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The alarm rings at 5.30 am. I turn it off immediately so that it wouldn’t wake him. I look at the phone and I run my thumb up and down on the screen to make my half-open eyes get used to the light. I sit in bed, It’s still as dark as it was when I went to sleep barely 5 hours ago. Then slowly, I reach for my woolly poncho and I prepare my heavy body to drag itself to the bathroom. By the time I get the courage to splash some lukewarm water in my face, some 20 minutes have passed. I know I’m gradually coming back to life when I turn on the big computer and open Spotify. I search for my super early morning playlist, “Sounds of Nature” and I make sure a forest sound plays. I pray the ads wouldn’t start right away.
I turn on the espresso machine and I think about what to make for breakfast. My usual routine alternates between oat porridge and something with one organic egg. Mostly it’s a simple and healthy french toast that I prepare with my home-made sourdough bread, which I always bake with wholegrain flours such as rye or spelt. When I’m out of bread, I make a small oat pancake-thing (I love oats for breakfast). Then I’m distracted by the jiggles of my phone. It’s my to-do-list app saying I must prepare the files for MAXXI museum’s speciale event for Norouz. “Yeah, I know, I know” I mumble, and I open the whole list, which is synced to another calendar app, which is synced to the notes app and iCal.
It’s a little overwhelming to say the least. It’s a loooong list of projects I need to finish, tasks that ought to be done, researches, meetings etc. Most of them are related to my final thesis project, which is due by the end of March. I am officially finishing my long university studies (two bachelors and one master) at Rome’s Fine Art Academy in Graphic Design & Photography. The project is very close to my heart as I told you, because I get to combine my passion for food & photography with my love for graphic & editorial design. Now I can finally reveal you what I’m working on. I’m creating a cookbook! A single, unique copy with my own recipes and photos (which have either already shown up on this blog or will soon). I think it would be a dream for a designer foodie to make their own cookbooks all from scratch. It also tickles that not-so-secret desire of getting published that lurks at the back of the brain of any food-blogger. So you get the picture. It’s a period of hard work and barely any rest.
That’s when I decide I want something more than my oaty breakfast routine. Something special, cozy and sweet. After all, my early breakfast is the only moment during the day that I can dedicate completely to myself. Enjoying the quiet, taking my time, listening to the cheep cheep that comes from the speakers, sipping my coffee and getting mentally ready for the long, busy day. I opt for a homey comfort food. Firni (or Fereny) is a porridge that my mom used to make me either on Friday mornings (weekend in Iran), or when I had a soar throat. It’s the closest thing that comes to Kheer, the famous Indian rice porridge. Actually similar porridges are common in many countries in the region, specially in central Asia. I even discovered it’s called by the same name in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Firni: aromatic, silky warmness in bowl
Now that mind is made up, with a lively sprint I search in the pantry and reach for the rice flour. Some cardamom pods, and the most significant ingredient, rose water. This combination of aromas would pour the essence of childhood into my bowl of porridge. Rose water is the smell of middle east captured in a bottle. You need to take it in little doses, like a powerful potion, or you’d kill the dish with too much aroma. Just the way too much potion would ruin the magic. A teaspoon is more than enough for two portions.
I dissolve the rice flour in some water, heat up the milk with the cardamom pods and then mix them. I keep stirring, while looking outside the window, watching the first rays of sunshine rising from behind the buildings. I almost lose track of time, it’s like meditation. I know it’s ready when I feel the liquid has thickened. Then I sit against my hot Firni, white as marble, soft and smooth as silk, smelling like a garden of roses in Spring. I hold the bowl with both hands to warm them up. Each spoonful wraps my mouth in a gentle and warm velvet and I feel it’s milky path all the way from my throat to my belly.
The light is still grey and blue but now I’m fully awake, warmed up and fresh as the roses. Despite the chilly dark morning, I know Winter is over. The new season is at the gates. I smile and I think to myself… Buon giorno!
Note:In Iran, we like our Firni/kheer quite smooth, that’s why we use rice flour rather than rice grains. The alternative to rice flour in this kheer recipe is corn starch. Although Firni turns super silky with corn starch, I strongly suggest you use rice flour as they’re almost incomparable in nutrition values. Rice flour gives you a rather generous 6g of protein in 100g and decent doses of vitamin B6 and Iron. While corn starch — being merely the starch that has been extracted from the grain— doesn’t give you almost any nutrition, only empty calories. Not to mention it is more processed than rice flour.
You can adjust the sweetness the way you desire in this Kheer recipe. Use a good sweetener such as maple syrup. In case you’re using maple syrup you should reduce the amount of milk for a couple of tbsp or your Kheer/Firni wouldn’t thicken. You can use raw brown sugar too. Use little sugar/sweetener, and if you want it more sweet add a splash of honey/maple syrup when you serve. I don’t recommend using simple white sugar.
Of course you can replace normal milk with your favorite vegetal milk for a vegan version. I wouldn’t suggest rice milk though, since they’re often way too sweet and it would taste too much like rice.
For extra texture and energy you can add nuts & seeds. I like mine quite smooth so I only use some pistachios on top. Rose petals are for garnish.
- 2 tbsp (20g) rice flour
- 1 3/4 cup + 2 tbsp (440/460ml) milk - normal or vegetal
- 0.4 cup (100ml) cold water
- 2 tbsp raw brown sugar (or 2 tbsp maple syrup), as I said the amount of sweetener depends on you*
- 3 cardamom pods
- 1/2 tsp good quality rose water
- a handful of shelled pistachios
- In a small casserole heat the milk on a very gentle flame with the crushed cardamom pods. Be very careful about the milk, you don't want to burn it or make it boil to the point of overflowing.
- Dissolve the rice flour in the cup of water. Make sure there are no lumps.
- Crush and chop the pistachios and set aside for later.
- As soon as the first tiny bubbles appear next to walls of the pot, remove the cardamom pods, give a list stir to the rice flour mix as it might have sit and add it to the milk. Stir in circular movement to make the whole flour is dissolved in the milk. You must keep stirring to prevent the rice flour to sit or make lumps.
- When your Firni is still runny, add the sugar*, so that in case it's either too think or too runny you can adjust it later with a splash of milk or some rice flour (dissolved in water).
- When you feel during the stirring that Firni has thickend as feels kinda of like runny honey, it's ready. (It shouldn't be thicker, as soon as you turn the heat off and pour it in the bowls it will thicken even more.)
- Turn off the heat and add the rose water and give it the last stir. Never cook rose water for long as it loses its aroma.
- Pour into two latte bowls and dress it with the pistachios.
- Serve hot.
Coming from Iran, she mostly develops her recipes by combining the aromas of the middle east with the flavors of the Mediterranean, specially Italy, where she has found her second home.