Sitting in the balcony I would look at all those women wrapped in beautiful red sarees, sparkling their gold jewellery, with the best makeup on, holding pooja ki thali (a big plate with all necessities for pooja) with both their hands heading towards the shiva temple right behind my hostel. I was young at that time but old enough to dream that one day when I will really fall in love with someone and do what women in India have been doing for ages - pray to god for their husband's, better half's, significant other's long and healthy lives. I found it such a romantic and selfless way to show how much you love someone - fasting for an entire day with no food, or even a single drop of water and watching the moon come up with the person you love and then eating from his hand. That is what Karwa Chauth was to me and I always waited for the day when I will have someone to do that for.
Then came my turn, I married the person I loved and it was time to follow the same rituals. But I lived so far from home and my own country, where mothers send a huge basket with clothes and jewellery to be worn that day. Where mothers-in-law take you shopping and buy you everything you need for the pooja and very carefully direct new bride through the rituals. I thought I lived too far for all that to happen with me! Until the phone kept ringing every few hours with my mother checking if I received the packet with the red saree she had sent to me all the way from India. And my mother-in-law checking on how I was doing with no food or water for the first time in my life. I did fine and followed all the steps for rituals that my mother in law made my husband write on a sheet of paper, very diligently.
Then it was dusk. I pulled out the red saree that my mother had sent, its silver crystals glittering all along the border and tried my best to wrap it around me, and failing every time. This was the first time I was trying to put one on with no help whatsoever. Then the husband came to rescue. No, he did not try to wrap it himself but came with a youtube tutorial "how to wrap a saree - for dummies!". That helped because after 20 more minutes I was wrapped beautifully in a saree just like a new bride with bangles on and a big bindi on my forehead. And then began the waiting game. The moon somehow decides to show up a little late than usual on every Karwa Chauth. This one was no different. Again the mothers kept calling asking me to eat if the moon rise was late but I wanted a long life for my husband and hence waited. Waiting paid off and the moon showed up with its full beauty. We, the new couple cried with joy, thanked god for our togetherness and he raised a glass of water and I took a big gulp from it. He took a spoonful of firni and I ate. We hugged, kissed and ran straight to the dinner table where food was ready to be served.
That was my first karwa chauth with him, today it is sixth. It has been six years and today I love him more than I did on my first karwa chauth. I made some firni today just like I did on my first karwa chauth. Firni is very much like kheer (rice pudding) where you cook rice with milk reducing it to a creamy rich texture. Only that for Firni, a thick paste of ground rice and cashews is used instead of whole rice. Sugar is used as a sweetener and saffron and/or crushed cardamom seeds are used for aroma. You can garnish it with dry fruits of your choice. Almonds, pistachio or cashews are some common nuts people use in Indian rice pudding. I thought of fall and the vibrant colors of pomegranate. Felt like giving it a try and realized the tartness of pomegranate seeds go very well with the sweet and rich flavors of phirni.
I have seen my aunts and mom serving the dessert in little clay pots. Once the cooking process would finish they would pour the pudding using a big ladle into these clay pots and store them in a cold place. After a few hours clay would absorb all the extra water in the pudding making it thick and creamy. Unfortunately I did not have the luxury of those clay pots but if you do then I'd suggest use this method and you will know the difference.
Ingredients: Serves 8-10
1/2 gallon whole milk
1/2 cup uncooked rice
1/2 cashew nuts
1 tsp cardamom seeds (crushed)
1-2 pinches of saffron
1 cup half n half
1 cup sugar
1 cup pomegranate seeds
Thoroughly clean rice with water. Mix cashews and rice together and soak in water for a couple hours.
Strain all the excess water and using a food processor or blender make a paste of rice and cashews. (Paste should not be very smooth but granular so that you can feel the texture when rubbed with fingers). Set aside.
Heat milk in a thick bottom pan or deep dish. Bring it to boil and reduce temperature once milk starts bubbling.
Cook milk at low temperature stirring frequently until the milk reduces to its 3/4th quantity.
Now add the rice and cashew paste, saffron and half n half. Stir frequently until the pudding starts to thicken which will not take long after you add rice mixture to milk.
Once the thickening process starts, add sugar and cardamom seeds. Keep stirring.
Once all the sugar is dissolved and rice and cashews are cooked, the pudding is ready.
Now you can choose the consistency of your pudding. If you like it a little loose and flowing then turn off the heat. If like it thicker like I do then cook a little further.
Once you turn of the heat, let it cool a little. Stir it every once in a while preventing it from forming a thick layer on top.
Once the pudding has cooled down a little but is still warm, transfer it to serving dishes and either let it chill before serving or you can also serve it warm garnished with pomegranate seeds.