Monday, 1 July 2013

Cold comfort: suji halwa.

One of those 'ugly' desserts - if you can get past the way it looks, it's really quite nice.

The first time that I tried suji halwa was at a music festival. Back then, I didn’t know it was called suji halwa, I called it ‘that yummy pudding stuff that they serve at the Hare Krishna stand’. Whenever I go to Fairbridge Festival, the Hare Krishna food stand is my preferred place to eat. Not through any particular religious connection, you understand, (religion is not something that I do) but because it serves filling and tasty curry for a low, low price and in amongst the curry, they will dollop a lump of tasty beige pudding stuff that makes you forget that you have just spent a rather cold and miserable night trying to get comfortable in a tent.

(People say it is possible to get comfortable in a tent but I just don't believe it. The air-mattress always deflates. My nose always gets cold and I can't sleep if my nose is cold. Then there are the other campers who stumble back to their own tents in the early morning, drunk, stoned or drunk and stoned, and always loud. Them's the breaks at music festivals, I guess.)
When not at music festivals, and it has been a while since I've been to one, there is a Hare Krishna restaurant in Perth where you can get the same deal. When I worked in the city centre, I was often at Govinda’s because, hey, teachers’ salaries. I liked that restaurant. Curry, rice, and extra dollop of pudding stuff if you asked really nicely, and still there was change out of a $10 note. I haven’t been back since it moved to its new premises in William St in 2011 but as I will soon be working in the city centre once more and as teachers’ salaries haven’t changed that much in the last few years, I’ll have to check it out.
I was prompted to make some halwa because I recently made a lemon cake that called for semolina. It was a great cake, but it only used 1 & 1/4 cups of semolina, and I had no idea how to use up the rest in a way that wasn’t reminiscent of the worst of English school lunches (where the semolina dessert with the glob of industrial ‘raspberry’ jam in the middle went by the rather unappetising nickname of ‘nosebleed pudding’).
Happily, the idea that the Hare Krishna pudding might be semolina-based occurred to me, and entering ‘Hare Krishna pudding’ into a search engine not only proved me correct but yielded recipes and the correct name, suji halwa - suji being the word for 'semolina' in several Indian languages.

I’ve used this recipe because it is the simplest and because the ingredients are readily available from any supermarket (as opposed to a specialist Indian or Asian supermarket). Also because, a long time ago, I used to enjoy the Kurma Das cooking show on television and this is his recipe.

It's a warm, stodgy, buttery pudding, fragrant with cardamom and saffron. I didn't use the recommended sultanas in my version, but I did sprinkle some extra almond slivers on top before serving. It's a great dessert for a cold winter night.

And I ate it in bed. My nice cosy bed with extra pillows all around me, a minky blanket and a wheat-pack to warm my feet - infinitely more civilised and more comfortable than a tent.

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