Firni

(Rose-Scented

Milk Pudding)

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Recipes for milk pudding - thickened with corn or rice starch, delicately flavored with rose water and sprinkled with pistachios and/or almonds - can be found in the culinary repertoire of any nation that was once a part of the Moghul Empire. The name of this delicate sweet changes from country to country, but I first encountered it as “firni” at my favorite neighborhood restaurant, the Afghan Kebab House on 9th Ave. when I lived in NYC’s Hell’s Kitchen. Twenty-five years later, the Afghan Kebab House is still going strong - a testament to its good, cheap food - and firni is still on the menu.


  
In summer, when fragrant white rugosa roses are in bloom,  I steep their petals in the hot milk at the start of the recipe in lieu of adding rose water later.  Other types of highly fragrant roses may be substituted, but be prepared - pink ones will color the milk. Cornstarch makes a more refined, smooth pudding, while rice flour adds a distinct flavor and homespun texture - some people combine the two. Rice flour can be found in the Asian or Latino food sections at most supermarkets. If you’d like to make your own, grind white rice in a spice grinder or crush it with a mortar and pestle until it becomes powdery.


Firni (Rose-scented Milk Pudding)


  1. 5 cups milk (can be whole or low fat), divided

  2. the petals from 1 dozen white, very fragrant rugosa roses (or substitute 2 tsps. rose water; click here for recipe), tossed gently in a sieve to remove pollen and stray insects

  3. 6 Tbs. cornstarch or rice flour, or a combination of the two

  4. 1/2 cup sugar (if you like it sweeter, you can use up to 3/4 of a cup)


Garnish (these elements are optional, but I recommend you use at least the pistachios)


  1. 1/4 cup or more of shelled and chopped pistachios

  2. 1/4 cup or more chopped almonds

  3. 1/2 cup rose petal jam (click here for recipe)


    Bring 4 cups of milk to a gentle simmer, stir in the rose petals, put the lid on the pot and turn off the heat. Steep the petals for 1/2 hour or so, tasting now and then, until the milk takes on an agreeable light rose flavor. Strain out the rose petals and discard them.


   
Mix the remaining cup of milk with the cornstarch or rice flour, whisking well to remove any lumps. Bring the rose-infused milk back to a simmer and whisk in the sugar followed by the cup of milk and cornstarch. Using a wooden spoon, stir the mixture constantly until it comes to a slow boil. Allow it to bubble while you stir for 5 minutes or so; the mixture will become quite thick. Do not scrape the bottom of the pot as you stir, as this will dislodge brown bits that you want to keep out of the pudding.


    When the pudding is done, pour it immediately into a large bowl or individual cups. Again, do not scrape the bottom of the pot. Let the mixture cool at room temperature for a while, and then cover it with plastic and refrigerate it until it is very cold. Serve it cold, garnished with the nuts and rose petal jam if desired. 

   

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