Friday, January 20, 2006

S is for SOLKADI and SHEERA

This article is part of a special series called "The A-Z of Marathi food". India is the land of diversity. Each of the 28 states in India has a unique cuisine but the Indian food served in restaurants represents only a tiny fraction of our culinary heritage. I come from the western Indian state of Maharashtra. Capital: Bombay (Mumbai). Population: 96 million (only 11 countries in the world have a population higher than Maharashtra). Language: Marathi. Traditional Marathi food is earthy and humble, diverse and very tasty. It also remains relatively unknown to non-marathis. Its time to change that. I invite you to join me on an alphabetical culinary tour of my state. We will go through the letters A to Z and make a dish with each letter to show-case Marathi cuisine.

S is for Solkadi and Sheera.

"S" is the Marathi letter of sugar, syrupy and sweet! It all starts with the basic pantry sweetener sakhar or sugar. The words in Marathi and English sound quite similar, don't they? The words for "sugar" seem to have ancient roots in different languages, and here is a very interesting study exploring those origins. Many Marathi pantry staples used to make sweet foods are also "S" words, such as saay or cream, which is often used to churn home-made butter, which is then clarified to ghee (and most Indian sweets are positively dripping with ghee!); shengdana or peanuts, used to make tasty "chikki" or peanut brittle; and shevaya or vermicelli, the only noodle I can think of that is commonly used in Marathi food, most often to make kheer. Another pantry staple is sabudana or pearl tapioca, used to make delicious khichdi and also to make a sweet kheer.
Other "S" desserts abound: the simplest one is called shikran, ripe bananas folded into some whole milk and sprinkled with sugar (one of those weeknight desserts that is popular with kids); shrikhand or flavored thick yogurt, and Lulu from the blog "Lulu loves Manhattan" gives a easy recipe for home-made shrikhand. More dessert, anyone? Sutarfeni is a rich besan-based dessert that vaguely reminds me of some mid-Eastern desserts; you can see a picture here.
An "S" snack is shankarpale, little fried diamond shapes that can be sweet or savoury. They are traditionally made for the festival of Diwali. "S" also stands for a whole family of beverages called sarbat, all fruit-based syrups that can be made and stored for months in the pantry, ready to be diluted with chilled water to make a quick refreshing drink. A great alternative to soda!
So what am I making for the "S" food today? Well, to be honest, all these endless desserts are cloying, and my tastebuds need a break: so I am going to make a beverage called solkadi. This is a drink made with coconut milk, flavors such as garlic, and an unusual fruit called "kokum"...the combination of which makes for a drink that has a unique sweet-spicy-sour flavor that is utterly and completely refreshing!
Now, most Indian dishes call for some sour flavor component that gives a slight tang: commonly these are yogurt or tomato or tamarind or lemon juice. The "kokum" is a sour tropical fruit. In its fresh form, it can be cut in half, seeds scooped out, the two halves of the fruit packed with sugar and stored in a jar in the sun. After days or weeks, the sugar dissolves into the fruit pulp, and the result is a tangy syrup...you guessed it, kokum sarbat. This can be made into a drink that is simply heavenly on a sweltering hot summer day (which in India, is almost three-quarters of the year). But another way to use the kokum fruit is to dry the peel, packed with salt as a preservative. It is used in this form as a souring agent in many curries etc. The "sol" in solkadi comes from the fact that kokum is also called "amsul" or "sol". The dark purple color of the kokum gives a pretty pale pink hue to the solkadi. This is what kokum looks like:
aamsul
The two main components of solkadi are kokum and coconut, both of which grow abundantly in the hot humid coast of Maharashtra, and so solkadi is a coastal specialty. The solkadi can be served as a cold soup/appetizer, or in a small bowl along with the main meal. Some people also like sipping it at the end of the meal as a cooling digestive. My aunt CM in Bombay often serves the cool mild solkadi with spicy egg pulao. I simply love this combination and that is how I made it today.

Solkadi

(serves 4)
solkadhi
Ingredients:
8-10 dried kokum (about 1/2 cup loosely packed), shake off excess salt
1 can coconut milk
2 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
3-4 green chillies, each cut into 3 pieces
1 tsp peppercorns, coarsely crushed
4 tbsp cilantro, divided
salt to taste
Method:
1. Place kokum in a bowl. Pour 1 cup boiling water on the kokum. Leave to steep for 1 hour.
2. Add garlic, chillies, peppercorns, 2 tbsp cilantro and salt to the kokum-water and leave to steep for another hour.
3. Add coconut milk and mix well (either use your hands, or place the mixture in a tightly-closed container and shake vigorously). The idea is to flavor the liquid well with the spices and extract all the sourness from the kokum.
4. Strain the mixture through a coarse sieve into a fresh container. Garnish with cilantro. Serve chilled in small bowls or glasses.


That was our main course, but I just cannot end the "S" post without a dessert: so here is an easy dessert in which the amount of sugar can be adjusted to suit your palate. Sheera is a stove-top semolina pudding and is best served warm, making it an ideal winter dessert. Traditionally, sheera is made for religious events and served in little paper cups as "prasad" or an offering to the diety. I love eating it with sliced bananas as a special treat. The method of making sheera is similar to that of risotto in that hot liquid is added to grain and stirred constantly for a creamy result. You can find cream of wheat in the breakfast aisle of any US supermarket while the same product is sold as "rava" in Indian stores.

Sheera

serves 4-6
sheera
Ingredients:
1 cup rava (cream of wheat/semolina/farina)
2 tbsp ghee/butter
1 cup water
1 cup milk
3 tbsp sugar (or to taste)
1/2 cup chopped mixed nuts (any combo of almonds, cashews, pistachios, walnuts)
2 tbsp raisins
1 tsp cardamom powder
few strands saffron (optional)
Method:
1. Heat the ghee in a saucepan and saute the rava till it is toasty and fragrant.
2. Meanwhile, heat the water and milk together till it is simmering. Add the saffron strands, if using.
3. Add the sugar to the toasted rava and stir together.
4. Add the nuts and raisins and saute for a minute more.
5. Pour in the hot water/milk (carefully...it will bubble vigorously!) and stir constantly for several minutes till the pudding is thick and creamy.
6. Stir in the cardamom. Serve warm, topped with ripe banana slices, if desired.

I hope you enjoyed this sweet letter. We will meet soon with the letter "T". As usual, suggestions are appreciated!

20 comments:

  1. T for Thalipeeth. It is a must, isn't it? :-)

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  2. Hi Nupur, have you tried adding fruits to Shira? One could add half a cup of mango pieces or mango pulp or pineapple pieces at step 5. It tastes great for a change.
    Now for 'T'...let me think...maybe tomato omelette? Or tomatoche saar? Oh, I can think of a lot many. Tilache ladoo, tambdya bhoplyaache thalipeeth, tambdya mirchicha thecha, tondlichi bhaaji, tikhat mithaachya purya, taandalaachi kheer, taak (buttermilk). [Maybe you could take some liberty here and give the recipe for 'Matthaa'. I know it's sneaky, but...]
    I can also think of thandaai, tomato kaandyachi koshimbir, tilaachi chutney...
    I think I am getting carried away. I better stop here.

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  3. I think I really got carried away there. Thandaai is originally from the North, from Benaras, isn't it? Well, sorry about that.

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  4. Hi Nupur- Sheera looks delicious. I have used kokum but just a couple of slices in dal. The solkadi is quite interesting and a must-try. Have you tried the powdered coconut milk that is available in Indian and Sri Lankan stores? It tastes better than the canned version surprisingly and you can also make thick and thin milk as you need

    I made your bhadang and it was yummy.

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  5. Nandan, what can I say, you guessed it!

    Anthony, thanks!

    HI Vaishali...brilliant, brilliant ideas!! You are very good at this :)

    Hi Mika, kokum in dal does give a nice flavor. and thanks for the powdered coconut milk tip...I never thought to try it. A sri-lankan store has just opened up nearby and so I can easily try some.

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  6. oh, yummy sheera. i adore my mom's sheera. it can make a blah day so beautiful.

    an unlike vaishali, i hate fruit (raisins included) in my sheera. blech.

    tomato saar...yummmy. my south indian language is hard to convert into english.

    great blog and i'm going to become a frequent reader! my amma would be so proud!

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  7. I am sure to try this solkadhi and will let you know!

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  8. I landed at your blog by chance thansk to google,and i love the concept of A-Z I have bookmarked you and also on my ofcourse daily rss feed list.:) and shared ur site with my friends....

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  9. Hi nupur... i am nowhere close to NYC but actually down under. Thanks to google for introducing me to ur blog.. .wonderful work.. will certainly try out some recipes.. also bookmarking the blog and already talking to friends about it.. love the A-z thingy..

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  10. hey nupur,

    great shira. yummy.and quick. I heated the milk and water in the microwave and I got done with the whole thing in about 10 mins ingredient asembling time included. One thing though I found the quantity of sugar really less for the recipe. But maybe its because I used brown sugar instead of white?

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  11. Tried Solkadi and it tasted great. Thanks for the recipe!!! This is a lovely series! :-)

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  12. Tried solkadi...but didn't quite follow the recipe. I boiled the kokums on low heat for about 20 mins and then added them to coconut milk. The color didn't come out right, but I think the taste was good. Next time I gonna follow the exact process.

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  13. Nupur, InstaBlogs' property Foodmall has used your picture of sheera here. I left them a comment. I'd suggest you follow up on it.

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  14. Nupur,
    Was looking for solkadhi recipe and found ur blog and couldn't wait to read(and drool over) all the recipes.
    It's just amazing and full of flavors.Loved the A-Z series.
    Nice work..
    BTW can you by any chance post the recipe for that egg pulao as well?I guess it's not in the existing recipes.
    Waiting for it.
    Mani

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  15. Hi Mani,
    Thanks so much for the feedback! The egg pulao recipe is here:
    http://onehotstove.blogspot.com/2007/01/egg-pilaf.html
    Enjoy!

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  16. Hi Nupur,

    Thanks to your recipe, I just made an Awesome sheera !
    Found the blog when I was searching for the sheera recipe as mine always used to become sticky sheera. :)
    Went through your other recipes too.. this is an really cool blog!

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  17. Hi Nupur,
    We tried Sheera.. It came out amazing..Thanks :)

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  18. Dear Nupur,

    First of all, I landed on your website after searching for a good recipe for Amti. I made it your way and it was amazing.

    Secondly, it is so cool to see such an easy recipe for Solkadi. I am trying it out tonight!

    thanks for all the great recipes..I love your work!

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  19. Hi Nupur,
    How are you? I was searching for Usal and landed here on your blog for a reason it seems. Though I am from south, I must admit that my favorite dishes are from Maharastra like Misal, Capsicum peanutcurry, Batata Vada, Koshimbir, Pooranpoli on & on. Someone rightly said, I wonder why we don't see many Maharastrian dishes in restaurants. Thanks for your wonderful & quick to make recipes. Good luck and wish you all the best to go all the way.
    BTW, I lived in Kolhapur.

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