Gulabi Phirni/ Firni (Rose Flavoured Creamy Indian Rice Pudding)
Pink is really not one of my favourite colours, at least not the shade of pink we refer to at home as “mitai” pink. In Hindi, “Mitai/ Mithai” refers generally to Indian sweetmeats, but back home when someone mentions the word “mitai” they’re referring to boiled sugar sweets or candy. So “mitai” pink refers to a shade of bright, almost painful to look at candy pink!
Sometimes, though pink can be really nice as in the case of this Phirni (also sometimes spelled Firni) which is not just rose pink in colour but also flavoured with a rose syrup which is made from rose petals. Many food blogs go “Pink” in October but my cooking and posting something tinged pink in October is nothing but coincidence.
I actually made it as an offering on one of the nine days of Navarathri festivities (nine days of celebrating the Mother Goddess in her various forms). I usually make Paal Payasam (South Indian Rice Pudding) and this time decided to make something in keeping with this theme but different from what we make traditionally.
Just in case someone is wondering about the connection between October and the colour pink, October every year is celebrated across the world as Breast Cancer Awareness Month and charity events are held to increase awareness of the disease and to raise funds for research into its cause, prevention, diagnosis, treatment and cure, and also and support those affected by breast cancer. A pink ribbon has come to denote this effort and October has generally become a “pink” month and is automatically connected to anything to do with breast cancer.
I don’t see how I’m possibly contributing in any way to “Pinktober” by blogging pink coloured food, when all I’d really be doing would be pandering to a sweet tooth and a desire for dessert. We've got to see beyond the colour pink and think about how each one of us contribute to the fight against the illness. However, it is October, and since this is a “pink” post maybe it is a good idea to say something about the incidence of breast cancer.
Statistics show that breast cancer is the most common cancer in women worldwide. The incidence of this form of cancer among women in India isn’t much different. However, early detection has been shown to improve cancer mortality, so educating oneself and others about breast cancer is perhaps the best way to ensure it is detected at the earliest possible.
Cancer, whether of the breast or any other organ, has touched all of us in some way or the other directly or indirectly through those close to us within our family and friends. I dedicate this post to all those among us who have faced and fought this illness with much courage and showed us how to live life with dignity.
A Phirni is a North Indian rice pudding or perhaps a blancmange thickened with rice would be a better description. Indian cuisine is well known for the sheer variety of rice pudding (also known as kheer, khiri, payasam, payasa, payesh, etc depending on which part of the country you are in) you can find anywhere. The Phirni is different from the usual rice pudding because though it is made of rice, the grains are not cooked whole. The rice is soaked, ground into a paste and then cooked in sweet milk till it thickens to a pudding consistency.
Phirni was probably brought into India with the Mughal invaders from Persia or thereabouts. The Mughals were famous for their inventive and creative cuisine and the Royal kitchens were famous for the simple and exotic food they created for their kings. Phirni is a still popular dessert served in the North Indian Muslim community during the month long period of Ramzan/ Ramadan.
A well-made Phirni should be creamy without being too sweet and showcase the flavours of rice, milk and a hint of cardamom and roses, and sometimes saffron. Traditionally, Phirni is plain and garnished with chopped/ slivered almonds or pistachios, and served in earthenware pots, which in my opinion is the best way to eat Phirni.
Not only is this dish very easy to make, its also gluten-free, healthy to boot (no added fat) and can be made ahead and chilled. If you should lack the more “exotic” ingredients required to make a “Shahi” (Royal) version, you could just go with rice, milk, sugar and cardamom and still have a delightful dessert on hand.
This version of Phirni uses rose syrup which is a thick sugary syrup made with rose petals. Rose syrup is available in the stress in India. If you can find the right kind of roses, you could try making the syrup yourself, otherwise substitute with rose water. You would need to add a little more sugar and your Phirni would be white.
- Soak the basmati rice in about 4 tbsp of the water for an hour. Grind this, adding a little milk if necessary, into a very smooth paste. You shouldn’t be able to feel the grittiness of the rice. Take this paste and mix it into 1 cup of the milk, till smooth. Keep this aside.
- Put the remaining milk and sugar in a pan and bring it to boil over medium heat, stirring frequently. Add the rose syrup and mix well. Now stir the rice-milk mixture that was kept aside and add to the boiling milk, stirring well continuously to prevent lumps forming.
- Turn down the heat and keep stirring until the mixture starts boiling and thickening like a custard. Let it boil/ cook for about 5 minutes while stirring it constantly, until the rice is completely cooked. Turn off the heat and and add the cardamom and mix well.
- Let the Phirni cool to room temperature. Stir in occasionally in between so that a skin does not form on top,. Spoon the Phirni into dessert bowls or glasses and refrigerate till ready to serve. Before serving, garnish with slivered pistachios (or almonds if you prefer) and rose petals.