Kheer. Delicious. Cool and creamy on a hot summer’s day, or hardy and fortifying in the winter. Subtly flavored with the warm spiciness of cardamom, with the barest hint of saffron, sometimes with star anise, it’s Indian dessert done just to my taste. Not too sweet. Not too sticky. Just right.
Except this time. This week’s kheer experiment came out … just plain wrong.
For those of you who don’t know, or who haven’t yet guessed, the kheer in question is Indian-style rice pudding. Like the rice pudding that’s so familiar in American Southern cuisine, it’s comfort food. Dotted with nuts and raisins, it brings interesting variations of taste and texture to a perfectly velvety substrate of basmati rice and milk. The difference between kheer and it’s Southern-style kin, rice variety aside, is in its consistency. While our domestic rice pudding holds together firmly — in the style of tapioca, for instance — kheer tends to be a little looser, more like the consistency of oatmeal once a little milk has been added.
That doesn’t actually make it sound very appetizing, I suppose. But trust me. Once you’ve gone kheer, you’ll never go back.
My kheer, though — not so much.
I started the week researching recipes in all the usual sources: in the Bittman, down around Mamta’s Kitchen, you know — the places where you expect to find inspiration that pays off in tasty ways. But it all devolved from there. The last time I attempted kheer, a couple of years ago, now, I used too little rice for the quantity of milk I had, and the result was so soupy that you had to drink it, not eat it, with a spoon. So this time, I looked at all the sage advice online and in print, and then, because I (obviously) always know best, I doubled the rice.
You can guess what happened from there. If my last kheer was all wet, this one was a bit like an adobe brick. It came out of the saucepan looking fine. It even produced some pretty pictures. But by the time I had let it cool, by the time dessert rolled around and we were ready (with great anticipation) to dig in, it required more than a little bit of chiseling to extract from the dish.
Sarah was very nice about it. She smiled consolingly and told me: it doesn’t much look or taste like kheer, Adam, but it’s really not so bad. But her kind words were undercut, somewhat, by the fact that she then proceeded to hand me her mostly uneaten bowl and tell me: Here. You finish it. I think you like it more than me.
Now, Sarah really likes her kheer. Take her to a passable Indian buffet, and she’ll go back for seconds. For her to tell me that I probably like this rendition more than she — well — that smarts.
My misadventure in kheer is now five days past. And I’ll admit that the lion’s share is still in the fridge, that I’m waiting for it to spoil so I can in good conscience throw it out. I keep looking at the dish — my beautiful blue bowl that works so well for all manner of Indian cuisine — and thinking to myself: maybe I’ll have another little taste. Maybe it isn’t really as bad as all that.
And then I open the top just a crack, and it all comes flooding back.
But you know what? When it comes to kheer, it hardly behooves me to moan and wail. I’m not going to hide my goopy misstep, but rather wear it proudly. I’m going to proclaim my blunder here and now for all of you (dear readers!). Because there’s a lesson in my failure. I don’t know what it is just yet, but I have no doubt that all of you out there can learn something about the nature of hubris, or about wanting something too much, or about not listening to the experts, or — something — from my mistakes.
As for me — I’m falling back on what I know. I plan to pull out my French press, heat up some water, and indulge in a little liquid comfort. Coffee has always been, and will always be, my one true consolation in moments of woe. Coffee never disappoints, it never fails to come together, it never comes out the wrong consistency.
So do your worst dessert fails. And while you’re over there, festering in my fridge, all be over here with a mug and a smile. Because while I do indeed love me some kheer, a nice soothing cup of rich black coffee papers over a multitude of sins.
Now that’s delicious.