A phirni if you don’t already know is simply a kind of rice kheer, set in earthen pots. The rice for phirni would have to be soaked, dried and blitzed and it’s always preferable to use a fragrant rice like basmati, Ambemohar, indrayani or gobindobhog. These are all the kheer-friendly rice that each impart different flavours. My personal favourites are gobindobhog and ambemohar rice.
Lychee phirnis have been made before, but my problem with those recipes is the unnecessary addition of extra bits and bobs that would have done absolutely nothing for the phirni. Celebrity chefs on the internet add khoya for added richness towards the end of the phirni-making process, but I promise that you can manage a creamy result without it as well.
Using a slushy in addition to the fresh fruit would amp up the flavour, yes, but there are other ways to play it up. Besides, nine times out of ten, I never seem to have a slushy bottle lying around because I choose not to overcrowd my kitchen with things I won’t end up using often. Making my own slushy was never an option for me. I like taking up projects that will reap long-term benefits. Not for like one recipe for sure.
Instead, I urge you to make a batch of my candied ginger in syrup to have in your refrigerator at all times. It comes in handy, not just with a recipe like this phirni here, but also come Christmas for my whiskey and croissant pudding, ginger cookies, sticky ginger puds and rich, dense fruitcake. The ginger sits forever and it’s obviously best to pick ginger that doesn’t look old and wrinkly. A far-fetched idea would also be to candy seasonal turmeric root and young ginger when you can find it. Galangal might be fun too. Store-bought ginger candy though is not a direct substitute. If you do end up using that, you should ideally chop the ginger candy finely and adjust the sugar slightly in the recipe.
Lychee and Candied Ginger Phirni
Yield 4 servings
The hint of vanilla in the phirni, while optional, adds a lovely flavour, but can be swapped for a touch of rose water too if you like, or cardamom for a more traditional wintry taste.
Basmati Rice 1/4 cup (or an equal amount of Ambemohar, Gobindobhog and Indrayani)
Full fat milk 1 litre (dairy milk will also do, but Amul Gold is preferable)
Vanilla extract 1/2 tsp (can be swapped for rosewater. I use Key Brand Rosewater)
Lychees 25-30, peeled and stones removed
Sugar 1/2 cup
Candied Ginger from the bottle 2 heaping tablespoons with syrup (or 2 tbsp finely chopped ginger candy. If using ginger candy, adjust sweetness of the phirni to taste) Recipe link here
Mango pieces to garnish, or chopped dry fruits
Soak the rice for the phirni for at least 30 minutes in tap water. After 30 minutes, drain the water and spread the rice over a kitchen towel and keep under a fan or any well-ventilated place to dry. Occasionally rub the water out of the rice with the help of the kitchen towel.
Once the rice looks dry, blitz the rice in the jar of a mixer grinder, adding a bit of the milk just to help it along. You want the texture of the blitzed rice to be of fine semolina. Set this aside.
In a large heavy-bottomed saucepan, add the litre of milk along with the vanilla and heat over a medium flame till bubbles start to break the surface of the milk rapidly. Tip in the blitzed rice mixture and keeping the flame on medium, periodically stir the rice as it reduces and starts to thicken. You don't want it to catch t any time so keep scraping at the bottom and the sides to release any bits that are getting stuck. Be vigilant, and if at any time you want to move away from the flame, reduce the heat to low. Continue stirring ever so often for 30-35 minutes at least, or until the milk is almost half of what you started out with.
On the side in a separate, smaller saucepan, heat 1/2 cup of sugar with a tablespoon or two of water to urge it to melt evenly. Once the sugar has melted, add the de-stoned lychees along with any juices and crystallised ginger with syrup. Bring this up to a rolling boil and reduce this mixture for a few minutes watching the sugar syrup carefully.
Add this sugar, ginger and lychee syrup to the milk mixture and continue reducing the mixture, periodically stirring till it starts to resemble thick porridge that is becoming difficult to move around the pan. Take the pan off the heat and allow it to cool slightly before dividing it between 4-5 earthen phirni pots, levelling the top. Allow this mixture to chill for an hour or two at least before you serve.
Finish the phirni with a sprinkling of a mango like Dussehri or Badami that may be in season that isn’t as sweet or overpowering as alphonso. Alternately, finish with chopped dried fruits like pistachios and almonds.