10 days of Ganesh Utsav are now over. In the state of Maharashtra, where I am from, it is the most popular festival and the celebrations are indeed grandiose! The highlight of the festivities is, without a doubt, Ganpati Bappa’s favorite – steamed modak! Everyone simply loves this Maharashtrian delicacy that’s made with the soft, white steamed outer covering and the delicately spiced jaggery and coconut filling inside! While I ate yummy mom-made modak, some of my friends dared to make their own, like my friend, Soni. Her perfectly shaped decadent modak look so tempting!
During the Ganesh festival, other than the “modak“, there are a few other Maharashtrian sweet dishes like Sheera (Cardamom-saffron Semolina with Almonds), Shrikhand (Cardamom-Saffron spiced Yogurt) and Basundi (Creamy Milk Pudding) that I made and offered to Ganpati Bappa.
Now, you don’t have to wait for Ganesh festival to come back next year! Give these recipes a try the next time you are in the mood for something sweet!
(Cardamom-Saffron Semolina Pudding with Almonds)
Sheera is an everyday Maharashtrian dessert as it can be made effortlessly in a matter of minutes. Some Maharashtrians have a toned down version for breakfast or a snack with afternoon tea that is made without saffron and by using oil instead of ghee and skipping milk altogether. However, I have primarily seen sheera being made as an offering to God for most of the religious ceremonies and festive occasions back home in my family.
A popular Indian sweet dish, the sheera or sooji halwa has the nutty bite with a hint of spice and the buttery taste from ghee, milk, saffron, cardamom, almonds, raisins and much more. Inspite of all the wonderful goodness, it is light but very satisfying, sweet but not cloying, creamy but not too rich – all in all, a perfect dessert for those sweet cravings that make you want more than a few bites. So forget moderation and indulge yourself in a bowl or two of decadent sheera!
1 cup semolina (cream of wheat/rava/sooji)
½ cup ghee (If you don’t have ghee, use 1 stick of butter instead)
1 cup water
1 cup milk
a pinch of saffron
4-5 cardamom pods, seeded, seeds crushed
¼ cup blanched slivered almonds (optional)
¼ cup raisins (optional)
¾ cup sugar
In a deep sautépan, heat 2 tsbp of ghee (or melt 2 tsbp butter out of the stick) and add semolina to it. Roast the semolina over medium heat till it gets a golden brownish color, about 6-8 mins.
In the meantime, combine milk, water and saffron in a saucepan and bring the mixture up to a boil over medium heat.
Remove the roasted semolina from the pan and melt the remaining butter in it. Then add almonds, crushed cardamom seeds, sugar and roasted semolina and stir gently.
Finally add the hot milk and water with saffron.
Stir continuously till everything is combined and continue cooking over medium heat till all the liquid is absorbed, about 4-5 mins.
(Saffron/Mango flavored Yogurt)
Shrikhand or it’s mango-flavored variation, Amrakhand, is one of those sweet dishes that you can indulge in without feeling the guilt! It’s creamy, delicately spiced, is not too sweet and is made with yogurt, that’s good for you! In the traditional Maharashtrian recipe, strained yogurt (a.k.a. chakka) gets whipped up with sugar and is then dressed up with saffron, aromatic spices and nuts giving it a beautiful golden yellow color. To make Amrakhand, Alphonso mango purée is stirred in to the mix.
Back home in India, readymade strained yogurt called chakka, which has all the water or curd whey taken out, is available in the specialty stores but it is also possible to make your own by hanging yogurt in a cheese cloth for a couple of hours to strain all the moisture out of it. Here, in the US, Greek yogurt, which is nothing but strained yogurt, is easily available in the stores and is a great substitution for the chakka.
Shrikhand or amrakhand is really easy to whip up, once you have the strained yogurt. Just mix in the sugar and spices (and mango purée for amrakhand) along with the yogurt and you have a luscious dessert ready in no time. You can sit back, relax and enjoy licking spoonfuls of shrikhand from your bowl or have it with piping hot pooris, like the Maharashtrians do!
1 medium-sized tub (17.6 oz or 500 g) Fage Greek Yogurt (about 2 cups)
¼ cup hot milk (warmed for about 30 sec on high power in the microwave)
1 pinch of saffron strands
¼ cup sugar (or more according to your taste)
about ¼ tsp freshly ground nutmeg
4-5 cardamom pods, seeded, seeds crushed
¾ cup mango purée, if making Amrakhand (use about a cup if making purée from fresh mangoes)
charoli or chironji, for garnishing
a few saffron strands, for garnishing
Crush the saffron strands and add them to the warm milk. Let it steep for about 5-10 mins.
In a medium bowl, whisk together all the ingredients along with the saffron-infused milk and mango purée (if using) for about 5 mins or so till the sugar is dissolved completely.
Cover it with a plastic wrap and let it sit in the refrigerator for at least an hour. Serve chilled.