Servings: 4 Prep: 5 min Cook: 0 mins Total: 25 mins
Kheer is an ancient sweet pudding coming from the Indian subcontinent, including Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and… India.
By and large, it’s “Indian rice pudding”, but like many historical or broad geographic recipes, there are a huge number of variations. The base ingredient ranges from a variety of grains and pseudograins (such as chia seed), to various forms of starch, such as tapioca and vermicelli. It is also flavored with a whole spectrum of ingredients, from various textural elements, such as coconut, raisins, pistachios, and almonds, to other spices and flavorings like cardamom or saffron. Basically, it’s a big bowl of sweet, mushy dessert seasoned and speckled with an ever-changing variety of local, cultural, or traditional ingredients. While not the most tantalizing description of an end-of-day treat, it’s fantastic, comforting, healthy, and unquestionably one of my favorites!
I’ve personally opted to substitute the rice with chia seeds. For anyone questioning chia, please know that I spent years questioning it, as well. I actively avoided it for years, fearing it would taste like “health food”. Turns out, I was wrong! It’s actually a very neutral taste, essentially taking on any flavor added to it. It just swells, thickens, and gels using any fats or liquids given to it. It’s used for a variety of puddings, such as this one, but it’s also used to thicken various sugar-free jams and jellies, it’s used to absorb moisture in various main dish concoctions (I love it in meatloaf or meatballs), it also makes for a fantastic flour, when ground.
As a pudding, it’s really quite simple. The basic ratio is 1 part chia seed to 4 parts liquid. 1 cup (240mL) of chia seeds mixed with 4 cups (960mL) of almond milk, for example, will result in a bit more than 4 total cups (~1L) of chia pudding, once the chia has absorbed the liquid.
When making it, just be sure to stir quite regularly as it absorbs and swells. Otherwise, you may wind up lumpy lumps. The absorption process will take roughly 20 to 25 minutes. The result will be a batch of soft, gelled mush, typically referring to as a pudding. The little seeds will still be there and do provide a subtle texture, but the taste and texture are both quite mild… even comforting and filling, in my opinion.
From that very basic ratio and method, the trick then becomes flavoring it. Add some sweetener to boost the sweetness. Substitute some fruit juice for some of the almond milk, to lend some flavor. Add some nuts or berries to add more flavor or texture. Use cream in place of the almond milk to boost the fat and creaminess. Chia seeds are a blank slate!
In this case, as a bit of a nod to the rice used in ancient Kheer, I opted for a white chia seed (no meaningful difference in taste or texture). I used a blend of cream and almond milk, to boost fat and creaminess. I could’ve used 100% cream, but that always just feels like overkill, to me. I also added a mixture of pistachios and sliced almonds, for texture. Finally, I used a mixture of ground cinnamon and cardamom for some spice and charm.
Really, just a wonderful treat, very much mimicking a delectable and memorable rice pudding!
Note: For a dairy-free alternative, substitute the cream for coconut milk. It still falls very much in line with tradition and will be absolutely bonkers tasty!
- In a large mixing bowl, combine the almond milk, cream, chia seeds, sweetener, cinnamon, cardamom, and a dash of salt. Whisk the ingredients together.
- After about 1 minute, whisk the ingredients together, again. Taste the mixture and add a bit more sweetener and/or salt if it needs it.
- After about 2 minutes, whisk again. It’s important to whisk and mixture frequently during the earliest part of the absorption process. After about the first 5 to 10 minutes, it’s not as important. The final 10 minutes, for example, you don’t really need to stir it.
- After about 20 to 25 minutes, divide between 4 bowls and garnish with the almonds and pistachios. Serve!
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