If I were to make a kheer properly from scratch, I would perhaps name it after myself. And that is also perhaps why I would have never made a good chef of erstwhile Awadh, who refused to name a delicious kheer just because of a certain ingredient. That’s right, the ‘Benaami Kheer’ of  Awadh has attained more stardom without a name than with.  

The History And Secret Ingredient Of Benaami Kheer

For the unversed, ‘Benaami’ means ‘the one that has no name’. What prompted the chefs to go without a name for this particular sweetmeat? It is little hard to digest that they were out of names. 'Navratan Korma', 'Shahi Pulao' are all popular Awadhi dishes remember? So, what could be the reason? 

The legends say that it has to do something with the ingredients. Calling it ‘Benaami Kheer’, which also came to be known as  ‘Lehsuni Kheer’ later on, as a means to protect the secret ingredient of the kheer. Yes, the ingredient is garlic that you often use to pep up your biryani, pulao, gravies, and a multitude of other savoury dishes.  

Garlic is the core ingredient of this kheer which is what makes it unique and special in its own way, given kheer is almost always made with either rice or vermicelli.  

So were the chefs embarrassed to own up to using garlic in the kheer? Garlic has had quite an infamous reputation for its pungent smell afterall. The nobility and elite of ancient Rome would abhor the use of garlic, unless of course, it was used for making medicines. But it is difficult to imagine that the Awadhi khansamas had any reservation against garlic as such; they would in fact, use it very generously in countless savoury preparations. Awadhi cuisine, which borrows heavily from Mughlai cuisine and culinary habits of Central and Middle-East Asia is one of Lucknow’s crowning glories, and Benaami Kheer continues to be an intrinsic part of the cuisine. 

A possible explanation behind the name may have something to do with the typical ‘khansama’ characteristic of keeping recipes a secret. To avoid rip-offs, they perhaps did not want to reveal the contents of the kheer, and let’s admit it the word ‘Benaami’ does inspire a lot of awe and intrigue.

Garlic. Kheer. Match Made In Heaven

Those who are still shocked by the idea of Garlic in Kheer, then we must tell you, that the garlic here is stripped of its pungency when it is soaked in alum water. It becomes translucent and chewy, adding a nice texture to the kheer. Here’s how the kheer is made nowadays.  

How Is Benaami Kheer Made

Garlic cloves are first slices and soaked in water for about an hour. They are then drained and boiled in alum water. They are strained again and then boiled in alum water again, post which they are strained again. This process is carried out until all the pungent-ness of the garlic is gone. The garlic is then added to hot milk that is reduced to half, with sugar, cardamom powder, rose water (optional), saffron (optional). Once cooked, it is garnished with slivers of almonds.