Gajrayla / Carrot Kheer / Carrot Pudding
While West is wild (just wanted to add Wild Wild West connection here) over pumpkin season with pumpkin spiced latte, roasted pumpkin this and that, pumpkin pie and stuff, we, in Pakistan, are anxious to welcome deep red juicy carrots to add color and crunch to the salad, make kids drink carrot juice and of course to make gajar ka halwa. Carrot is gajar in Urdu btw. Actually we turn eggs and all sorts of vegetables, legumes and nuts into halwa to celebrate winter in our way. Halwa is like a mushy dessert, pan cooked in ghee (clarified butter) and it can be served hot or at room temperature anytime of the day plus it stores well in the freezer.
I am all for desserts regardless what time or season it is and there is always a special (empty) place in my heart (read stomach) for top notch sweet. There are a few variations of halwa that are my absolute favorite which will be shared, In Sha Allah, soon but today I am sharing season’s first Gajrayla to kick start desi dessert fiesta.
Gajrayla, also known as gajjar ke kheer (carrot kheer)is a traditional dessert from Pakistani cuisine. Unlike halwa, it is more like pudding, made with carrots, rice and milk. Most of our local dessert specialities have one thing in common; they have few ingredients but cooked for a longer duration of time which gives each dessert its distinctive texture, consistency, color and creaminess. This prolonged cooking is the key to master any desi sweet dish. Sure there are short cuts as people use milk powder, condensed milk or evaporated milk to save time but you know, I would say, make something else. I mean, desserts are special… give them their due respect, invest some time and results would be extremely rewarding. This may be a biased approach by a person with a sweet denture but this is something I believe in.
- There are only few steps required for gajrayla but each one is important to achieve perfect results.
- It all starts with good, red carrots which are grated and yellow part is discarded.
- Grated carrots are steamed to evaporate most of the water. This step is important to keep carrots tender and to retain most of the color.
- Once carrots are steamed, then milk is added and cooked to a boil. Once milk and carrots boil, add pre-soaked rice.
- Let them cook together for a good one and a half hour, uncovered, while keeping a close eye to prevent it boiling over.
- Stirring at regular 5-10 minutes intervals throughout the cooking duration is crucial otherwise milk or rice might stick to the bottom of the pan burn. Once a milk dessert is burnt like this, there is no saving it. You can not take the smell away.
- Stirring also helps the rice to break into smaller pieces and thicken the mixture.
- Once the mixture is thickened and rice is all tender and broken then add sugar. Never add sugar while rice are still undercooked as it will prevent the starch from breaking. Plus sugar is only to sweeten the dessert.
This, my friends, is the result of your patience and hardwork…. each spoonful is a delightful bit of a rich flavorful dessert…. creamiest and silkiest. Before we go to the recipe, as usual, I have to stress on the quality of each ingredient. I prefer homogenized, full fat milk as it gives most consistent results. You can use good quality fresh milk too but it creates a layer of fat on the top when the dessert is chilled. It is your call. Some people prefer more carrots in their gajrayla, some like it thicker, some add more rice, some like it with lesser milk. There are different options to get desired consistency and this is the way I like. For garnish, I like to add this silver paper and for nuts there is only pistachio for me… besides the color contrast that it gives, it is the only nut for rice-y desserts as I mentioned in Firni (rice pudding) post.
Gajrayla/ Carrot Pudding/ Carrot Kheer
A rich and creamy, naturally gluten free, traditional Pakistani dessert made with carrots, milk and rice. A perfect balance of few ingredients is enough to create a divine sweet dish.
- 1 kg carrots, washed, peeled and grated discard the yellow part
- 3½ litre full fat, homoginized milk
- 3-4 green cardamoms, seeds only
- 1 cup rice, soaked for extra long grain rice, grind them a little
- 1½ cups granulated sugar
- silver paper for garnish
- unsalted pistachio, roughly chopped
Put grated carrots in a big, heavy bottom pan, cover and cook over low flame to steam, about 10 minutes.
Remove the lid, stir and see if all the water from carrots is evaporated.
Add milk and cardamom seeds. Cook over medium flame and bring to a boil, keep the pan uncovered.
Once it boils, add soaked rice. Discard the water rice were soaked in.
Let everything cook together for about one hour fifteen minutes.
Do not keep it unattended, stir well every 5 minutes to avoid burning and sticking to the bottom of the pan.
Milk will be reduced and rice will be extremely tender during this duration of cooking.
Add sugar and keep stirring. Addition of sugar will make the mixture slightly runny than it was before.
Keep stirring till the mixture is slightly thinner than the required consistency, about 15 more minutes. Just like all starch based desserts, gajrayla will thicken once chilled.
Remove from the flame. Stir every 5 minutes till it is cooled to room temperature.
Transfer into a big bowl or 2-3 bowls for ease in refrigeration, cooling and serving.
Let chill for about 5-6 hours.
Garnish with silver paper and pistachio slices.
Sugar in Pakistan is sweeter so adjust as you like.
Cooking time may vary according to the milk quality, weather and type of pan.