Apple & Paneer Rabdi/ Rabri/ Payasam/Kheer - A Creamy Indian Milk Pudding/ Dessert
Like I mentioned in my last post, I always try to add a couple of non-traditonal dishes to the traditional festive lunch for Onam. Its just my way of adding some excitement to the otherwise predictable menu. This year I made a Lime Pachadi (Steamed Limes in Seasoned Yogurt) and an Apple Paneer Rabri/ Rabdi.
I usually make two payasams (sweet dishes/ South Indian style puddings), one with sugar and milk and the other with jaggery and coconut milk. This time, Onam arrived on a working day which meant there was nop one but me at home for lunch. So we decided to have our festive meal for dinner. This practise of having lunch for dinner was unheard of in the old days, but one must change a little with the times in order to preserve certain traditions for fear of losing them altogether.
We are not very used to having very heavy meals at night, so I decided to make just one payasam this year and that too a non-traditional one. My fruit basket was over flowing with apples because I couldn’t resist temptation during my visit to the market and came home with more than we could eat. On my routine weekly trip to the market last week, I saw these beautiful sweet green Indian apples so I bought some. Then I saw some lovely red and yellow ones, so I bought a few of those too. Who can resist locally grown fresh produce? Not me!
My husband took one look at me take the apples out of my shopping bags and remarked, “You’re going to photograph them, aren’t you?” Well, I bought those apples for that too!
So I needed to put some of those apples to good use, and turning them into a sweet dish for Onam seemed a good way to go. Rather than cook a typical South Indian style Payasam (called Kheer in North India), I was going to make one with apples in it. You can use green or red apples so long as they are sweet kind. Look for sweet and reasonably firm apples (no tart ones here please) as you don’t want them to disintegrate to mush on the milk while cooking.
One thing to watch out for is the curdling/ splitting of milk when adding acidic fruit to it like apples. I didn't have this experience and it might have been because I had reduced the milk down before adding the grated apple. One way to make sure this doesn't happen is to add the grated apple (grate it a little finer for this) after cooking the Rabdi, and folding it in.
I chose to make a Rabdi (or Rabri as it is sometimes called). Rabdi is a sweet, milk based dish made by boiling the milk on low heat for a long time until it becomes thick and almost pinkish in colour. The sugar, cardamom and a large amount of chopped/ sliced nuts (almonds and pistachios) give the Rabri its distinctive flavour. Rabri can be served warm but is usually served chilled.
The trick to a good Rabdi is to slowly reduce the milk to about 1/3rd its original quantity while constantly scraping down the solids that collect on the side of the pan. These bits of rich milk solids add texture to the Rabri giving it a hint of chewiness. One can also add a bit of crumbled paneer (an Indian fresh milk cheese) to the Rabri while its cooks to enhance this texture.
So it is important to use a heavy/ thick walled pot or pan to reduce the milk without having it catch at the bottom and burn. There are short-cut methods to reduce the time involved in cooking down the milk, like using condensed milk to make Rabdi. While this works too, nothing brings out the taste of the Rabdi like the longer way of cooking it. You will also not get the “grainy” texture that is typical of Rabdi.
Rabri is a rich pudding and the best way to savour it is in small quantities. While Rabri is served on its own as a sweet or dessert, it is also served as an accompaniment (sometimes unsweetened or mildly sweetened) to other Indian sweets like Malpua, Jalebi or Gulab Jamun much like sauces are served with Western desserts.
Apple Paneer Rabdi/ Rabri/ Payasam/Kheer
- Pour the milk into a thick bottomed pan, preferably non-stick and bring it to boil, stirring frequently. At no point must the milk stick to the bottom and burn since cooking the milk is a slightly lengthy process.
- Turn down the heat and let the milk simmer until it is reduced to almost 1/3rd the original quantity and has become thick in consistency. Throughout this time, stir on and off to ensure the milk doesn’t stick to the bottom, and scrape down the milk solids which tend to stick to the sides of the pan.
- If you want to make this more like a Payasam/ Kheer, then do not cook the milk until it isalmost reduced to almost 1/3rd. Just cook down the milk until it is a bit thick, somewhat like the consistency of a thick evaporated mik. Rabdi should be thick enough to require a spoon to eat it with, whereas a Payasam/ Kheer should be slighly thinner in consistency.
- While the milk is cooking down, peel, core and grate (not too finely, so you can taste it in the cooked Rabdi) the apples into a bowl of water so they do not turn brown. Do not use lemon juice for this as it will curdle the milk when you add the grated apple to it.
- When the milk has almost reached the required thick consistency, add the grated apple (after draining the water completely) and let it cook for about 2 to 3 minutes. Then add the crumbled paneer and cook for another couple of minutes. Now add the sugar and let it simmer for about 5 minutes.
- Take the pan off the heat and add the cardamom and the rose water and stir well. Let it cool completely at room temperature. Refrigerate the Payasam/ Kheer/ Rabdi till ready to serve.
- When ready to serve, spoon the Payasam/ Kheer/ Rabdi into individual servng glasses or dishes and garnish generously with sliced almonds and pistachios. You do need to use blanched almonds, but the ones with their skins. If you lightly toast the nuts before slicing them, they lend a lovely taste to the dessert.
You can take the basic recipe for Rabri and create variations of it. Adding saffron to Rabdi is something that is frequently done. One of course, is to add apples like I did, or even mixed fruit to Rabdi but not cook them in the milk. You can also add thick mango purée to it after the milk has reduced down, for a mango flavoured Rabri. Very small Rasgullas can be added to Rabdi for yet another variation.