Friday, August 28, 2015

Vermicelli pudding (semiya payasam)

It's major, formidable onceinayear phenomena when a holiday possesses a whole region, so serious that when its own citizens take habitat elsewhere in the world, it's no surprise they share the party and make it bigger, posher than the original.

This is no small feat people, celebrations created around a Grand Vegan Menu, ranging in items from fifteen to thirty five, mostly sides to rice,  painstakingly prepared and creatively adorned on a 15 inch banana leaf that will serve as your plate for the time it takes you to finish those items. And how do you end a meal without a minimum of four, more like ten, different sweetmeats, taking food coma to a whole new level? It's no surprise that sleep is not a mere suggestion after the multicourse and you literally get evicted to rooms to take care of the glutton-induced- slumber edging into your very being.

It's the geographical confines that I bear roots from and have pretty much bragged on every chance I got, and the holiday is Onam, celebrated throughout Kerala, India's southernmost state, fondly known as God's own country.

Here then it is, my nod and salute to this favorite, all Malayalee-but-not-limited-to grand festival where public institutions close for days and ecofriendly floral carpets (made just for the day) dot State roads.

And no, I'm not carting any part of the innumerable curry inundated meal here. I believe the WWW is plush with Onam specific/ vegan friendly ideas. Instead, I'll showcase a bit of that banana leaf, the reverential spot where dessert is placed,

Even those that have no clue of what I've been talking about in these past too many sentences, will understand that you really don't need an epic celebration to make what could definitely be nirvana in a bowl.

Semiya payasam is vermicelli pudding's Indian name. Nonunderstadably, but for lack of a better one, the word pudding is used, yet doesn't quite bring it. Payasam reaches a greater destiny, one thats undeniably thick, lush, velvet with options of bite and crunch, something way beyond what pudding could ever aspire to be. Can you ponder thin vermicelli noodles hot-roasted and immersed in a nice blended base. One where milk and sugar unite to altogether wondrous much-likened-to-condensed milk magic. 

A few bites into and you get the softened chew of cashews, spoons flecked with spheres of pearlescent tapioca, those which lend dimension and depth to what is probably one of the easiest Indian desserts. Ever.

And really do you need an occasion to boil milk?

I know it's fascinating, this dialogue of culture and lore. But I think you've heard enough from me.

Create your own epic. Payasam. Holiday. Memory.

Until next time.

Happy Onam.

The vermicelli should cook just past al dente and not be noodle mush.

  • 1 tbsp tapioca pearls
  • 2 tbsp water
  • 2 tbsp oil or ghee
  • 2 tbsp cashews
  • 3/4 cup semiya or thin vermicelli
  • 3 cups milk
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 crushed cardmom(optional)
  • Soak tapioca pearls in 2 tbsp water for 10 minutes.
  • In the meantime, add ghee to a skillet over medium, stir in cashews and vermicelli strands.
  • Allow contents to brown, including vermicelli strands. Take off heat and set aside.
  • In a separate deep wide set pan/dutch oven, add milk. Take heat to medium -high
  • Drain and rinse the tapioca pearls to get rid of any stickiness or starch. Add this along with sugar and cardamom to the milk. 
  • Keeping heat on medium, simmer contents, stirring at regular intervals, until pearls get semitranslucent about 10 -15 minutes. 
  • Add vermicelli and cashews at this point.
  • Bring to boil, then lower heat to simmer, occasionally stirring until vermicelli is soft and clear, an additional 12-15 minutes. By this time the tapioca pearls would be clear and the milk considerably thickened,
  • Serve hot or cool and refrigerate for 1-3 hours to serve chilled, a favorite here.


Although it's dreamy to use whole milk here, I've used 2%, and on most other occasions, skim.

You can drop the sugar amount to the level you'd like, though I'd not go lower than 1/4 of a cup, which would just barely be in the mildly sweet range.

Indian groceries have readymade roasted vermicelli in which case you could altogether skip the step of browning, save for the cashews. Just add it straight to the milk.

These specialized groceries would also be where you'd find tapioca pearls, known as sago palm pearls. These are of the small granule variety and need to be presoaked, should not be confused with the instant. No Indian market nearby? No problem! They're sold here.

Besides cashews, roasted raisins/dates are also added into payasam. You can pick/ choose/forgo as you please.

Another payasam story~
A star contender for the above said meal~
"Hear my voice when I call Lord, be merciful to me and answer me."
Psalm 27:7

Monday, August 24, 2015

Mango kulfi- Indian ice cream

I literally bake through this last quarter of scorch blasting season, plastered in sweat,  where my armskin  gets brandironed by seatbelt each and every day. And since I practically live in my car, I'm seriously thinking to acquire a patent for belt/car accessory/steering wheel refrigerant before anyone else gets to it- maybe my new gig, FIY.

So, here in the throes of high summer, we find it imperative to have that incessant supply of iced creamy treats filling all five shelves of the icebox; it's either that or climb into the freezer yourself, which may or may not have happened in this kitchen more than a few times. And even if I do have a good arsenal of  quality store-bought variety packs hanging around, I like to get creative and do DIY frozen love whenever craving strikes. And so a few days prior, I aimed for that popsicle of exotic dimension, luxe, with accessible ingredients that brings on broad smiles from all the sidekicks I share house with, even four legged, furry types.

Kulfi is the Indian's equivalent to ice cream, albeit a richer, more indulgent one. Unlike it's Westernized more popular counterpart, there is no churning or whipping of air involved in creating its lush, cream body. Instead it's form is credited to a slow heat- induced milk evaporation, resulting in downright fantastic results.

Regal through it's roots, kulfi was believed to have once been served in Persian kitchens. I cannot think of any greater reason to usher it into yours since we all aspire to be Masterlords of our culinary domain. Wishful thinking maybe, but it doesn't hurt to dream.

These days, iced treats are carted and sold in street corners by vendors throughout the Indian subcontinent. Why, there are even fancy contraptions to roller your kulfi cream straight to a bowl. Citizens of all strata harken to the kulfi caller's beckon, stand on public roads, kulfilicking like it's nobody's business. That was encouragement for the awkward 12 year old who was visiting an aunt, standing on a busy street in the Nation's capital consuming not one, but two rapidly melting stick-kulfis. Yes, that would be me and I believe all was fine with the world that day.

A mention should be made that you can build on to this milk+sugar classic with many flattering flavor agents. Today we've paired it with bits of saffron and a fair amount of pulped mango, a move that creates altogether interesting dimensions of floral-tart settling into the caramelized malt-ey notes. Still, it all boils down to the milk (pun intended) which if flamed, stirred and reduced properly furnishes in a base that brings plush velvet, distinctly smooth cream-ice quality.

And is it me, or does holding a cylindrical confection on stick make you feel kidlike several times over?  

Need I go further? This may just be your new rave popsicle, a pleasure your few/maybe one remaining week(s) of summer is screaming for.

Since I seem to have misplaced the pack of 500 p-sticks I had on hand, halved plastic straws did the trick. However, they didn't hold well towards end and left us slurping half melted chunks from plates. No one's complaining.
Store leftover popsicles covered with foil or plastic wrap in freezer.
Sometimes, the things that go in deserve a spotlight of their own.
Can you see? Stir, stir and we're almost there! 

(Riffed from this here video-prepare to be entertained:))
(yields approximately 15-20 pops)
  • 2 cups milk (whole is ideal)
  • 3-5 saffron threads 
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 2 tbsp heavy whipping cream
  • 1 ½ c canned mango pulp
  • 3 tbsp crushed nuts, either pistachios, almonds or both 
  • Heat milk and saffron in a heavy set wide pan over medium high. While stirring, bring contents to a boil.
  • Reduce to a low medium and allow to simmer, all the while stirring the milk for about 20 minutes until the mixture reduces to half its original volume and it becomes relatively thick.
  • Keeping flame to medium, add the sugar to this and stir to dissolve granules over heat. Continue to cook for approximately another 10 minutes.
  • Add cream and cook further for 2-3 minutes.
  • Allow the milk to cool completely, then stir in the mango pulp and combine well.
  • Add nuts. Stir well.
  • Pour mixture into popsicle molds.
  • Freeze until molds are firm.
 No molds? No worries! Pour contents into disposable plastic cups, cover tightly with foil and poke centers of filled cups with sticks.
Colorful kulfi. Far exceeds any popsicle expectation you've in any way had.

August flashback 
2 years ago~
3 years ago~
"A cheerful look brings joy to the heart, and good news gives health to the bones." Proverbs 15:30