Over New Years, K and I went to Seattle to stay with his family. His mom (who makes unbelievable mouth watering Bengali dishes) gave me short grain rice and gur from India to make payesh. She said to make it for a special occasion. I decided to make it for my day off, and I called and got her approval—that was indeed a special occasion! :) The recipe she gave me was very, "a little bit of this, a handful of that", just the way she cooks. I tried my best to follow her recipe exactly (we even have the same size hands) but I didn't use half and half and I added vanilla bean. I love vanilla beans and I can't imagine a creamy dessert without them.
What I love about this dish is the addition of gur mentioned above. I was so lucky that she gave me a huge mold of gur to use. Gur is a natural sweetener that contains high levels of iron, potassium and magnesium. It is made from the sap of palm trees and is boiled down for hours. The concentrated liquid is pored into molds to dry. To use, you take a knife, tap it with a hammer, and you get pieces of gur to sweeten your dishes. Gur stores very well, about 3-4 months in the refrigerator, and can also be used to sweeten curry sauces, chutneys and to prepare other sweets. I hope you enjoy it as much as K and I enjoyed my first attempt at payesh!
1/3 cup gur (or other sweetener such as rapadura, sucanat, etc.)
2 cardamom pods
2 bay leaves
1 vanilla bean pod
optional shelled and chopped pistachios
Wash the rice and set aside. Slice open the vanilla bean and scrape out the seeds. Combine the milk, vanilla seeds, vanilla pod, cardamom and bay leaves in a heavy bottom saucepan. Heat over medium heat, stirring all the time, until milk has reduced and thickened, about 10 minutes. Add the washed rice to the pot. Cook the rice, about 25 minutes, and keep stirring. Don't stop stirring or the milk will burn! Once the payesh has thickened, remove the vanilla, cardamom and bay leaves. Stir in the gur and cook about 5 minutes more, until fully incorporated. Cool slightly and serve while still warm. Alternatively, cover and place in the fridge for a few hours for a thicker, chilled payesh. Top with optional pistachios.