As a child growing up in Hyderabad, my favorite dessert was puran poli and Aai would make enough to last a few days, or so she thought!
Puran poli was my lunch, it was also my ‘afternoon tea’ and yes, you guessed it, dinner was definitely PP!! PP was over and done with in 2 days!
This routine lasted for nearly two decades and then, when I started working at the Taj in the early 80’s in Delhi, I had the privilege of working in the ‘cold kitchen’. This was the place where all the salads, the cold cuts, the terrines, the patés, and the vegetable carvings, were created and I loved every bit of my “stay” in that kitchen.
But there was one more reason why I really enjoyed the garde manger. Because it was here that all the gulab jamoons, and the rosogullas, and the chum chums, and the gajar ka halwa would be stored for all the functions that were to take place on a given day. What heaven!
It had a very large cool room. So, just before my training started every afternoon my job was to clean the cool room and rearrange it.
This is what I looked forward to as I cleaned (in both senses of the word, or ‘polished off’ is perhaps more fitting!): I wolfed down three gulab jamoons on entry, three more half way through the cleaning process, and maybe a few more just before leaving the cool room.
Truptir bhavathi! This Sanskrit term, meaning happy and content, was me in that cool room. After my dessert snacks I was now ready to start my training in the garde manger!! This routine lasted for nearly a year!! (And no, folks, my waistline didn’t suffer as I was working so hard elsewhere, cleaning a garde manger, even with my little, sweet sustenances it was all burned off!)
I then moved to Bangalore and got hooked on mishti doi and sandesh made by none other than KC Das.
On my day off from work the sequence was: lunch at “The Only Place”, followed by mishti doi and sandesh at KC Das. The evening was spent at the “Ramada Pub”.
There was no money left over for any dinner after this, or for any. . .!! What a diet!
Well, as I moved up the ladder at the Taj and was given more responsibilities this meant that my dessert eating diminished and my days off became non-existent, so I simply had no time for any of the above!
I started to enjoy the in-house mithai made by none other than my friend, Mittan Lal. He was more of a ‘savoury’ halwai who was superb at making samosas, kachoris, and other ‘tea-time’ snacks.
His repertoire of Indian sweets, I believe, was restricted to simple ones such as gulab jamoon and gajar ka halwa until this halwai from Gwalior made kesar pista kulfi and moong dal halwa for a wedding reception and, boy!, I am still addicted to this amazing combination of a ‘hot’ pudding served with the best hand-made ice-cream on the planet!
So, here is the step-by-step recipe of moong dal halwa, my way!
[Okay, we all know, it’s known as halwa in the north, sheera in the centre and pongal in the south and halva, here, in downtown Sydney, anyway, whatever it’s known as locally it’s still fabulous and served with that kulfi, out of this world!!]
1. 150 g moong dal
2. 150 ml milk (full-fat)
3. 100 g sugar (I prefer to use raw sugar)
4. 100 g ghee (and if you really feel like cooking, here’s my recipe for ghee!)
5. 1/2 g saffron threads
6. 1 tsp freshly ground green cardamom pods
7. 2 tbs slivered almonds, roasted in a moderate oven till golden
1. Soak the moong dal (mung lentils) in 4 cups of water for about 4 hours.
2. Then drain and grind them to a semi-coarse, semolina-like, consistency.
3. Heat the ghee in a thick-bottomed pan and let it come almost to smoking point, then add the ground dal, reduce the heat and start cooking till it is almost caramelised and smells ‘sweet’ and turns golden.
4. In another thick-bottomed pan, bring the milk to a boil, add the sugar and let dissolve. Add the saffron and infuse. Keep hot.
5. Gradually add the sweetened hot milk to the caramelised dal and fold gently over low heat.
6. Keep folding till all the milk is absorbed and the ghee leaves the sides of the pan.
7. Add the ground green cardamom and fold gradually.
8. Serve hot, sprinkled with the roasted almonds and pista kulfi!!
As for my other favourite, kesar (saffron) pista kulfi, well, if you really want to make your own, you may have to do a class. . .!!
Anah Daata Sukhi Bhava!!