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A Family Recipe: Phirni (With a Twist)

Food has always been an integral part of the way in which I connect with family, something inherited, and something to pass on. They say that a tree without roots, is just a piece of wood — and I think about that often when I invent, when I cook, and when I share. I am grateful to have grown up in a family that taught me to approach food intuitively, through emotions of love and sharing, creatively, and always through the sense of identity. And to have as I grow older, expanded my family — and to have straddled spaces between the two, constantly learning, growing, and thinking more expansively about culture, identity, tradition, and legacy.

"They say that a tree without roots, is just a piece of wood"

I was pregnant when I wrote Zaika: Kashmiri Pandit Cuisine. The book is an homage to family. While Sarojini has always grown up with this food, and these recipes — on her twenty-seventh birthday this year, I gifted her, her very own copy — to take with her on her adventures, and for her to build on and engage with — to take traditions that I had inherited, and to make them get own. For her birthday, we cooked together — a Kashmiri feast for five of her closest friends. Instead of finishing the meal with cake — she asked if she could have Phirni — a classic desert, but one that we put a little twist on! Sharing the recipe with you here:

Serves: 4

Preparation Time: 10 minutes

Cooking Time: 20 minutes


8 cups milk

3/4 cups basmati rice, soaked in water overnight

1/2 cup cold milk

1 cup sugar

6 green cardamoms [peeled and powdered]

8 almonds [peeled and cut into slivers]


Soak the rice overnight, dry on a cloth and grind to a fine paste. Cook the milk on a slow fire for five minutes. Make a paste of the ground rice with a little cold milk and gradually add to the boiling milk, stirring continually, to ensure that no lumps form. Cook for five minutes. Add the sugar slowly and keep stirring. Cook for another five minutes. Remove and cool — mix half the powdered cardamoms and the slivers of almond, and sprinkle the rest on top.

This was the traditional recipe — for Sarojini’s birthday, instead of cardamom, we used a few strands of saffron, and some cut mango, to give the classic desert — a little summer twist.

Maybe this is the year I finally re-write and update Zaika — who knows, but for now, I am enjoying engaging with these recipes with Sarojini, teaching and learning with her.

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