Kulsum of Journey Kitchen takes poetic, dreamy photographs of Indian-food-with-a-modern-twist, reminding you of that picnic you plan to have with your friends nestled under a 700-year-old olive tree, when the weather warms up and everyone starts wearing linen and flowing dresses. Your plaid blanket is laid out on the grass, and as everyone chatters, from the wicker basket emerge Kulsum’s home-cooked snackettes- slices of wobbly saffron and almond custard, savoury bites of bruschetta with her homemade paneer, crowned with sweet cherry tomatoes; and small tins of her chocolate cinnamon date truffles, which she made for her family on Eid.
These are the scrumptious treats Kulsum prepares from her kitchen in Kuwait- inspired by her Mom’s cookery style- where she lives with her husband, affectionately referred to as ‘M’ on her blog. I am always in awe of the innovative recipes she creates on her blog week after week. Over time, Kulsum and I have become close friends through Twitter – that may sound odd to many of you- but these days so many of us connect with each other through social media channels.
Kulsoom- which dish or food item reminds you of one of the women in your family; someone you love? My Mom’s Zarda, she said.
Kulsoom, please tell us more about your Mom’s dish…
Growing up I didn’t have much of a sweet tooth. This frustrated my Mom since everyone else loved her Indian sweets.
There were a selective few I did like- which included Zarda. Zarda is a sweetened rice dessert in which the rice is cooked in sugar along with saffron, nuts, coconut and dried fruits. Zarda is the word is used by the Muslim community but meethe chawal is the name by which it is known all over North India.
Mom would spend hours thinly slicing fresh coconut, pinching the skin off the blanched almonds and chopping nuts. She wasn’t just making sweets for a family of six- she made sure to make enough for the entire neighbourhood. It was while we got ready for the feast that my sisters and I would get to wear our favorite salwar kameez and matching chudiyas (colorful bangles), which often involved fights over whose are the prettiest. I miss wearing chudiyas and now that I have developed a sweet tooth, I crave every single mithai (sweet) Mom makes.
But Zarda still tops my favourites list.
*1 cup good quality basmati rice
*3/4 cup sugar
*2 generous pinches of saffron *
*2 whole cardamom pods
*1 cup milk
*2 tbsp melted ghee plus 1/2 tbsp
*7-8 blanched almonds
*7-8 cashew nuts
*Handful of thinly sliced coconut strips, optional
*1/8 cup mix of dried fruits **
* Like most spices lightly dry roasting saffron brings out flavors and intensifies its color. Use good quality saffron.
** Traditionally raisins are added but I use a mix that includes cherries, raisins, black grapes, raspberries
*Warm the milk and add the saffron threads. Set aside.
*Wash and soak the rice in water for half an hour.
*Par boil the rice. Drain and keep aside.
*In a pan (preferably a flat pan) add 1/2 tbsp ghee and lightly roast the nuts. Separately roast the sliced coconut if using. Remove and set aside.
*In the same pan add remaining ghee and crack cardamom and cloves in it. Add the milk mixture and sugar and let it come to a boil.
*Lightly add in the cooked rice, nuts, coconut and fruits (retain some for garnish). Cover and cook for another 10 minutes or till the rice is completely cooked.
*Garnish with remaining fruits and nuts.
*Serve at room temperature.