You can read more about the holiday, in this post that I had done earlier this week. It is well, saffron and its hues are just amazingly right for November when we are still thinking of all things orange.
Saffron is a spice derived from the flower, botanically known as Crocus sativus, or more commonly known as the saffron crocus. The saffron crocus grows about a feet in height and bears about 4 flowers. These flowers have three crimson colored stigmas. These stigmas are removed by hand and dried to give us the spice and coloring agent that we call saffron.
This rather labor intensive process makes saffron the worlds most expensive spice by weight. However, this said, a little goes a long way and is a luxury that can be savored when the occasion permits. The spice is said to be native to Greece and Southwest Asia and was first cultivated in Greece. It travelled to Eurasia, and then brought to North Africa as well. Some of the best saffron is found in the Middle Eastern countries, but we tend to find Spanish saffron more easily affordable. The best thing to do with the spice is to buy it in small quantities and store it in the refridgerator to ensure that it retains its heady flavors.
To showcase saffron and to continue with the celebratory theme, I shall share with you my easy recipe for a timeless Indian dessert – the rice pudding or payesh or kheer. Done right this simple dessert consists of creamy milk and rice that has been cooked together to soft perfection and is sweetened with sugar. The flavorings for this dessert, varies with preferences and today range from various trendy and fusion flavors. I am going classic with this version and seasoning it with cardamom and saffron and garnishing it with crushed fresh pistachio nuts.
And wait, did I tell you that my rice pudding gets done in the slow cooker? I am afraid after this posts, most of my friends will be more frugal with the their praise, but I shall be happy if the trade off is to induce you to cook this classic and delectable dessert yourself.
I will also take this time to wish you much peace and hapiness as I commence the begining of my holiday season which starts with Diwali and moves nicely into thankgiving and other winter holidays. I am sure after the weeks of no power most of us are excited about light, festive or otherwise.
Kesari Kheer (Slow Cooker Rice Pudding)
The dessert does need occasional stirring, after the rice is added, but certainly beats nursing it with dedication over the stove for hours. This version is flavored with cardamom and saffron and garnished with pistachio nuts.
Prep/Cook Time: 5 hours in a slow cooker;
1/2 gallon half and half
6 green cardamom pods
1/3 cup white rice (preferably a short grained variety)
3/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon saffron strands
1/3 cup shelled, unsalted pistachios
Method of Preparation
Place the half and half and the cardamom in the slow cooker and cook on high, undisturbed until the milk begins simmering, about 2 hours.
Add in the rice and stir well and let the mixture begin cooking; stir the rice once about every 25 minutes, to make sure that it does not stick.
About 1 1/2 hours later, add in the sugar and stir well; the rice should be fairly soft now.
Continue cooking for 1 hour, stirring about 3 or 4 times, during this period. The mixture will be a soft creamy consistency and will be a very pale caramel color.
Turn off the heat and let the mixture rest for 1/2 hour. Stir in the saffron.
Garnish with the pistachios just before serving; the rice pudding can be served hot or cold depending on your preference.
Rinku Bhattacharya is a daytime financial professional, who spends the rest of her time immersed in food. Rinku is the author of the blog, Cooking in Westchester, where she shares her life experiences, original recipes that combine Indian spices with produce from her backyard and local farmers markets. Rinku is blessed with a gardener husband, who always surprises her with a prolific and fresh supply of produce to keep her creative instincts flowing. Rinku has been teaching recreational cooking classes for the past six years, and has found her classes a great way to teach and learn.