PhirniA true testament to the richness and popularity of the cuisine of India’s Muslims is the fact that when anyone around the world thinks of the most delicious Indian foods, the first images that spring to mind are  a lavish, fragrant biryani or a puffy, flaky naan.

India is home to the world’s second largest Muslim population and over the centuries this community has contributed deeply to the country’s colorful diversity and its rich cultural traditions. One of the heftiest contributions, no doubt, has been in the area of food.

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PhirniMuslim cuisine is known for its use of rich spices, fragrant herbs and delicate stocks: exactly the stuff of a food lover’s dreams. Growing up in Bombay, I was lucky to have many Muslim friends. Luckier still, they had moms who liked to feed greedy little girls. In fact, some of my most delicious gastronomic memories from India are of the foods I ate at the home of my friend Shahnaz, whose mother was a fabulous cook and made the best biryani I have ever tasted, or the lunch box that my schoolmate Rashida would share with me.

But if Indian Muslim cuisine is in a class of its own, Indian Muslim sweets are out of this world. One such out-of-the-world dessert I want to share with you today is Phirni, or Firni.

Phirni is at once a rustic and sophisticated dish. It’s a creamy milk pudding thickened with a coarse powder of rice. Not unlike a rice pudding, but grinding up the rice gives this dish a completely different flavor. You have to try it to believe it.

PhirniI shall never forget the first time I had Phirni, sold by one of the many food vendors who feed hungry travelers on India’s trains. I had never tasted anything quite so delicious, I remember thinking. We were traveling in north India and the Phirni was served in an unglazed clay dish with a narrow base that tapered outward to a wide mouth– kinda like a big Diwali diya. The clay, I later learned, absorbs some of the fluid from the Phirni and helps it set, contributes a very special flavor of its own, and also helps keep the Phirni cool — important because this is one Indian dessert that should always be served chilled.

Traditionally Phirni is of course made with milk but my vegan, dairyfree version is made with almond milk that I made myself with blanched almonds. That’s because I wanted the flavor of the almond milk and its texture to be really delicate in order to retain the pure flavor of the original dish. You can try this with storebought almond milk if you’d rather, but I would advise putting in the extra work and doing it yourself. You can also just buy blanched almonds which would make things much easier. Or, for a variation, you could try using cashews which are also delicious in Indian sweets as a dairy substitute.

This is also a really healthy recipe, for a dessert. A serving has only 186 calories and it actually scored an A-minus on the Calorie Count recipe analyzer– how’s that for good eats?

Here’s the recipe. Enjoy!


Prep time
Cook time
Total time
Recipe type: Desserts
Cuisine: Indian
Serves: 10
  • 1 cup almonds
  • 4 cups water
  • 1¼ cups sugar
  • 2 tbsp rose water
  • ¼ cup basmati rice
  • 1 tsp ground cardamom
  • 15 cashew nuts, chopped
  • Strawberries for garnish (optional)
  1. The day before you want to make the Phirni, place the almonds in a bowl and pour over enough boiling water to cover the almonds. Set aside overnight.
  2. Next day, peel the almonds and discard the skins.
  3. Place the almonds in a blender with 4 cups of water and blend into a very smooth milk. Pour through a sieve to catch any large bits that might have remained, or any pieces of skin.
  4. In a heavy-bottomed saucepan, bring all but ¼th of a cup of the almond milk to a boil.
  5. Add the sugar and cook, stirring frequently, over medium-low heat until the milk starts to thicken, about 15 minutes.
  6. Drain the rice that’s soaking and grind with with the reserved ¼th cup of almond milk.
  7. Add the rice paste to the almond milk and continue to cook, stirring, for another 15-20 minutes. You want to feel the pudding thickening as time goes by.
  8. Cover the phirni with a tight-fitting lid and let the mixture cook another five minutes.
  9. Remove the lid, add the cardamom, rose water and cashew nuts,and cook for another five minutes. Turn off the heat and pour it into individual serving dishes or bowls.
  10. Garnish with chopped strawberries or nuts. The slight tartness of the strawberries is a perfect flavor pairing with the sweet Phirni. You can also add saffron– soak a generous pinch in 1 tbsp almond milk and add along with the cardamom and cashew nuts.
  11. Refrigerate the Phirni until thoroughly chilled.
Nutrition Information
Calories: 186 Sugar: 25.5 grams Fiber: 1.2 grams Protein: 2.9 grams


Banana Coffee Cake with Chocolate Streusel

Banana Coffee CakeSo have you ever wondered what it is with all this trend-driven food blogging?

The other day I came across an article with tips for successful food blogging, one of which was to watch Google Trends to see what recipes are trending so you can cook and share those and draw visitors to your blog like flies to honey. Or maple syrup. Whatever. Apparently everyone who’s anyone in the food blog world is doing it.

I did a double take, gulped, and then wondered — am I just way, way behind the times because I blog about the simple, everyday food I cook in my kitchen,  hoping that readers will enjoy something that comes straight from the  heart? In a world of a bazillion glamorous food blogs– each beautifully designed, photographed, and SEO’d to the eyeballs — am I the bumpkin who shows up to the party without makeup and in last season’s shoes?

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Banana Chocolate Coffee CakeIn a moment of confusion I turned to Desi, my resident sage. Do you think I should be watching Google Trends before I decide what to cook and post? I asked him.  Like many food bloggers today (and gosh, how they have exploded since I started blogging in 2007!) should I be spending hours on Pinterest and Facebook and Twitter to make sure that my blog gets read by everyone I can possibly reach? Otherwise, in another year, will anyone actually be reading Holy Cow!?

Well, is that what you want? he asked me back.

I thought for a moment, but I already knew the answer. No.

Let me clarify first– I don’t mean to knock every blogger out there who’s marketing their blog with savvy (although I will say that headlines stuffed with keywords hurt my eyes  and make me want to look no further). I understand the importance of marketing and I do my share of it. I am lucky enough to have great pictures on my blog thanks to Desi and I made some changes to the blog recently, like adding the Easy Recipe plugin so you could print and share recipes more easily. And I have a Facebook page, a Pinterest page and a Twitter account that I share my latest recipes on. But by no means do I want to spend hours every day selling my blog when I’d rather be creating great food and memorable posts. When I started writing Holy Cow!, all I wanted was to invite those of you who love good food to my kitchen, engage in a conversation about cooking, life and the animals that make it better, and share the simple meals I cook up for my family and friends. Even today that’s what I’d rather do with most of the time I spend nurturing this blog.

Still in the doldrums after my enlightening (if rather one-sided) conversation with Desi, I opened my mailbox and there was a reader email waiting for me. “Vaishali, I love you and your recipes and your website,” Ingrid wrote.  “You are an absolute treasure!”

Treasure? I don’t think so, but it was the light bulb moment I had so badly needed. I thought of all those emails and messages you have sent me over the years telling me how much you appreciate the blog (I have saved them in a folder and I look at them once in a while when I am having a bleak blog moment. True story). I thought of all the times you’ve cooked one of my recipes and written to tell me you loved it — it  brings a smile to my face each time and helps me keep going.  I thought of the blogs I love, like Nupur’s One Hot Stove, and why I love them– because they offer up a tasty slice of life alongside simple food. I realized then that my blog is already where I want it to be and the people I blog for — you and me — are already here. And if you aren’t, you might wander in one day and decide you’d like to  stay back for a chat and some good food.

And once I realized that I was relieved because, honestly, I’ve never been the trendy type. To me, life is all about doing your own thing and finding your own niche, not jumping into one created by someone else.

Here’s to bumpkins without makeup! May our tribe increase.


Banana Chocolate Coffee CakeNow for this delicious and healthy Banana Coffee Cake with Chocolate Streusel. I wanted to make a coffee cake for Desi (the word “cake” makes him delirious) — ideally one that would use up three overripe bananas sitting in the kitchen — when I found this recipe.

I made lots of changes to it, besides veganizing it by replacing the buttermilk and eggs. I made the cake whole wheat (yay!) and I cut down significantly on the sugar and oil (double yay!). The cake was moist, delicious, perfectly sweet, and — in a word– superb.

So here it is, as a thank you for sitting through my rant. This recipe’s not trending on any search engine, I’m pretty sure, but are bananas and cake and chocolate ever out of fashion?

Have a great weekend, all!

Banana Coffee Cake

Banana Coffee Cake with Chocolate Streusel
Prep time
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A whole wheat Banana Coffee Cake with a topping of walnut-and-chocolate-chip streusel.
Recipe type: Dessert
Serves: 16
  • For the streusel topping:
  • 1¼ cup semisweet chocolate chips
  • ½ cup walnuts, chopped
  • ⅓ cup sugar
  • 2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • For the cake batter:
  • 1½ cups whole wheat pastry flour (can use half regular whole wheat and half all-purpose flour)
  • ¾ tsp baking soda
  • ¾ tsp baking powder
  • ½ cup applesauce
  • ½ cup sugar
  • ¼ cup vegetable oil
  • ¼ cup nondairy milk like soymilk mixed with 1 tsp of vinegar
  • 2 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 3 large bananas, mashed
  1. Make the streusel by mixing well all of the streusel ingredients in a bowl. Set aside.
  2. Whisk together the sugar, oil and vanilla extract for a minute, either in the bowl of a stand mixer or with a hand mixer. If you don’t have either, use a whisk but make sure you beat well for about 2 minutes.
  3. Add the nondairy milk and applesauce and beat for another minute until everything is well incorporated.
  4. Add the flour in two batches, beating for 20 seconds after each addition. Scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl with a spatula to ensure everything’s well integrated and you don’t have any streaks of dry flour.
  5. Oil and flour a cake pan. The one I used was a square pan that’s 9 X 9 X 2 inches, but you can use a regular 8- or 9-inch cake pan if you’d rather.
  6. Pour half of the cake batter in the pan and with a spatula make sure it is spread in an even layer. Sprinkle half of the chocolate streusel topping on the batter.
  7. Pour in the remaining half of the batter and smooth over the chocolate streusel. Sprinkle the remaining streusel on top.
  8. Bake the cake in a preheated 350-degree Fahrenheit oven for 45 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
  9. Cook in the pan on a rack.
  10. Slice and eat.
Nutrition Information
Calories: 259 Fat: 11.9 grams Sugar: 23.3 grams Fiber: 3.3 grams Protein: 2.5 grams

 Banana chocolate coffee cake

For more healthy banana cake inspiration, check these out:

Elvis Cake, a luscious whole wheat banana cake with peanut butter frosting

Vegan Banana Cake

Low-Fat Banana Bundt Cake

Chocolate Cupcakes with Raspberry Hearts

Chocolate Raspberry CupcakesValentine’s Day is special to me because it’s the day I married the love of my life. So each year, when this day rolls around, I try to find ways to make it even more special than every wonderful day I spend with him. And by now I know that the easiest way to put a smile on my sweetie’s face is with something sweet, like these  Chocolate Cupcakes with Raspberry Hearts.

Chocolates and raspberries are a match made in heaven: each is delicious on its own, but when paired together they enhance each other’s deliciousness. My chocolate cupcakes are intensely chocolatey, and inside each is a little surprise: a raspberry stuffed with more chocolate. I top off all this deliciousness with a velvety frosting of buttercream flecked with more chocolate and raspberries.

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Chocolate Raspberry CupcakesBut their divine taste is not the only thing that’s delicious about these cupcakes. These are extremely easy to make and they are really, really pretty to look at. I mean, take a look at that pink frosting flecked with red and chocolate. Even the fact that I am quite possibly the world’s worst cake decorator doesn’t take away from it, does it?
These cupcakes are not cloyingly sweet. I add just a cup and a half of sugar to the frosting, which is very conservative by most frosting standards, but it’s more than enough because you want the chocolate and the raspberry flavors to shine through.

Here’s the recipe for now, and I’ll let that — and Desi’s pictures– do the talking. A very happy Valentine’s Day to all of you. And tell me, how do you plan to say “I love you” to that special one?

Chocolate Raspberry Cupcakes

Chocolate Raspberry Cupcakes

Chocolate Cupcakes

Raspberry Chocolate Frosting

Chocolate Raspberry Cupcakes

Chocolate Cupcakes with Raspberry Hearts
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
Recipe type: Dessert
Serves: 12
  • For the Cupcakes:
  • 1 cup almond milk (can use soy)
  • 1 tsp vinegar
  • ¾ cup sugar
  • ⅓ cup canola or other vegetable oil
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • ⅓ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • ¾ tsp baking soda
  • ½ tsp baking powder
  • A pinch of salt
  • 12 raspberries for the chocolate “hearts”
  • Chocolate chips for stuffing the raspberries
  • For the Frosting:
  • 1 stick vegetable shortening (8 tbsp), at room temperature
  • 1 stick vegan “butter”, at room temperature
  • ¼ cup raspberries
  • ¼ cup chocolate chips run through a food processor so they are in little bits (not powdered. You want the flecks to show up in the frosting)
  • 1½ cups confectioners’ sugar or powdered sugar
  1. In a bowl, mix the almond milk and vinegar and set aside for a few minutes until it curdles.
  2. Add the sugar, oil, vanilla extract and whisk for a minute until the mixture is all frothy.
  3. In another bowl, sift together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, cocoa powder and salt.
  4. Add the cocoa-flour mixture to the wet ingredients in two batches, mixing for 20 seconds after each addition. If you need to mix the ingredients further, use a spatula and mix until just combined.
  5. Line a 12-tin standard muffin pan with paper liners. Pour the batter into each liner, about ¾ full.
  6. Stuff each of the raspberries with two or three chocolate chips– as many as they will hold. Place a raspberry in the center of each cupcake.
  7. Bake the cupcakes in a preheated 350-degree oven for 20-22 minutes or until a toothpick inserted near the center of a cupcake comes out clean (make sure you insert the toothpick in the batter and not the raspberry “heart”.)
  8. Cool on a rack for about 10 minutes. Then unmold the muffins and place them on the rack until thoroughly cooled.
  9. To make the frosting, beat the butter and shortening in a bowl with a hand mixer or in a stand mixer until the mixture is light and fluffy, about two minutes.
  10. Add the sugar, a half a cup at a time, and beat in thoroughly. Scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl to ensure everything’s getting mixed together thoroughly.
  11. Add the raspberries and the chocolate that’s been broken down into tiny chips or flakes in the food processor and beat in. The frosting will turn pink from the raspberries, but you want to leave in little flecks of red.
  12. Place the frosting in a pastry bag fitted with a round tip, or use a Ziploc bag like I did– just squeeze all the frosting to one corner of the bag and then cut off the tip and proceed.
  13. Place a raspberry at the center of each frosted cupcake. Devour.

Chocolate Raspberry Cupcakes


Hungry for more Valentine’s Day ideas? Here are just a couple:


Almond Pancakes

Crepes Stuffed with Orange Cream Cheese with Apricot Walnut Syrup


Asparagus and Saffron Biryani

“Lamb” and Cauliflower Curry

Pink Lentils with Roasted Mushrooms


Cocoaberry Cake with Berry Cream Frosting

Lemony Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting

Chai-Spiced Pumpkin Bundt Cake

Pumpkin Bundt CakeThanksgiving is a time to take stock. Of the good things in life, of blessings big, small, and so tiny that you don’t really think about them much but for which you still are grateful, deep in your heart.

As I ponder my life over the past year, I see so many things to be grateful for. My husband Desi — always my best friend and my soul mate and quite simply the best thing that ever happened to me. My dog Opie who thinks I am the best thing that ever happened to him (after his daddy). My cat Pie who sincerely believes that the only reason I exist is to feed her and scratch her ears when she feels like it.

I have friends who keep me company when I want to laugh and who offer me a shoulder when I need to cry. I have books to read, a lust for travel, and a love of creatures, human and animal, of every shape and size. And for nearly seven years now I have had this blog which helps me make friends like you, share my love of cooking and eating, and explore a world that’s way bigger than anything I can possibly imagine.

I could not say thank you for all of these amazing things without sharing something sweet, so I have for you today this chai-spiced Pumpkin Bundt Cake. A simple yet tasty treat that’s like taking a bite of the holidays. (Okay, that was a little mushy, I know, but you get the idea.)

Pumpkin Bundt Cake I woke up Saturday morning with the urge to bake something. It had to be spicy to ward off the chill bite of the fall weather and orange for the holidays. And it had to be healthy because part of being grateful for your family and friends is making sure you keep them around for as long as possible. AND it had to be pretty, of course.

So the bundt cake it was. I love baking up bundt cakes because they look so elegant right out of the oven with no effort on your part. The pan does all of the work for you. But you still get to take credit. I made this bundt cake part whole-wheat and with the rich goodness of the pumpkin added in it could pass for health food. Well, almost.

I ground up the chai spices myself simply because the flavor is much better than you’d get out of anything bottled or jarred and bought off a store shelf. But if you absolutely don’t want to grind up your own spices– or don’t have a hardy spice blender or coffee grinder to do the job– go ahead and use the storebought ones.

The recipe’s next. And right after stay tuned for more vegan Thanksgiving recipes that have featured on Holy Cow! over past holidays.

Pumpkin Bundt Cake

Chai-Spiced Pumpkin Bundt Cake
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
Recipe type: Dessert
Serves: 20 slices
  • 2 cups whole-wheat flour
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp ground cloves
  • 1 tsp ground green cardamom
  • 1 tsp ground ginger
  • ½ tsp ground nutmeg
  • 4 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 1½ cups almond milk mixed with 1 tsp vinegar. Set aside to curdle for a couple of minutes.
  • ½ cup canola or other vegetable oil
  • 2½ cups brown sugar
  • ¼ cup flax meal
  • 2 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 1½ cups pumpkin puree
  1. In a large bowl, whisk the flours, spices, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.
  2. In the bowl of a stand mixer, or with a hand mixer, beat the sugar and the oil for a minute. Then add ½ cup of the almond milk, vanilla extract, and flax meal and continue to beat for another two minutes until the mixture is quite fluffy.
  3. Add the flour and the almond milk to the sugar mixture in three batches, alternating and beating for 20 seconds after each addition. Scrape down the sides and the bottom of the bowl with a spatula frequently to ensure everything is well-mixed.
  4. Finally add the pumpkin puree and mix for 20 seconds.
  5. Scrape the batter into an oiled and floured bundt pan.
  6. Bake in a preheated oven set at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 1 hour and 5 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center of the bundt cake comes out clean or with a few crumbs sticking to it.
  7. Set on a rack to cool for 30 minutes, then unmold and continue cooling the cake on a rack.
  8. I just serve this with a dusting of powdered sugar, but you could serve with whipped vegan cream or some vanilla ice cream.


Pumpkin Bundt Cake nutrition information

Pumpkin Bundt Cake


Here are some vegan recipe ideas from Thanksgivings past at Holy Cow!


Pumpkin Spinach Lasagna

Savory Pot Pie

Tikka Masala Pot Pie

Tofu Kofta Curry with Coconut Rice

Savory Sweet Potato Quiche

Creamy Asparagus and Potato Tart

Cauliflower Malai Kofta Curry with Wholewheat Puris

Roasted Vegetable Lasagna

Pumpkin-Sweet Potato Lasagna with Sage


Mashed Orange Sweet Potatoes

Velvety Herbed Pumpkin

Roasted Sweet Potatoes with Coconut Milk

Crunchy Edamame with Caramelized Onions

Cranberry Coulis

Mashed, Whipped Potatoes

Cornbread Stuffing with Bell Peppers

Butternut Squash Risotto

Butternut Squash Soup with Cinnamon

Spicy Braised Sweet Potatoes

Sweet Potato and Kale Patties


Pumpkin Brown Rice Pudding

Pumpkin Pie (With Butternut Squash)

Strawberry Pie

Pear and Almond Tart

Mango Cheesecake

Pumpkin Pie

Apple Tart

Maple-Drunk Apple Pie

Tarte Tatin

Mango Cupcakes with Mango Buttercream Frosting

Pumpkin Cheesecake

Carrot Cake

Carrot Halwa

Sweet Mango Cornbread

Peach Upside-Down Cake

Mango Pie

Pumpkin Brown Rice Pudding

Pumpkin Brown Rice PuddingMy Pumpkin Brown Rice Pudding is a super-fun way to sneak “healthy” into your Thanksgiving dessert.

But wait, let’s not start with healthy. Let’s start with delicious because that’s what this dish is– absolutely, mindblowingly delicious. So delicious in fact that you might have a hard time sharing it.

And as for the healthy part– besides the pumpkin and the brown rice, both stars on the health front, we have almond milk which is way healthier and way tastier than dairy milk. Then there is cinnamon and molasses lending their cozy warmth to this bowl of goodness. And yes, there’s sugar, but that’s because you really can’t make a dessert without it.

Pumpkin Brown Rice PuddingI must admit I was a little skeptical about adding brown rice but I couldn’t be happier I did. I used fragrant brown basmati, but you can go with arborio, a medium-grain rice often used in puddings. The brown rice takes a little longer to cook but it’s so perfect in here that you will wonder why you ever used white rice in your puddings. To make this dish just a little richer, I stirred in a small amount of cashew cream toward the end. You can completely skip it if you’re so inclined (although I don’t see why you would).

This recipe is pretty much fool-proof. If you can measure some rice into a cup and stir a pot with a ladle you are pretty much set. Even better, you can make this recipe a couple of days in advance and let it sit in the refrigerator until it’s all ready to serve. No warming, no fussing. And the standing and chilling makes it even more delicious, if possible.

Thanksgiving’s almost here. So what are you waiting for? Here’s the recipe.

Pumpkin and Brown Rice Pudding
A quick note about the nutrition labels I post on these recipes. The information is always per serving and you can find the number of servings right on top of each recipe. In case of our Pumpkin Brown Rice Pudding we have 16 servings and the nutrition info below is for one serving of pudding.

Pumpkin Brown Rice Pudding
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
Recipe type: Dessert
Cuisine: American
Serves: 16
  • 1 cup brown rice
  • 1¼ cups of pumpkin puree (use canned or fresh– I used canned. If you plan to make your own, be sure to roast the pumpkin pieces before you puree them)
  • 5 cups almond milk
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • ¾ to 1 cup sugar (you can use brown sugar and skip the molasses)
  • 1 tbsp pure vanilla extract
  • 1 tbsp molasses
  • ¼ cup cashew pieces soaked in ¼ cup almond milk for 30 minutes, then blended into a smooth cream
  1. Place the rice in a microwave-safe bowl and cover with an inch of water. Zap for 10 minutes and then let it stand in the hot water for at least 2 hours.
  2. Strain the rice and place it in a large pot with the almond milk. Heat on medium-high until the almond milk starts to boil. Lower the heat to a simmer and let the mixture cook, stirring every few minutes, for 15 minutes.
  3. Mix together the pumpkin puree, vanilla and molasses. Add a little almond milk if needed to make a homogeneous mixture.
  4. Add the pumpkin puree mixture to the rice and milk mixture along with the sugar and stir well to mix. Don’t add all the sugar at once– add about half a cup and then add a little at a time, adjusting to your taste.
  5. Continue to cook the pudding, stirring frequently, until most of the almond milk has evaporated. This should take about 30-45 minutes more. You want a slightly runny mixture at the end because puddings firm up as they stand. Stir in the cashew cream at the very end.
  6. Remove the pudding to a bowl, cover with a plastic wrap, and chill. To serve, ladle into bowls, sprinkle a little brown sugar on top and garnish with toasted almond slivers.


A quick note about the nutrition labels I post on these recipes. The information is always per serving and you can find the number of servings right on top of each recipe. In case of our Pumpkin Brown Rice Pudding we have 16 servings and the nutrition info below is for one serving of pudding.

Pumpkin Brown Rice Pudding nutrition factsPumpkin and Brown Rice Pudding