It was my littlest’s first Birthday. And how time flies! It’s just like yesterday that she was brand new and we held her in our arms for the first time. It was the joy twice over. Big Sister J was especially the happiest. And now our peanut has grown up to be a year old! Little “A” can scamper all over by herself, can open cabinets, and pull down almost everything, climb up and down, can say at least 10 words, wave hands, give a high five, clap and make a dozen facial expressions. Wow, I can’t believe it has been a year already!
I know I am smiling, excited, and being like any mom of a 1-year old. Motherhood is the greatest, and yet one of the hardest. Whatever it is, nothing beats being a Mom. However, the past two years didn’t come easy to me. I’ve been an “on-call” supermom, juggling ten thousand things together alongside childcare. With Mr. Man travelling for business and gone out of state for more than 95% days, managing and orchestrating everything all on my own had hit me hard on face. Relocation from mid-west to east coast in peak winter, the pregnancy, single parenting, and doing everything single-handedly, had made me strong, taught me tough and yet had left me floored often. But more than everything else, the past year have probably been the best so far. We got our new precious little. Spending as much time with my two little girls have filled me with more joy than ever. And for more reasons than one, A’s first birthday was a big deal for me. It also meant so much, to realize that I could spearhead all things without much support and hit this one-year mark. It was a huge achievement to me personally and I had got to honor the occasion.
The day was indeed extra special and I wasn’t going to pass it without celebrating. Per Bengali tradition, it is customary for Moms to cook “Kheer” (Indian rice pudding) or “Payesh” as it is called in Bangla, and serve her child’s most favorite lunch (usually fries, greens and sides served with rice), alongside an assortment of Indian sweets. Since we consider lunch to be the most auspicious meal of the day, the Hindu Bengali birthday rituals are always centered around it.
There is a special seating arranged on the floor for the ceremony. The birthday kid is asked to sit cross-legged on a special mat called “Ashon” in Bangla (Asan in hindi). Sweets, flowers and fruits are offered to the Gods and an assortment of the best, most lavish and the kid’s most favorite lunch is served on a large platter surrounded by a dozen smaller bowls containing curries, lentil soups, vegetables, fries, cooked greens, meat items, fish, sweets, desserts and most importantly the Kheer! Each elder of the family would then take turns to bless the child with a “Chondon-er Phota” (a “Tilak” or the religious mark on the forehead with sandalwood paste or Chandan) and by touching their forehead with Dhaan-Dubbo (twigs of an evergreen grass and paddy). The evergreen grass symbolizes longevity, while the paddy signifies health, happiness and prosperity. On my child’s birthdays, especially when they fall on a weekend, I do my best to do as much to bring in a little of this ceremonious tradition for them. Most other days, and on other occasions, I am ripped off of this privilege.
‘A’ is too young to have a precise choice of a meal and doesn’t particularly prefer an Indian food. So, I made dishes that I know she’ll not refuse eating and would at least have one bite of! Chicken stewed with vegetables, buttered rice, a mild delightful fish curry with fish egg fritters, a few Indian sweets and of course the Kheer.
I didn’t want to do the usual Chaler-payesh or Bengali rice pudding for ‘A’. Of late, she hasn’t been accepting foods that had any particulates in it. So, I wanted to do a rather smooth and blended one for her special day. My parents had brought me a lovely packet of premium dates from their recent trip to Dubai. It was an exotic collection of 3 different types of dates. We somehow never found the time to open and eat them. So, I had reserved it for an extraordinary dish, on an extraordinary day. What better than A’s first b’day?
Dates or Khajur‘s, as they’re known in Hindi, are these wonder fruits from middle-eastern countries, that are goody bags of packed nutrition. Proteins, fibers, rare elements, natural sugars, they have it all. So much so, that Muslims rely on them as one of the best foods to have during their holy month of Ramadan, that can provide them with generous amounts of all the right nutrition during the extensive religious fasting. Dates are more significant for mankind than we think. Fossil records as well as archaeological evidences claim that humans have been consuming dates since 50 million years — it’s use has being documented in pre-historic Egypt, Mesopotamia as well as Indus Valley. They’ve magical seeds too — these orthodox, highly robust and long-lived seeds are believed to sprout back to life even after a couple thousand years of storage. Wow, this lovely timeless sweet thing!
Probably the best piece about a dates-based dessert is that you may not have to add any sugar at all. The fruits are stuffed with enough natural sugars already. A lot of solace for a millennial mom like me who feels the guilt while feeding her kids too much sugar and salt. And because of their protein and fiber content, dates are also capable of providing body to the dish.
‘A’ was a year old now and wasn’t allergic to nuts, so I thought a “Khejur er Kheer” would be my best bet. It is a rich, dense, smooth, easy and with no added sugars dessert (yay!!). It would also save a lot of cooking time, unlike its other counterparts in the “Kheer” category, that have to be simmered, slow cooked and stirred for a long time to obtain the desired texture, consistency and flavor. All in all, the Khejur er Kheer was probably going to be a star performer, a show stopper for us that day, and it did prove right! It was a simple chop, cook and blend recipe, but turned out just how I wanted. Big Sis J, licked her bowl of Kheer after she was done eating and thought no one was looking at her! Little sis ‘A’ did oblige with voluntarily opening her mouth to have a couple teaspoons of it. Mister Daddy and I loved to finish off whatever remained of the Kheer. It was exceptional, nothing like the usual Kheers and tasted great both when warm and chilled.
And here is how I made my Khejur er Kheer — hope you all will enjoy this quick, healthy and easy dessert too…as much as we did!
Serves 3 – 4
- About 22-25 pitted or seedless medjool Khejur/Khajur or Dates, chopped
- 20 regular golden raisins
- 10 pistachios, chopped
- 10 almonds, chopped
- 5 cashew nuts, chopped
- 3 US cups, or 700 ml Milk (Whole Milk or reduced fat milk) — whole milk yields a richer kheer [you may need more milk for a thinner Kheer]
- 3 tbsp Ghee (Indian clarified butter)
- A couple pinches of freshly ground Cardamom or Clove (Elaichi or Lavang powder)
- A small amount of chopped nuts and raisins lightly fried in ghee, and saffron streaks (kesar) for garnish
- Reserve some chopped pistachios and almonds to garnish, at a later stage.
- In a deep frying pan, heat ghee over low-to-medium heat and add chopped pistachios, cashews, almonds and raisins.
- Stir fry for about a minute or less, until the raisins swell up and the nuts are slightly browned in ghee.
- Immediately add the chopped dates.
- Stir together for 1-2 minutes, until the dry fruits acquire a lovely roasted aroma.
- Pour 1 cup (250 ml) of milk and cook over medium heat for about 5 minutes, until the dates and the other nuts have softened, and the milk has thickened a little and it’s volume reduced.
- Switch off the stove heat and let the mixture cool down a bit for a couple minutes.
- Transfer the mixture to a blender, add 1 cup of milk, and blend them together to a smooth, silky puree.
- Pour the remaining 1 cup of milk (250 ml) into the frying pan. Add the pureed dates and nuts and ground elaichi/cardamom. Warm them together over medium heat for 1-2 minutes with continuous stirring till mixed well and the flavors have blended in.
- Take off from stove, and garnish with the reserved fried chopped nuts and raisins and saffron streaks. The kheer would slightly get thicker as it cools down.
- This kheer has a rich, creamy texture, and should not be flowy, runny or thin.
- Serve immediately or chilled!