A rabri is a divine Indian dessert made by heating milk until a good deal of the liquid has evaporated, leaving behind a thick, creamy pudding that's sweetened and flavored with cardamom and saffron. My vegan rabri has no dairy, couldn't be easier to make, and is as delicious as the dairy-based version--probably more.
A rabri (pronounced rabdi), used to be one of the highlights (for me) of any wedding meal when I was growing up in India.
This thick, milky pudding, called a basundi where I come from, is simply a reduction of milk flavored with cardamom. Yet it's so divinely tasty, it's genius.
I've long wanted to make a vegan version of this dish with no compromises and with Diwali so near, there wasn't a better time to try.
My vegan rabri is so delicious, you will never look back.
There is no good reason to cling to the belief that Indian sweets need to rely heavily on dairy products. Cows are worshipped by Hindus, and yet they are also terribly abused on factory farms and tabelas for their dairy--it's a paradox no one who genuinely believes in vegetarianism as a path to god should tolerate. India's dairy habit also makes it one of the world's most diabetic nations, and the belief that consuming dairy products like milk and ghee makes one healthier or more spiritual is pure, utter rubbish.
There's no better time to start making a change than during Diwali, the mother of all Indian festivals. Follow along to learn how to make a vegan rabri, and come back and tell me all about it!
How can you possibly substitute milk in rabri?
Quite easily, with cashew milk.
Cashew milk has the right consistency and creaminess for a rabri recipe, and it also doesn't need nearly as much time as milk to reduce, because the cashew acts as a thickener.
For best results, make your cashew milk at home by soaking the raw cashews for several hours in almond milk. This makes the cashew milk extra smooth and gives you the best results. Storebought cashew milks have additives that will not give you the pure flavor you want here.
Some add khoya, a reduction of milk, to the rabri, and the khoya floats in the pool of creamy milk, creating little chunks of deliciousness. To emulate the khoya, I use almond flour, which has pretty much the same effect.
A rabri is usually flavored with cardamom and saffron, which add all of that amazing flavor. I add one more thing--pure vanilla extract. This adds that hint of je ne sais quoi, pushing this vegan rabri into sublime territory. You can also add a splash of edible rose water or kewra water, a floral extract, for more richness.
Garnish the rabri with nuts like pistachios, cashews, blanched almonds, and a few strands of saffron. Chill it before serving.
Steps and tips
- Soak the cashews for as long as possible, even overnight, in the almond milk. You want them really soft so they make a very creamy milk.
- Watch the rabri as it reduces and thickens. This dairyfree cashew rabri won't take as long as a milk rabri to reduce, but you cannot walk away for any length of time. Keep the flame on medium heat and keep stirring it. If you think it's heating too fast, reduce the heat to a lower setting.
- Add the almond powder and the sugar after the rabri has thickened. It may seem a little more liquid right after because of the sugar, but that's fine. Just give it a couple more minutes. Don't break up any smallish lumps of almond as they'll create the effect of khoa in the rabri.
- Add the flavorings, including the saffron, cardamom and vanilla, and any rose or kewra water if using, toward the end of the cooking.
- Chill the rabri before serving. You can do this in individual containers. Garnish with nuts.
- Large wok
- 1 cup raw cashews
- 4 cups almond milk
- ½ cup almond flour
- 1 ¼ cup sugar
- 1 teaspoon green cardamom powder
- Several strands of saffron
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- Soak the cashews in the almond milk, for at least 30 minutes or preferably for several hours or overnight.
- Blend the cashews and milk into a really smooth milk.
- Place the cashew milk in a large wok. Turn heat to medium and let the cashew milk cook, stirring it frequently, until it starts to dry up at the sides. Keep mixing the drying portions back into the milk. Continue doing this off and on, monitoring the heat at all times to make sure nothing burns. Reduce heat if necessary.
- After about 10 minutes the milk will have thickened enough to coat the back of a spoon. Add the almond flour and sugar and continue cooking and stirring for another five minutes. Let the rabri thicken to the consistency you want. Cashew milk tends to thicken as it stands, so don't make your rabri too thick.
- As soon as the rabri is the consistency you want, stir in the saffron, cardamom powder and vanilla. Stir in and turn off the heat.
- Once the rabri reaches room temperature, chill it for best flavor. Before serving, garnish with dried fruit or nuts, like pistachios, blanched almonds and cashews.
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Love this vegan rabri? Check out more exquisite Indian vegan desserts at Holy Cow!