Indian rice pudding with pistachios
recipe

Nolen Gurer Payesh: Traditional Indian rice pudding with saffron and cherries

Poonam Mandal

Contributing writer

In Bengal, where I come from, rice milk pudding is an integral part of local cuisine. Known locally as payesh, rice pudding is a staple at events, whether as an offering to the gods and goddesses, a baby's first rice-eating ceremony or celebrating a birthday. No Bengali ceremony would be complete without payesh.

As a kid, I remember my mom making this delicious rice milk pudding on my birthday every year. Now I’m sharing her recipe with you.

Indian rice milk pudding with cherries

Rice pudding in India

Rice pudding has been around for centuries. It is generally considered to have originated in China, which has a long history of producing rice. Saying that, there are several food historians who disagree with this; they believe rice pudding likely originated in India, where rice and sugar have been eaten for thousands of years.

Rice pudding is hugely popular in India. The recipe for rice pudding differs from state to state, and the pudding has a different name in each. In the south of India, it is called Payasam, and the rice and sugar or jaggery is simmered together with nuts. In the north, it's known as Kheer.

We usually call rice pudding Nolen Gurer Payesh in Bengal. It’s a signature dish of the winter Makar Sankranti festival (or Poush Parbon as it is called in Bengal), and is flavored with jaggery sugar.

Saffron on a teaspoon

Rice pudding and Buddha

Gautama Buddha's last meal, according to Buddhist Sutras, was a large bowl of rice pudding which was prepared by a girl named Sujata.

Buddha Gautama was fasting for a long time, holding his breath, and experiencing pain. In the process, he nearly starved to death. His realization was that he had taken this way of practicing to its limits, and had not been able to end suffering. At that critical moment, he changed his approach when he accepted milk and rice from a village girl named Sujata.

A jug of milk
Nuts on a tray with wine glasses
A cup of rice

The recipe

This is my mother's recipe for traditional Bengali rice pudding. Cooking the rice slowly makes it puff up, giving this pudding a unique texture that I personally love.

It’s an easy dessert, which just uses basic baking equipment but still tastes amazing. Essentially, rice is cooked in milk and sweetened until it is creamy. The rice releases starch as it cooks, thickening the milk and suspending the tender grains, giving it its creamy texture.

The cardamom and jaggery sugar in this recipe provide an array of homely flavours, which complement the texture beautifully.

Prep: 200 min
Cook: 50 min
Total: 250 min

Ingredients

  • 1 litre milk
  • 1 tbsp basmati rice
  • 5 tbsp jaggery sugar (can substitute dark brown sugar, demerara or muscovado)
  • 1/4 tsp ground cardamom
  • 1 tbsp pistachios, chopped
  • 2 tbsp cashew nuts
  • 1 tbsp golden raisins or sultanas
  • Pinch saffron
  • 1 cup condensed milk
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1/4 cup cherries

Directions

  1. 1
    Soak the rice in room temperature water for 3-4 hours after washing it thoroughly.
  2. 2
    Heat half of the butter in a pan over a low heat. Once the butter melts, add the soaked rice. stir fry for 3-4 minutes. Take the pan off the heat and set aside.
  3. 3
    Heat the rest of the butter in a large pan. When the butter is melted, add the milk and the bay leaves. Allow the mixture to boil for a few minutes.
  4. 4
    Once the milk comes to a boil, add the fried rice. Stir continuously. Cook it for another 20-30 minutes at a low-medium flame. Mix in the condensed milk when the milk has been reduced by half.
  5. 5
    Add the jaggery sugar, cardamom powder, and saffron and stir one. Then fold in the raisins and nuts.
  6. 6
    Allow to cool slightly, then dish into a small glass bowl. Sprinkle some saffron and chopped cherries on top before serving. The pudding can be enjoyed warm or cold.

Tips for making the perfect Nolen Gurer Payesh

  1. Before soaking the rice in water, wash it properly.

  2. To prevent the mixture from sticking to the pan surface, stir the milk continuously.

  3. Don’t just look at the milk's reduced quantity, make sure the rice is properly cooked too.

  4. To avoid undercooked or overcooked food, cook only on low to medium heat.

  5. Add the sugar only after the rice is cooked. Adding sugar to the rice will prevent it from getting cooked properly.

for the perfect pudding

Frequently Asked Questions

I have leftover rice. Can I use it?

Freshly prepared rice is recommended, as the ratio of milk to rice will need to be adjusted if you're using cooked rice. If the ratio of rice to milk is incorrect, your pudding might be overcooked or turn soggy and the desired texture won’t be achieved.

Why is my rice milk pudding so thick

As the rice milk pudding comes to room temperature, it continues to thicken. To thin out the rice milk pudding, add more milk while heating it a little. It can be served warm or cold.

What happens if you make the pudding without washing or soaking the rice?

The residual starch in the rice will gelatinise in the hot cooking milk and cause the rice grains to stick together if not washed beforehand. This will result in the pudding having a very gummy texture.

Is rice milk pudding vegan?

No, we use full cream milk in this rice pudding, so it is not vegan, even though it is eggless. To make this recipe vegan, you can substitute full-fat coconut milk for the full cream, and cook down coconut milk with maple syrup as a substitute for the condensed milk.

How do you store leftover rice pudding?

The leftover rice milk pudding can be kept in the refrigerator for up to five days in an airtight container. The pudding thickens when it is cold, so reheat it over low heat and add more milk as needed to thin it out.

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Poonam Mandal

Author - Poonam Mandal

Poonam Mandal is the founder and owner of Baking Forever. She is a baking and food blogger, author and cake designer from ‘The city of joy’ - Kolkata, India. She is also software engineer and a coder by profession.

Poonam wants to help people to learn about different types of cuisine filled with informative baking articles, easy and exciting recipes, expert tips and basic techniques.

Last Updated 3 May 2022

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