chaler payesh

So some background info on me. My family hails from Kolkata, pronounced in my Bengali accent, or Calcutta, pronounced in my American accent. It's the capital city in the state of West Bengal, located in northeastern India. That sounds confusing, but really it's because East Bengal is now the modern day country of Bangledesh.

While I love the typical Indian foods found in American restaurants-- saag paneer, garlic naan, murgh makhani, I also love the more traditional Bengali foods. Something many people may not realize is how incredibly diverse India as a country is. (It's embarrassing how many times I have been asked whether I speak "Indian"...which, you know, isn't an actual language.) And the Indian cuisine popular in American restaurants represents only a fraction of the foods found across India.

Maybe it's because I'm far away from home, maybe it's because I'm growing up, maybe it's because I'm learning Hindi at school. Either way, I've become more nostalgic about my heritage. So here's a classic Indian dessert, called "chaal-er payesh" in Bengali. Chaal means rice, and payesh is the name for this pseudo pudding-ish dish.

While I love my mom, understanding her cooking instructions can be a struggle. She just knows how much of an ingredient to put in a dish. I guess it's an intuitive skill that comes from experience. So instead I referenced a few recipes online (1, 2, and 3) to come up with this:

Chaler Payesh Recipe

1/4 cup white rice (Basmati was recommended, I used Jasmine and it was still delish)
4 cups milk (I used 1%)
6-7 cardamom pods
4-5 bay leaves
Handful of raisins
Handful of cashews--chopped
1/3 cup sugar

Makes about 6 servings (I ate this all by myself... some for dessert over the span of a week)

1) Place the cardamom pods + bay leaves + milk in a pot over medium heat, and bring to a boil. The bay leaves and cardamom pods are for creating an aroma. Just smelling the cardamom makes me automatically think of the finished product.
2) After the milk begins boiling, lower the heat. Now you have to wait for the milk to reduce to a little more than half its initial volume. Stir every few minutes as you do not want the milk to stick to the bottom. It took me around 2 1/2 hours for this to happen. I found this blogpost by Just as Delish to provide helpful tips for this step.
2.5) Soak the rice in water for about 20 minutes prior to dumping it in the milk.
3) Now increase the flame to a medium, but not high enough for the milk to boil. Add in the rice. Stir.
4) Around 5 minutes after adding in the rice, add in the sugar, raisins, and cashews. Stir.
5) Lightly stir every few minutes for the rice to cook and sugar to melt.
6) When the rice is soft and the sugar is melted you're done! The longer you wait, the more condensed your dessert will be (and in my humble opinion, more delicious).

End notes:
- Personally, I prefer this dish served chilled. Make sure you cover it up when you refrigerate it as you do not want it to dry out.
- I remove the cardamom pods and bay leave prior to eating... as they do not taste nearly as good as they smell.

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