It is Saraswati Pooja today, where we worship the giver of knowledge and wisdom. While we never celebrated this festival ourselves, my mother and I never missed visiting the home of Anu aunty (Our Bengali neighbor and my mom's best friend) for the yearly feast. After paying our respects to Goddess Saraswati, we would sit down eagerly waiting for the delicious Bhog (food made for the deity and then served to the guests).
Like every meal made with love, the feast would always be spectacular; however, the Khichuri (Khichri/Rice cooked with lentils and veggies) and payesh were my absolute favorite. My mother always made Kheer for us, but Anu aunty made Payesh, and there is something about Payesh.
For those who don’t know, both of them are Rice Pudding. They both use almost the same ingredients – Rice and Milk but are so different in taste because, unlike Kheer, which uses Sugar, Payesh occasionally has Jaggery as the sweetener. One is soft and sweet, dissolving in your mouth, and the other is more robust and flavorsome, leaving a caramel aftertaste.
And while I don’t think I make the best Payesh in the world. Far away from home, away from everything that smells like comfort, I find myself making it every year and praying to Maa Saraswati to give me knowledge but also keep me humble and grounded. Because without humility and grace, knowledge is useless, and with the perils of social media, it is getting increasingly difficult to distinguish between what is true and what isn’t.
Sending prayers and love to all.
सरस्वति महाभागे विद्ये कमललोचने । विद्यारूपे विशालाक्षि विद्यां देहि नमोस्तुते ॥
O Devi Saraswati, the most Auspicious Goddess of Knowledge with Lotus-like Eyes, An Embodiment of Knowledge with Large Eyes, Kindly Bless me with Knowledge. I Salute you.
· 1 1/2 liter full-fat milk
· 1/4 cup short-grain rice
· 3/4 cup Jaggery
· 1 tbsp Ghee
· A handful of raw cashews & raisins
· 2 dried Bay leaves
· 5 green cardamoms
Soak the rice in water
Heat Ghee in a pan and fry the cashews and raisins. Turn off the heat.
Add the milk in a heavy-bottomed saucepan with the bay leaves and cardamom. Stir regularly so that the milk does not catch the bottom or sides of the pan.
Once the milk has thickened, drain the water from the rice and add it to the milk. Stir for a few minutes to avoid the rice clumping together. The rice has to be mushy and entirely cooked.
Turn off the heat and add the jaggery and stir quickly. The milk can split when the jaggery is added, therefore it is vital to turn off the heat. Add the fried nuts, serve chilled or warm.
· Remove the bay leaves and cardamom before serving
· Traditionally Bengali’s usually never add nuts to the Payesh but, Anu aunty added it so, I do it as well
· Payesh can be made with Sugar as well