Dubai: Ladoos (a popular Indian sweet made with gram flour) may have a special place in many an expatriate's heart. But, there's so much more to Indian desserts, from the famed Rajasthani Ghevar to the Goan Bebinca.
We caught up with Shresth Maloo, a professional food photographer whose family runs the Rajasthani restaurant Sagar Ratna in Dubai, who explained: "In Jodhpur, a city in the western Indian state of Rajasthan, India, Ghevar is considered a high-end dessert. When families or friends come over for a visit, they gift a box of these sweet treats much like a token of love. Because going empty-handed is not appreciated in our culture." Maloo also mentioned a birthday tradition unique to their state. He added: “Instead of ordering in and cutting a cake, we cut ghevars, and our family lives up to this tradition even in Dubai. "
So what makes this dessert so special? Let’s discover it layer by layer. There are three stages to making this dessert – preparing the sugar syrup, rabdi or thickened milk and the base or ghevar itself. All three of which are rich in their own way and at the heart of Indian sweet-making tradition. It is an easy dessert to prepare, provided you know the method. Chef Sawai Singh, who heads the kitchen at the Indian restaurant Sagar Ratna, Dubai, explains.
1/2 cup ghee or clarified butter
1/2 cup whole milk cold
1 cup of ice-cold water
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon cardamom powder
Few saffron strands
Chopped dry fruits or nuts to garnish
Yellow food colour, optional
Ghee for deep frying
For the sugar syrup
1.5 cups sugar
1 cup water
4 cups milk
2 tbsp sugar
1 tsp rose water
1 tsp green cardamom
Almonds, to garnish
Pistachios, to garnish
Blanch the almonds and pistachios, peel and slice them thin slivers.
Bring the milk to a boil, then cook slowly on low heat for 30 to 40 minutes. Stir frequently and let the milk thicken. Scrape the edges of the pan where the reduced milk collects, as you go. Then, add sugar and continue stirring to reduce the milk to a quarter of the original quantity.
Add rose water and mix. Next, pour the reduced milk into a dish when ready. Let it cool down at room temperature for about two hours.
Garnish with slivered almonds, pistachios and cardamom powder. Serve chilled.
For sugar syrup
Add sugar to a pan on medium heat and add water to it. Mix them well till sugar dissolves.
After four to five minutes, the syrup will thicken. To check:
1. Do one string consistency test.
2. Pour a small batch of the syrup on your thumb and press it with your index finger.
3. Pull your finger and thumb apart to notice a string or threadlike consistency. If you still haven't got a string like consistency, maybe heat it for a few more seconds.
4. Set aside, while you make the ghevar.
Take a bowl, and add ghee (solidified) to it. Now add one tablespoon of cold milk and one tablespoon of ice-cold water. We will add the milk, flour and water in parts and not in one go.
Whisk it all together using a hand mixer. Once it's combined, add 1/4 cup of flour and mix.
Add one to two tablespoons more of milk and water to combine, and then add cardamom powder and mix.
Next, add 1/4 cup flour again and mix. Also, add in saffron strands at this point. Now add the remaining 1/2 cup of flour.
Keep adding the remaining water and milk and mix until you get a smooth and pouring consistency batter. If not, you may need to add more water. You can also add yellow food colour at this point, only if you wish to.
Next, heat ghee/oil in a shallow pan on high heat to deep fry. In this recipe, the chef uses a combination of oil and ghee.
Once the ghee melts and is hot, pour the batter from a height of at least 6 to 7 inches. Pour the batter a little by little but continuously at the centre of the pan. Once the batter hits the pan, you'll hear a sizzle, and it should begin to spread out immediately.
Note: The oil will splutter once you pour in the batter, so please be careful.
Wait for a minute, and then pour another ladle full of batter from the top, right into the center of the pan and wait a few seconds.
Then use an elongated ladle/spoon to scoop out the batter from the center. This should form a hole at the center to lift the ghevar from the pan.
Pour two more ladles of batter the same way. You may add more batter if you want a thicker ghevar.
Then, push the ghevar gently deeper into the oil using a spoon so that the top layer gets cooked.
Once it turns to a nice brown colour, carefully insert a stick in the center of the ghevar and take it out of the pan.
Place on a serving plate and drizzle evenly with warm sugar syrup. You may also dip the ghevar in the sugar syrup. Make sure sugar syrup is warm when you drop the ghevar in it.
Garnish ghevar with nuts, rabdi (thickened milk) and enjoy!
"At my restaurant, we only make this dessert on special requests and occasions", said Chef Thoufeek Zakriya of Taj Hotel, Dubai. This sweet is somewhat like rice pudding, but instead of whole rice grains and milk, we use coconut pulp (recipe below) and coconut meat or malai (the fleshy white part) instead and serve it chilled, he explained. It is a comparatively new addition to the list of payasams (rice puddings) that southern India already has.
A cold dessert, perfect for a sweet ending to summertime lunches.
Preparing it is an uphill task because the recipe calls for many tender coconuts. This is one of the reasons Elaneer Payasam is a treasured dessert.
If you are looking for an easy substitute, then Chef Zakriya recommends going for frozen coconut malai , which you can find at supermarkets. Once you have them, try out Chef's recipe:
Preparation time: 10 minutes
Cooking time: 10 minutes
½ cup tender coconut meat, chopped
500 ml full-fat milk or double cream milk
3/4 cup sweetened condensed milk
1 tsp cardamom powder
½ cup coconut milk
For the payasam pulp
1 cup tender coconut flesh
½ cup tender coconut water
1. Boil the milk and condensed milk until it reduces to a thick consistency or however you would like it to be, and then add cardamom powder.
2. Once the milk thickens, turn off the stove and set the pan aside to cool.
3. Grind tender coconut meat and tender coconut water to make a thick purée.
4. Once the milk cools down, add the coconut purée (prepared in the last step), coconut milk and chopped tender coconut pieces and stir well.
5. You can serve it chilled. If you want to add dried fruits or nuts, it is optional. But Chef Zakriya recommends avoiding adding them. The Elaneer Payasam by itself will taste good.
If you have been to Goa, the southwestern coast of India with coastlines stretching across the Arabian sea, during the monsoon season, you will get to hear waves hitting the shore, the sky lit a sparkling blue that pours almost every day.
The closest you can feel to being in Goa is eating what Goans call the queen of Goan desserts - Bebinca, a sweet with many layers.
It tastes sweet, buttery and eggy, similar to a custard but with hints of spice (nutmeg). Bebinca, or Bebik as called in Goa, is made with several egg yolks, baked, one layer at a time. This dessert takes time, attention and patience, but the result is worth it. You get caramelised layers.
If you speak to a Goan, they will tell you what goes into making this classic dessert. It is traditionally baked in tizals (earthen ovens) placed over a fire made of coconut husks (sonnam) and coconut shells (kotteos).
Goan expatriates in the UAE usually ask their friends or family to bring packets of bebinca with them on their visit because not every baker can bake one as good. "Bebinca is one of my absolute favourite Goan desserts. I can't say why I love this so much. Maybe because of the many layers you see, explaining it can be tricky for me. Maybe it is the texture that I like or the sweet caramelised taste; somehow, each layer tastes so different," said Leon Coelho, a Goan expatriate who works as a risk analyst in Dubai.
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