Updated 07 Jun, 2019

My mother was never big on making kheer, hence my childhood was spent eating it at homes of family and friends. That's when I developed a love affair with it.

Every Ramazan and Eid, it was a staple at my aunty's house, which is where I learnt the simple art of kheer making, through tasting.

—Photo by Fawad Ahmed
—Photo by Fawad Ahmed

But it was my neighbour's that was the 'manna from heaven kind of kheer', the kind one tastes once a year, Eid kay Eid.


Before the arrival of the flour or nut-based halwa in the subcontinent, the chefs local to the area were experts in making desserts with milk, sugar, cheese, honey, sugar syrup and jaggery.

Travellers such as Ibn-e-Batuta and Vasco da Gama were surprised at the abundance of sweetness and milk in the region.

Hence, we can rightly assume that the dense evaporated milk and sweet mixture used as the base ingredient of the kulfi existed as a milky kheer earlier on, and has been playing host to the sweet tooth of the subcontinent for millenniums.

Kheer is the subcontinental name for sweet milk pudding usually made with rice, although it can also be made with fine noodles called saviyaan, or semolina, carrots or sage.

Take a look: Food Stories: Saviyaan

The people of the subcontinent have grown up eating kheer from baked clay earthen bowls, colloquially referred to as mitti key katoree.

Offshoots of kheer

Kheer is sometimes also referred to as sheer, which means milk in Persian. It probably originated in Persia, where a similar dessert is known as sheer birinj (rice pudding).

There are many flavour variations in kheer, featuring the subtle or sharp essence of raisins, cardamom, cinnamon, almond, pistachio, saffron, kewra, and rose water. For special occasions, it is customary to decorate the chilled kheer with an edible silver or gold leaf called chandi kay warq.

According to the Oxford Companion to Food by Alan Davidson, the Persian version sheer birinj was originally thought to be the food of angels. Sheer birinj, usually, has no added sugar and is laced with honey or jam for added sweetness.

See: Food Stories: Sheer Khurma

The Middle Eastern region has a similar sweet dish called firni. It seems to have originated in ancient Persia or the Middle East and was introduced to the subcontinent by the Mughals and is now a popular dish in the South Asian region.

Alan Davidson — in The Oxford Companion to Food — defines firni as:

"A sweet milky dessert, to be eaten cold, made either with corn-flour or rice flour or sometimes both, and usually flavoured with rose water and/or ground cardamom. The dish is decorated with chopped or ground almonds or pistachio nuts."

Another off-shoot of kheer is sholah-e-zard, which is a sweet yellow rice pudding. The main ingredient is short-grain rice, cooked and thickened to softness in milk.

Having religious significance, it is made on the 10th day of Muharram (the Muslim month of mourning); and also made as nazr, which is a custom of thanksgiving, or pledge practiced in Iran and Afghanistan.

When cooked for nazr, sholah is cooked and distributed among the poor, neighbours and relatives.

Food historian K.T. Achaya in his book, A Historical Dictionary of Indian Food, says the following about celebratory kheer:

"Kheer is a sweet rice confection. When prepared as a ritual food, the rice is first lightly fried in ghee before boiling with sweetened milk until thickened. Kheer made with jowar is mentioned in the fourteenth century Padmavat of Gujarat, and other cereal products (vermicelli, cev, pheni) may be used as well."

—Photo by Fawad Ahmed
—Photo by Fawad Ahmed

The kheer recipe I share with you today is simple, delicious and a perfect dessert to celebrate Eidul Fitr.

Here it is, from my kitchen to yours:


—Photo by Fawad Ahmed
—Photo by Fawad Ahmed

1 gallon full crème milk
1 quart half and half (substitute for half and half, mix 2 2/3 cup skim milk with 1 1/3 cup heavy cream) 14 oz. can of condensed milk
½ cup sugar, or sugar to taste
1 cup to 1 ½ cup boiled rice
15 green cardamoms
1/4 to ½ cup blanched almonds and pistachios for garnish


Pour milk, half and half, and condensed milk in a large pot and let it simmer for 3 to 4 hours, stirring occasionally.

Blend rice, with a cup of hot cooking kheer mix in a blender, and pour into a pot.

Add sugar, cardamom pods and cook for another three to five hours, until milk mix is reduced to half and the colour is a light golden brown.

Pour out in dishes, garnish, chill and serve.


Bisma Tirmizi is a former Dawn staffer, currently a freelance journalist. She loves food, music and simple pleasures. She can be reached at Follow her on Facebook here.


K S VENKATARAMAN Jul 07, 2016 11:56am
On the etymology of "kheer": In classical Sanskrit,"ksheeram" means milk. So, kheer's roots goes much earlier to Persian. By K S Venkataraman
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Yogesh Jul 07, 2016 11:58am
Sheer and kheer both have originated from the Sanskrit work "ksheer" meaning milk. If you are familiar with Hindu mythology, Lord Vishnu's abode is ksheer-sagar, or ocean of milk. I bet someone would now want to change the name of this delicacy to a more Arabic sounding word.
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Truth Watch Jul 07, 2016 12:10pm
Your statements about the origin of kheer are contradictory. It appears to be an import, because the Turks, Central Asians and Iranians( a subgroup of wider Cebtral Asua) have similar variety of dishes.
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Siddharth Jul 07, 2016 12:45pm
No intentions to politicize,but there are instances of Rama (in Ramayana) eating "Ksheer" which was like milk pudding. So it is definitely native to the subcontinent like most of the things.
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Ashish Jul 07, 2016 01:26pm
Kheer came from sanskrit Ksheer, kshir which means milk. For reference check - Kheer is a milk product hence called same.
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rainman Jul 07, 2016 01:32pm
kheer is a vedic dish as simple as that
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B N GURURAJ Jul 07, 2016 01:54pm
Good article. "Kheer" is traceable to the Sanskrit term "Ksheera", meaning Milk. Anyway, try this recipe also for Kheer: Carrot pieces (small) 2 cups, Coconut gratings 1/2 cup. Milk 1 liter, Sugar 1.1/.2 cups, Almond, 20 pieces, Cardamom, Cashew and Raisins to taste. Fry Cashew and Raisins in Ghee (clarified butter) and put aside. Cook carrot along with almond in milk, until it is softened. Add coconut gratings and make coarse mixture in a mixer. Bring the milk to boil, and add the mixture of carrot, coconut and almond. Bring it to boil again. At this stage add sugar and bring it to boil again. Switch off the stove. Add cardamom powder and stir. Garnish with cashew and raisin and serve hot.
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Random Indian Jul 07, 2016 01:59pm
@Truth Watch Have you considered the possibility that kheer was exported to central asia? And given the basics of the recipe - milk, sugar, cereals which are available everywhere it is perfectly plausible that they were invented independently in various places.
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Goga Nalaik Jul 07, 2016 02:13pm
Yam Yam Yam I call it Firni (with blended rice) If you don't blend rice then it is Kheer Anyway, I loved reading this sweet article Shukria Tashakur Shukran
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Nag Sahay Jul 07, 2016 02:24pm
"the Persian version sheer birinj was originally thought to be the food of angels. Sheer birinj, usually, has no added sugar and is laced with honey " Precisely.It is all Sanskritic. "Brinj" is "Bringi" the sanskrit for a kind of flower as also the honey bee. Aka angels are also called bringi.
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Fawad Jul 07, 2016 03:41pm
1 gallon full crème milk 1 quart , 14 oz. can Looks like not from here but USA .
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Farooq Jawed Jul 07, 2016 05:11pm
@K S VENKATARAMAN I almost got in trouble once because I asked a female Persian coworker if she would like to have some Kheer in Urdu. I was saved by a male Persian coworker, when he asked me to shut up and told me what in fact I was asking her. In short--Kheer--in Farsi--has a different meaning and is vulgar.
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Raja Jul 07, 2016 06:01pm
Who spends 8 hours making kheer? I make finger licking good kheer in 40 minutes using ½ gallon 1% milk, 1 can of condensed milk and two packets of packaged kheer mix. Life is too short to spend 8 hours making kheer!
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jilanee Jul 07, 2016 06:54pm
boiled rice and kheer mix are unnecessary. Boiled rice will have soaked water into it. Better to boil plain rice in milk at the rate of 50 gram rice per one liter of milk on slow fire till the milk is reduced to half or less and the rice is well-cooked. Add sugar to taste, and a few drops of Keora water with a few strings of saffron thoroughly mixed. Pour out in a flat dish. Cover with edible silver leaves and leave to cool in a fridge. ENJOY.
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Imtiaz hamid Jul 07, 2016 08:41pm
Sure is a killer recipe . Lot in common with French deserts with use of heavy cream and full cream milk. But it tastes awesome, gives my cardiologist colleague a shudder .
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Baloch Jul 07, 2016 08:55pm
@Farooq Jawed are balochi the meaning of kheer is same as in Persian.
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Kahlid Baloch Jul 07, 2016 09:00pm
5 hours to make kheer - man this is too much.
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iranian woman Jul 07, 2016 10:38pm
@Farooq Jawed OMG!!
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Tariq Jul 07, 2016 10:54pm
@Kahlid Baloch The recipe states cooking time of 8 - 9 hours. As if making kheer is all that is to life.
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Fatima Jul 07, 2016 10:59pm
The brownish color of the kheer shows the milk is overcooked and burnt. My grandmother always said you shouldnt heat/cook the milk so much that it turns red. At that point the milk is overcooked. The color of kheer should be on the creamy white side unless you add zafran in which case it takes the golden color of zafran.
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ahamad Jul 07, 2016 11:43pm
Food porn! Perusing through ur article was relieving. Keep writing.
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Ahmad Kazmi Jul 08, 2016 12:38am
@Farooq Jawed The Iranians cannot vulgarize the meaning of our words and should educate themselves. I have interacted extensively with the Iranians in USA, both clerical and sufi and they have no murawwat for the Pakistanis beyond pleasantries. From how we have been reciprocated by Afghans like Amrallah saleh, Karzai etc, they should try to understand what it really means for us, although it is good for us to show a bit of more reciprocity in this case.
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Seth M Sarwar Jul 08, 2016 05:24am
excellent,our stable food which is our desert. enjoy
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Khan Jul 08, 2016 05:33am
@K S VENKATARAMAN Just because a word has a similar root to a Sanskrit one, doesn't mean that it is itself Sanskritic in origin. Especially since Persian and modern N Indian languages developed from Avesta and Sanksrit, which in turn were very closely related. They may be purely Persian instead, and judging by how so many of our deserts like Firni and Falooda are also Persian in origin, I bet Kheer is Persian as well and not from some mythological era.
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RPK Jul 08, 2016 06:45am
@Raja Use slow cooker, just put the (various commenters)all mentioned ingredients by ingredients, switch on to slow cook and forget it. After 5~6 hours kheer is ready. The slow cooker can also be used to cook Daal, Raajma and etc. A boon for bachelors and forced bachelors.
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Mithu Jul 08, 2016 06:50am
@Yogesh: Sanskrit derives from the Indo-Iranian language family, therefore, the similarity is very much expected even though Sanskrit isn't older than the Persian/Iranian language. As for the item itself, whether called Kheer, Sheer or Firni - this is nothing like a native Indian foods. All the good rich foods that we eat today and know as ours are mostly Persian/Turkish/Middle-West Asians! The native Indians foods are mostly based on leaves and grass as one of my Gujarati friends like to put it.
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Syed Anjum Ali Jul 08, 2016 10:23am
In fact kheer was an indigenous North Indian dish, before the arrival of Islam and was adopted by the Muslims later on, even in the presence of halwa and other sweets, because many locals converted to Islam and brought their culinary items with them. As to 'sheer-birinj' (Persia/Iran) it is somewhat similar, as is the Afghan 'sheer-khorma' (which utilizes other ingredients) .
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Syed Anjum Ali Jul 08, 2016 10:24am
@K S VENKATARAMAN - you are right
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Samir Jul 08, 2016 10:46am
Wonderful to see you back, Bisma. Is the book done?
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Gauhar Vatsyayan Jul 08, 2016 11:02am
Nonsense. The origin of kheer comes from Ksheer in sanskrit.
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Swaraj Jul 08, 2016 11:30am
@Kahlid Baloch Rasmalai takes as much time
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bismatirmizi Jul 09, 2016 03:39am
@Samir yup:)
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Dr. K B Huzen Jul 09, 2016 12:54pm
I've a question- what is the difference between Kheer and Paeish? In eastern side of India I saw the same type of dish called paeish but they will never call it kheer, my opinion- may be kheer is just pure thicken milk with no added ingredient.
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Wannabe chef Jun 26, 2017 08:58am
8 hours cooking time! No thanks.
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MG Jun 26, 2017 08:59am
@Dr. K B Huzen It is called payasa and mainly used in south India (Karnataka)
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skumar Jun 26, 2017 09:01am
@Dr. K B Huzen -paeish or payas (east india )or payasam(south india ) is basically kheer made with milk sugar or jaggery and a variety of ingredients like rice, vermicelli or gram dal , sabudana, rava, etc.. In western coast , keralam and tamilnadu coconut milk is also used and this is just awesome. kheer or payasam (sanksrit origin words) is most common all over the sub-contintent with a wide variety .
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Zala Jun 26, 2017 09:34am
Madam you don't need to cook half and half for 8 hours. It's is already thick. One boil and it is pretty dense. This recipe will need a cooking time of 30 minutes max.
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akit Jun 26, 2017 09:56am
Mouth watering...I loveeeee Kher..with Puris . My mother used the same recipe. Firni is always served in our Kashmiri hindu households in India.
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Khwarizmi Jun 26, 2017 11:37am
Much fo what we take granted today was introduced to this region by our Muslim forefathers who migrated from Persia, Central Asia and Arabia: be it tandori dishes, naan-breads, koftas, biryani, pilao, kebabs and so on. Same with architecture such as domes etc.
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sara Jun 27, 2017 09:07am
@Khwarizmi sorry but the dome origanated in Rome, another old building with the dome is the Hagia Sophia built by empereor Justinian, the Turks, Persians etc merely copied them
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Bupi Jul 01, 2017 06:07am
@Mithu Please grow up.
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Bilal M Jun 07, 2019 09:03am
@Fawad I agree. I never saw condensed milk cans in Pak back in the 80's. Plus the moment you blend it, the texture is more of a "firni". Just saying.
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Sayyar Khan Jun 07, 2019 10:02am
Indian. Eat it and enjoy it. Who cares who started it.
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Amir -DFW Jun 07, 2019 10:44am
@Yogesh Thank you for this good information. No change of name on this at all.
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Rohit Joshi Jun 07, 2019 10:49am
The word Kheer is derived from "Ksheer" a Sanskrit word for milk
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Zed Jun 07, 2019 02:21pm
Sometimes you learn more about the origin of the recipe from the comments than the article itself. Agree with most that the origin of kheer is indian than persian . Food for thought. Recipe time of 8hrs is too long plus it sounds like milk is overcooked if its color has changed.
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Mrs.khalil Jun 07, 2019 02:55pm
Kheer is very sweet, please don't make it controversial, where it comes from ,where it originated, leave this and enjoy its Sweetness
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India Jun 07, 2019 05:09pm
@Dr. K B Huzen yes you are correct. Kheer or ksheer is pure thicken milk with may be only raisins or kishmis added to it. Payasam or paiesh is kheer added with rice.
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Trollslayer Jun 08, 2019 02:34am
Firini , Sheer Birinj, Faluda and Shola Zard are staple desserts in Afghanistan, as a matter of fact I had some Firini on Tuesday evening at an Eid dinner party. Some people commented on the vulgar meaning of the word Kheer in Persian/Dari, the word doesn’t have an h sound, it is more like ker. To all the Indians that have this need to proclaim that everything under the sun is primordially Indian, please stop.
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Arun Gosain Jun 08, 2019 04:06am
@Khwarizmi Paayas, or what is now called kheer, is mentioned in the first book of the Ramayan, i.e. Bal-kand. The Ramayan is over 7,000 years old, as per latest computer dating. The Persian term Sheer Birinj is no more than 1,500 yrs old. Tandoor came from the Indus Valley - going back at least 8,000-10,000 yrs - and was called Kandu. Excavations have shown that the Hindus cooked meat etc in the Kandu. Meat cooked in the Kandu was called Kandav. Kabab is a Arabic word but is not older than 1,000 yrs; however, in Sanskrit we have roast meat called Shoolya mentioned in Rig-veda and the Rig-veda is older than Ramayan. This is Soola in Hindi (correctly called Khari-boli). Many types of Shoolya were known in ancient India, including Bharutak, Kanishka etc etc. The kabab of the Middle-east uses only one or two herbs and spices. It is only in India that you find Soola which uses 5, 10, 15, 20 or more spices; therefore, you cannot call Soola as kabab.
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Arun Gosain Jun 08, 2019 04:34am
@Khwarizmi Naan is Persian, you are correct. We have roti, chapati etc. Kofta was called as nistani and many types existed in ancient India. Regarding Biryani. This word is not older than 500 yrs. In Ramayan we have a dish called Mansaudan which is described as a dish of meat cooked with rice with spices etc. The dish is mentioned in books 3 & 5 of the Ramayan. It is also mentioned as Palanna in the Sushruta Samhita, written about 2,500 yrs ago. Pulao is noted in the Mahabharat, about 5,000 yrs old and was later called as rasaudan, rice cooked in a meat broth. Halwa is a sweet made from sesame seeds in the Middle-east and the Mughals used this word to describe another sweet they encountered when they came to India, i.e. Seera. Seera is a very old sweet and is called Mohanbhog or Baalbhog in Sanskrit and mentioned in numerous Sanskrit works.
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Arun Gosain Jun 08, 2019 04:56am
@Khwarizmi The etymology of Jalebi is from the Sanskrit Jal-ballika. It gets its name because when Jalebi is being fried, it resembles Jal-ballika which is a type of plant that grows in water. Burfi is a word of recent origin, no more than 300 yrs old and the term was created to describe a popular Indian sweet. In the Manasollasa, written over 1,000 yrs ago, we have a sweet called Sharkara or Sharkara-paak, which is made with sugar and khoa and formed into various shapes. Burfi should correctly be called as Sharkara-paak. It is also mentioned in the Sushruta Samhita as well. Lastly, vermicelli (seviyan) was known as sutrika in Sanskrit. A popular sweet dish made in India with vermicelli fried in ghee and then cooked in sweetened milk was called Sevika in ancient times. This has been re-named as Sheer Khurma, in Persian, but is Indian in origin. We must have a knowledge of the numerous works in Sanskrit before we make comments on the origins of popular Indian foods.
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Imran Jun 08, 2019 07:16am
Dude, anyone who blends ingredients has no place in the kitchen. Your recipe is all wrong
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Laila Jun 09, 2019 04:49am
All I need to know about keeper is who is making it and when and where they will be serving it and whether I need to bring my own spoon.
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