood there alone staring out the window, looking at the snow particles whirling around outside. Turning towards the fridge, I found it barren and cold, just like Toronto on that wintery morning. With my husband at work and no friends in the same time zone to call, I stared at the suitcases lying in the hallway flaccid and empty, waiting to be stored. After two weeks of traditional wedding celebrations in Pakistan: silence.

No leftovers in the fridge from the night before. No dahl, that Pakistani-style lentil dish I love, infused with fresh ginger and garlic and tempered with a spiced cumin oil; the cold, congealed dahl that I smear on a piece of hot toast some mornings. Alongside a cup of milky tea with a fragrant cardamom pod popped in.

Every morning before my wedding in Lahore, I would sit in front of the gas heater in my grandmother’s home, watching the BBC news. Our cook would bring in the fruit basket on a tray with my grandmother’s paring knife, the one with the ivory handle. Fragrant lemon tinted guavas, with an interior like soft-ripened cheese; mandarins with oily flesh, the kind that clings to your fingertips as you peel them; and petite bananas, their yellow skin soft, with black flecks. My mother would peel a mandarin for me and steal a few slices for herself.

We would come together every night in our home for the dholki –a pre-wedding dance and song celebration of family and friends: I, in my traditional pre-wedding citrus yellow cotton kurta shalwar and the girls in their silk attire in lollipop-like colours of grape, cherry and lime. They would gather around in the drawing room and sway in unison to the beats of the current Bollywood tunes as we clapped and watched on.

Food would be served every day on the terrace under a magenta and green enclosed canopy. Fresh chicken tikkas impaled on iron skewers, cooked over coal embers, charred perfectly on their edges; beef seekh kebabs lacquered with oil, glistening and ready to be dunked in a cool mint raita. From the dome-shaped earthen tandoor would emerge some fresh naan, small sesame seeds pressed neatly into each one. And in a bain-marie, a heady mutton biryani – braised meat layered and steamed with basmati rice, its notes of saffron, cardamom, clove and cinnamon mingling with the smell of that crisp Lahore winter night.

Everyone would enter the drawing room again, lean against the burgundy velvet cushions on the floor and tear away chubby pieces of naan, wrapping them around spicy, unctuous pieces of chicken tikka and seekh kebabs. Shortly thereafter, the dinner plates would be replaced with dainty crystal dessert bowls filled with kheer, this particular one infused with rosewater and adorned with chandi ka varak, edible real silver, a specialty at weddings.

My youngest sister, Maria, in the midst of her dancing and too busy to eat, would steal a spoonful or two from my bowl. Nearing the end of my kheer, I would greedily smear my finger across the bowl for that last drop of creaminess. It didn’t matter if someone was watching. I was the dulhan after all: the bride.

The dinner would be rounded off with cups of a dusty pink tea – Kashmiri chai. Sitting there sipping this salty spiced tea, I’d swallow the crushed jade-green pistachios floating atop the chai, family and friends around me, the beats of the Bollywood songs going on till our eyelids would begin to wilt, the clinking sound of the cup against the saucer being the familiar sound of home.

Back on that first January morning in Toronto, I needed to be comforted. I opened the fridge again and took out a carton of milk. From the pantry, some sugar, and then a sack of basmati rice from under the sink. I had entered the home of a former bachelor with a sparsely stocked pantry, but marrying a Pakistani has the advantage of knowing there is always basmati to be found. I reached into my purse for cardamom pods, which I always keep for an after-meal breath freshener.

I wrapped the cardamoms in a newspaper and crushed them into smaller fragments with the back of a frying pan, discarding the tough, green skin. In a large pot on the stove, I threw in the crushed black seeds along with a generous pour of milk, spoonfuls of sugar, and a handful of basmati rice. The milk started to gently roll, like soft cotton cloth. I stirred and stirred in silence as the cardamom’s sweet and musky smell filled the kitchen. The steam from the milk turned the window opaque, with the snow continuing to fall outside silently, now hidden from plain sight.

Slowly over the year I learnt things about Toronto: that wearing 5-inch-heel boots out in the snow is probably not advisable; that a small gourmet shop, Pusateri’s, has a café that serves my favourite Illy caffé macchiato; and most importantly, that summer comes late. But when it arrives, I can walk down with my friends to Summer’s for homemade frozen yogurt – a tart and sweet strawberry-banana flavour, a small powder pink snowball. And when my family comes to visit I can take them to Harbourfront to show them how Toronto throws its arms around Lake Ontario. I also learnt that in the summer I can travel with my husband on snow-free roads to the north of the city to find a Persian bakery that sells gosh-e-feel – elephant’s ear – a fried, puffy pastry with powdered sugar that spreads all over your mouth with each bite.

Entering my second summer in Toronto, on this particular day I recreate for my guests the dish that has always made me feel I am home: kheer. And combined with those flavours of my childhood are new flavours of Toronto, my adopted city – summery rhubarb and strawberry. The coulis on the kitchen counter and the kheer resting in the fridge, my guests arrive and we tuck into supple roasted red peppers dressed with pomegranate molasses and sprinkled with crushed walnuts, served alongside barbecued saffron-infused chicken tikkas. To cleanse the palate, some heirloom black cherry tomatoes atop spicy arugula anointed with olive oil and tiny pinches of fleur de sel.

Finally, out comes the kheer. A ladle of it into each bowl, and then a drizzle (or a drench) of the sweet-and-sour, candy-pink sauce. A scattering of sliced almonds, rounded off nicely with a dust of freshly cracked black pepper. And in every spoonful of kheer, soft and pillowy on the tongue, some bits of cardamom. The aromatic smell and sweet taste of home. In a new home.

Shayma Saadat, a Pakistani-Afghan with Persian ancestry, is the author of the food-memoir-style blog “The Spice Spoon: Cooking Without Borders” (www.thespicespoon.com). She is a Senior Policy Advisor for the Minister of Energy and Infrastructure, Canada. Shayma lives in Toronto with her husband.

Recipe

This rice pudding (known as kheer), made with basmati rice, should not be a mushy dish; each rice grain should be visible and remain intact. If you feel the rice is undercooked and the milk is being absorbed too quickly, just use some of the warm milk being heated in a saucepan on the side and add in small quantities to loosen the pudding.

I have added only ½ cup of sugar because the coulis adds sweetness; however, if you have a sweet tooth, feel free to add up to a whole cup of sugar to the kheer.

Makes 4 to 6 servings

Kheer
6 whole green cardamom pods
4 1/2 cups whole milk
3/4 cup basmati rice
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup slivered almonds
1/2 cup sliced almonds, for garnish
freshly ground black pepper

Rhubarb Strawberry Coulis
1 pound rhubarb, chopped into ½-inch pieces
1 cinnamon stick
2 tbsp water
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 pound strawberries, hulled and chopped into ½-inch pieces

Make the kheer: Wrap the cardamom pods in a newspaper and crush with a rolling pin. The seeds should not be crushed to a dust. The result should look somewhat like freshly cracked pepper. Discard the green skin of the pods.

In a small saucepan, heat 1½ cups of the milk over medium-low heat; do not bring to a boil, but keep warm while you prepare the kheer. In a large heavy-bottomed pan, add the remaining 3 cups of milk, the rice, crushed cardamom seeds, sugar and slivered almonds. Turn the heat to high. As soon as the milk starts to steam, turn the heat to low and cover with a lid.

Every 7 to 10 minutes, remove the lid and stir gently, from the bottom up, to ensure that the rice is not sticking to the base of the pan. After about 40 minutes, the milk should be thickened but not entirely absorbed. The pudding should have a soft, velvety consistency and not look congealed.

Taste the rice. If it seems undercooked, add some of the reserved warm milk, replace the lid and continue to cook for 7 to 10 minutes. When done, the basmati rice grains should be intact. Transfer the kheer to a container and allow it to come to room temperature before covering and refrigerating at least 5 hours, but preferably overnight, to set.

Make the coulis: In a medium saucepan over medium heat, add the rhubarb, cinnamon stick, water and sugar. Stir well. Allow the mixture to bubble away until the rhubarb looks soft and has melted down into a sauce, about 20 minutes. Add the strawberries. Continue to cook until the strawberries have softened and melted into the sauce, about 10 to 15 minutes. Turn off the heat, discard the cinnamon stick, and allow the coulis to come to room temperature. The coulis can be prepared in advance, kept refrigerated, and brought to room temperature or warmed up prior to serving with the kheer.

To serve: Ladle chilled kheer into individual bowls and drizzle with coulis. Top with a sprinkling of sliced almonds and a dusting of fresh black pepper.

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Comments

  1. What an absolutely FANTASTIC article, truly, you have such a magical way with words, it makes me grin with delight as I read it…
    Congrats on the publication, well deserved indeed.

  2. My favorite things: rice, cardamom, rhubarb & oddly close to Norwegian rice pudding. Delicious.
    Meanwhile, S, you are brilliant on camera. More video blogging is in your future, I predict! Well done.
    Much love,

    Miss W

  3. Congratulations on your first (but I’m sure not your last) publication. A beautiful piece which could easily have made it into any newspaper in the UK.

  4. Congratulations! This is so beautifully evocative, I love the video too. Brilliant stuff X

  5. Ambreen says:

    Beautifully written piece. Could taste the kheer, smell the cardamom seeds bursting and feel the melancholy of the empty house, all, sitting across the screen here in Dubai.

    I feel more connected with you reading these entries than I possibly could seeing you everyday.
    Sending you a big hug!

  6. This is truly wonderful. I am so pleased that in amongst your acclimatising you found your way to sharing so much with us. Cannot wait to try your gorgeous recipe and can only second the opinion that you are a natural on camera.
    Much love x

  7. Ciao ! Your story is really beautiful and moving, I would have loved to meet you in Rome and take advantage of all your stories and ..food. baci

  8. Congratulations on your first article! I do hope you now feel more at home in Toronto!

  9. Congratulations on what can only be the first of many published pieces. This is such a beautiful piece of writing – food really helps anchor us, wherever we find ourselves in the world, doesn’t it x

  10. razzledazzle says:

    Congratulations! Amazing…

  11. You are the most amazing writer. And so wonderful to see you on camera! I agree with Miss Whistle; more video blogs, please. x

  12. Zarreen says:

    I love this article!

  13. It’s really hard moving to somewhere new. They say it takes two years to settle in. Lovely recipe, lovely photo, lovely you!

  14. That’s lovely, congratulations on your getting published! Cherish seeing your byline :)
    Yes – Momofuku is on the itinerary for lunch on day 1. My goodness, I shall be eating. A lot. Yikes. x

  15. Congratulations, Shayma! What a terrific article…I feel as though I’ve just taken a trip to your wedding, AND your Toronto apartment. I’ve always loved “rice puddings” of all sorts, and this kheer sounds incredible, I must add it to my to-make list. Cheers – S

  16. @Kavey Thanks so much, lovely lady.

    @MissWhistle Thanks, B, and much love back to you. I know how much you Norwegians love your cardamom.

    @MrLondonStreet That’s a darling compliment- thank you so much.

    @Gastrogeek Thanks so much, Rej.x

    @Ambreen Thanks so much for reading-since we’re all scattered all over the world, isn’t it lovely we can connect this way? Hug back to you.

    @The Divorcee Thanks for the compliments, lovely girl.

    @Natalia Pure a me dispiace no aver potuto trovarti a roma ero mi fa piacere che abbiamo potuto comunicare tramite il mondo virtuale. Baci, s

    @Su-Lin Thanks, as always, Su-Lin. Slowly settling in, it does take time.

    @KSalty Thanks, darling. Food certainly does remind me of home- and I have spent most of my life away from home, being part of a diaspora.

    @RazzleDazzle Thank you so much.

    @Arlene Thank you, shall try some more short video blogs. Hugs to you.

    @Zarreen Thanks, Z.

    @MsMarmiteLover It is very difficult, even if it is for love! I am reaching my two-year mark, fingers crossed. Thanks, lovely.

    @Huma Thanks so much- enjoy NY eat loads-and have a wonderful time- cupcakes- what’s not to love?

    @Oui,Chef Thanks for the visit and the kind words. I am also a huge fan of rice puddings- my Lebanese friend’s mum makes it with cinnamon, which I adore.

  17. Congratulations on your first published article, Shayma joon! Great recipe and beautiful photos!x

  18. @Azita Thanks, Azita Joon. x s

  19. Again a nice write up. On one point as a Lahori, I would differ on is the point about the mushiness of kheer. Kheer is supposed to be a bit mushy but firm, closest I can think of is the texture of a simple egg puding, like that. That’s the way I’ve seen it all my life, either at home, at the milkshops and restaurants. But to each his/her own.
    I preffer it’s cousin firni any way.

  20. @Umair Hello and thank you for your compliment.

  21. Your first published article. WOOT! Beautifully written and ever so evocative Shayma. It’s full of what I like at each level … CONNECT & memories! You have style lady, and I love it! HUGS!!
    {PS Did you get my mail?}

  22. Congratulations on your first published article – the first of many! I can so relate to your story – having moved all alone to Paris when I was in my early 20s, it took me a couple of years to find my feet, then again moving to Canada 10 years ago was just as hard. I really only found my good place after a few years. Since I feel like Paris is more my home than anywhere so it’s good that you can finally get decent croissants and pastries (10 years ago, not so much) to bring back those memories and tastes of a place I love. Beautifully written piece – bravo!

  23. What an absolute delight your piece is – food, memory, belonging, all of the important things so beautifully expressed. As others have said, the first of many pieces I’m quite sure.

  24. Shamya, how delightful to see you come to life in your video!! So beautiful. And congrats on your wonderful article. Your recipe reminds me of my English friend Sarah, who begs me to make her the baked rice pudding of her childhood. Last summer I served it with a red currant sauce, so it really is quite similar to yours. Amazing how we all share so many tastes and traditions. xo

  25. Beautiful story. I’m relating to the moving in with a bachelor part. It’s amazing how making a special dish is the first step to making a home comfortable. The cardamon in the milk is delicious. Congratulations on your first published article. I look forward to reading more.

  26. Your blog is truly a beautiful place to visit.

    I am so glad that I just found your blog.

    Melissa

  27. What joy to see your words in print. Absolutely fantastic……and as ever the writing is captivating! Well done Shayma X X X

  28. a wonderful, brilliant first article :) so happy for you! isn’t it an absolute thrill, to see your name and words published on paper?
    hows the weather at your end of the coast? its been absolutely miserable here, almost as bad as lahore – worse, i should say, given the oxygen-less subways and miles of walking on scorching pavements one has to do to get anywhere! i could definitely use some kheer….

  29. Congratulations, Shayma! I just saw this now. I love all the ‘Edible’ publications and your article fit in perfectly well. A really nice twist on kheer.

    I know just how you feel in a new city, still haven’t adjusted fully, but not trying to get too comfy here, because I’m ready for a new place!

    Your warmth permeates through the video.

  30. Congratulations! That’s a great article and it’s making me crave some kheer!

  31. Such a wonderful post. Your blog is going from strength to strength. Have given you a keenly-deserved award. It’s here: http://taniakindersley.blogspot.com/2010/07/monday-and-prize.html. Sending you love from Scotland. x

  32. Shayma

    Would you believe I have never had kheer? sounds wonderful with the cardamom flavor. Checked you out in your video you are such a beautiful woman and a great image of Pakistan in these days of turmoil.

  33. Wow, congratulations. I absolutely love the Edible publications, they are beautiful and so fitting for your content. And yum, sounds wonderful. Cardamom, is one of the herbs that I love the most. Sweet, and cooling. Lovely.

  34. Many congrats on the publication! I very much like how you talk about ‘comfort food’, and about how flavours and fragrances are bound up with memories. I travel frequently between England (where I live most of the time), Germany (where I’m from) and Canada (where my fiancé is from), and food is often essential in overcoming feelings of restlessness and decenteredness.

  35. Congratulations – well done you!

  36. Congrats my dear! You’re SO smart and creative :)
    Cheers
    Jas

  37. Wow that is such a wonderful twist to classic kheer. Rhubarb Strawberry Coulis that is new one for me.

  38. I loved loved loved this piece,it is so well written that your words played the whole scene in my mind to perfection . I think you def struck a chord with every newly wed who has ever had to move for the sake of her marriage and has had serious post wedding blues along with the shock of the sense of loneliness. I loved how you described that dark toronto morning and how your mind went back to the pre wedding days, the contrast was so beautifully put in words and so relatable to a lot of us . This was not just a recipe these were sentiments in a bubbling pot that touched anyone who read it.

  39. found your site on del.icio.us today and really liked it.. i bookmarked it and will be back to check it out some more later

  40. Super late to the party here, but congratulations on being published! Your writing sparkles and the article looks great! I am soooo making this kheer. It reminds me of the sheer berenj my mom used to make for me growing up. Might make mine with coconut milk ;-)

  41. I love this article you wrote — and your photos are amazing — what an experience!

    May I ask more how you proposed/published the piece w/Edible Toronto? You are fab!

    xo
    L

  42. Thanks to everyone for the kind and generous compliments.

    @Leela I was lucky to have been approached by the editor of Edible. Thanks for your lovely words.

  43. I found a copy of this magazine with its wormy cover while I was on the University of Toronto campus waiting for a friend, and after flipping through the contents and choosing to read up on the rice pudding, I couldn’t help but think the writing seemed familiar. When I checked who the author was and found out it was you, I was so excited, I brought a copy home for Mina to read. Congratulations!

    And yes, we are cheese fanatics and spend too much time with that lovely lady and her plentiful sampling in the cheese shop south of Global on Kensington. She, also, makes a mean deli sandwich if you’re going on a picnic, or just hungry for a snack.

  44. Wow…congrats Shayma! That is so fabulous your work is in an Edible magazine! It’s a wonderful piece and the recipe looks delicious. You’re a star!!!

  45. Congrats on the publication. You have a fabulous way with words.

  46. maya kumar says:

    I’m reading your blog for the first time and enjoying it so much. You’re a wonderful food writer. You’ve brought back so many memories of cooking and eating the foods of northern India for me. Just the simple mention of the fruit basket reminded me of similar mornings in Lucknow, especially the little bananas. Keep up the good work!

  47. Your lovely article inspired me to to make the kheer with the rhubarb strawberry coulis – both delicious and especially so together.

    My mother was born in Finland and each week she used to bring us Finnish coffee bread (bulla) which was flavoured with cardamom, except in December, when it was flavoured with saffron. My mother died five years ago. When my daughter tasted the kheer she said “it’s like bulla in a bowl.” So – thank you.

    I look forward to trying other enticing recipes on your blog.

  48. The mandarins! I had nearly forgotten them, thank you so much for bringing back memories.

    My other favourite memory, roasted chana in newspaper cone, warming one’s hands…

    Bliss!

    Lovely writing, thank you again.

Trackbacks

  1. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Arlene Wszalek, Bumble Ward, Kavita Favelle, Kavita Favelle, Julia Belluz and others. Julia Belluz said: Lovely RT @SpiceSpoon: My published article is online now- which I have incorporated in a blog post http://bit.ly/bfdJVw [...]

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