Sheer Khurma (Vermicelli Pudding)

Unlike many of my friends I don't have childhood memories of devouring bowls of haleem and scouting restaurants in search of the best version on offer during Ramzan months. I do remember the occasional instances though, but they were at best...well...occasional. Haleem became much more of a reality while in college. Located in the heart of central Calcutta, the numerous meandering lanes and bylanes around my collge would often lead to the most amazing haleem joints. But even then, a food walk around the Nakhoda Masjid area was something that none of us embarked upon back in those days.
This year marked my first Ramzan food walk in Central Calcutta. On one of my off days Manjari and I, armed with a backpack each, headed towards Phears Lane from Central Metro Station. That is where it all starts from, we had read. As we — perhaps the only women on the streets — walked ahead, we were met with a plethora of deep-fried sweet and aromatic snack shops on either sides and not to mention some very curious looks. Because it was blasphemy to continue on our trail without munching on something, Manjari helped herself to some sugar-syrup soaked jalebis and I nibbled at a beef samosa.
A little bit down the street the paraphernalia got bigger and better. Men sitting with piles of chhole chaat and mounds of dry fruits on either sides of the street almost led us through a zigzag route. I meekly asked the chhole guy whether I could take photgraphs, he nodded with glee and even posed for it. His neighbour, however, chose to excuse himself off the frame.
This was around 3 o'clock in the afternoon: the iftar preparation hadn't yet started in full swing. Yet we managed to track down a shop where spice-rubbed and yoghurt-marinated chunks of Chicken Changezi and Fish Amritsari were hanging on iron skewers. We asked the guy to fry for us a little bit and had it standing on the roadside at a time when everybody around us was fasting. We made our way to the oldest Aminia at Zakaria Street, packed for home some Arbi (Arabic) Haleem, Phirni and the works, stopped by at a vendor and loaded a lunch box (that I was already carrying for utilitarian purposes!) with Dahi Vada, almost drowned under the humongous volume of the sheermal and baqarkhani, helped ourselves to a delectable feast of Rumali Roti, Mutton ChaaNp and Chandi Qorma at Royal, guzzled down two bottles of Coke, packed a kilo of plums (which later turned out to be mind-numbingly sour) and headed towards the much-researched Adam's Kebabs.
Taking the definition of "hole in the wall" a tad too seriously, this tiniest kebab joint that I've ever come across treated me to some of the best kebabs I've had. The Beef Sutli Kebab literally falls off the skewer unless tied with a piece of string and hence the name. With a load of no less than 5 kilos on my back and another 4 on my shoulders, I still managed to lean against the wall and blissfully pop in these tiny bits of sheer beauty.
Before we exited the area that lured us to spend every single penny we were carrying and took us to gastronomic heaven, we got a huge helping of sevai (very, very thin vermicelli). Armed with the shopkeeper's tip on how to bring out the best in the vermicelli, I traced my steps back to the metro station — cowed down by the weight of my cumulative purchase — with only one word going through my mind..."Sheer Khurma...sheer khurma...sheer khurma". And because no Eid can ever be complete without it, here is some sheer khurma to celebrate the festival of fasting and feasting! Eid Mubarak :)
Serves: 10
Ingredients:

Milk: 1 litre
Vermicelli: 1.25 cups
Ghee: 1.5 tsp
Cardamom powder: 1/2 tsp
Saffron, soaked in 2 tbsp warm milk: a fat pinch
Sugar: 1/2 cup (You can add more if you want)
Dried apricots, chopped roughly: 8-10
Dates, chopped roughly: 8-10
Almonds, chopped roughly: 3 tbsp + for garnish
Pistachios, chopped roughly: 3 tbsp + for garnish
Raisins: 3 tbsp

Method:

1. In a non stick pan, heat the ghee. Break the vermicelli and add them to the pan. Roast them in the ghee till golden brown and fragrant. Keep a sharp lookout to see that they don't burn. Set aside.

2. In a deep-bottomed saucepan bring the milk to a boil. Lower the heat and let it simmer. Add the ground cardamom powder, sugar and saffron, mix well, bring to a boil again and then gently let it cook for 20-30 minutes till it thickens a little bit.

3. Now add the roasted vermicelli, mix well and let it simmer on medium heat for another 10 minutes. All this while keep stirring frequently to prevent the milk from scalding.

4. Add the chopped nuts and dried fruits, stir well and cook for another 5 minutes till the mixture reaches your desired consistency. I like mine on a rather thicker side.

5. Turn off the heat. Ladle in individual bowls or in one big bowl. Garnish with chopped nuts and serve warm, at room temperature or after cooling in the refrigerator for a couple of hours.
You can also find my recipe of haleem here
Before embarking on the food walk we had collected notes from Poorna's Presented by P and IshitaUnblogged
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