Phirni is a delicate and delectable rice pudding from India, scented with rose water and cardamom. My delicious vegan phirni uses almond milk.
A 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.
Muslim 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.
I 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!
More delicious vegan desserts
- 1 cup almonds
- 4 cups water
- 1 ¼ cups sugar
- 2 tablespoon rose water
- ¼ cup basmati rice. Cover with water by about two inches and soak for at least 30 minutes to an hour.
- 1 teaspoon ground cardamom
- 15 cashew nuts, chopped
- Strawberries for garnish, optional
- 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.
- Next day, peel the almonds and discard the skins.
- 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.
- In a heavy-bottomed saucepan, bring all but ¼th of a cup of the almond milk to a boil.
- Add the sugar and cook, stirring frequently, over medium-low heat until the milk starts to thicken, about 15 minutes.
- Drain the rice that's soaking and grind with with the reserved ¼th cup of almond milk.
- 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.
- Cover the phirni with a tight-fitting lid and let the mixture cook another five minutes.
- 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.
- 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 tablespoon almond milk and add along with the cardamom and cashew nuts.
- Refrigerate the Phirni until thoroughly chilled.
Love this vegan phirni? Check out other Indian vegan sweets on Holy Cow!
I used store-bought unsweetened almond milk to save time and it was just fine. The rice to milk ratio was perfect but it was a bit too sweet for me, next time will use less sugar. Really good dish when you need to make for a large dinner party! Thanks!
Can I make this recipe using Idli Rawa?
I think so -- you don't want very fine particles because you need the texture of the rice.
Hey Vaishali...I tried boiling my homemade almond milk but it separates every time. Do know why? AND that's the reason I am thinking of using store bought Almond milk which doesn't separate.
Could you possibly make this dish with store bought almond milk instead of making your own or would that alter the flavor/texture too much? Thanks!
Hi, yes storebought is just fine.
Ps: Love your site!!
Thanks, dear! 🙂
Please can you tell me how long do you soak the rice and is it cold water?
Hi Neerali, soak it for at least 30 minutes to an hour. I've added it in. Thanks! 🙂
Aqiyl Aniys | Natural Life Energy
Salaam. I have never had this dish before. It looks wonderful and I would love to try it.
Wow those phirni in those cute little dishes look so good and tempting...this preparation of adding almonds and rose water is new to me, I am planning to try this for weekend dessert for lunch, good one, thanks Vaishali 🙂
Thanks, Gita! 🙂 I hope you will try it.
Wow!! I just made this and put it in the fridge to chill. Just liking the spoon, it is one of the best things that I have ever eaten - super yummy! I added a big pinch of saffron for a wonderful flavor and a beautiful golden color. Thanks so much for veganizing a classic recipe and sharing it with us. You bless us all with culinary mojo!
Guru Karam, that's wonderful -- so happy you liked it! And thanks very much for your kind words. 🙂 Enjoy the Phirni!
Oh my goodness, I came looking for rice pudding/kheer for a post-dental surgery treat and look what I found on the home page! I am soaking tonight and cooking some up tomorrow - can't wait to try this!
Guru Karam, that's amazing indeed! 🙂 Good luck at the dentist's, and hope you will enjoy the phirni!
This looks wonderful! I've liked every Indian dessert I've ever tried. I'm sure this one will be no exception! 🙂
Thanks, Mary, hope you try it! 🙂