Desserted

On Saturday, I made a dessert as part of my multi-course extravaganza. The Bengali sweet tooth is legendary, so dessert is simply unavoidable. I made shujir payesh - a version of the famed bong payesh that is considerably easier to make than the rice variety.

Shujir payesh, or polenta milk pudding, is actually one of the easiest and quickest desserts I know how to make, though I must admit it took me years of doing it wrong and failing to get it right. Its basically sooji (or rawa or polenta or grits) with milk, sugar and a little cardamom, optionally with raisins, cashews, pistachios, saffron and whatever else moves your cheese. Brown lots of cashews and raisins in a little ghee, then add a handful sooji and stir till the distinct aroma of frying sooji comes out (about 30 sec). Then add milk (at least twice the volume of sooji), a cardamom pod or two and sugar, thicken slightly and you're done. Stay low on the sugar; this is supposed to be only mildly sweet. Top it with saffron soaked previously in warm milk, chopped pistachios and some silver foil if you have any. Looks great, smells great, and of course tastes like you slaved on it all day - even without all the nuts and saffron.

The trick here is to fry (or dry roast) the sooji till the smell comes. Add the milk too soon and sooji acts as a thickener for the milk; you'll end up with a sticky gummy paste instead of a free-flowing payesh. There's no way to recover from that - throw it out and start again. The longest part of making this is browning the cashews; the rest is done in 90 seconds.

Sooji halwa is a very close cousin of this, using water instead of milk. Use enough water to get a thick paste, then let it set by cooling. For healthy eating, avoid the ghee and roast the sooji. Roasting takes a little longer - maybe 2-3 minutes.

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