I come from a small town in central India, called Rewa. A town so small that half my life I tried not to tell people about it because almost all the time people would ask, “where?” and then the explanation I had to give followed by that question was so painstakingly long! It was just easier to duck the whole question altogether. And then I never lived there for more than a couple of years, first because of Papa’s job with the state and then my studies and work, so it got easier to just distance myself from Rewa. But I was born there, so was my father and grandfather. It was where my parents got married and also built their first home. It’s where I have several of my very loving and loved relatives and that is where papa and mummy decided to retire after living in government housings around the state. I thought since I never lived there, how can it be home. But it is, because that’s where my girls will be going for their summer vacations and for family reunions because that’s where their nani ka ghar (grandparent’s house!) is.
Its an amazing place though, Rewa. The princely state of white tigers as they call it. It was a royal state ruled by rajput rulers and stayed sovereign even during British rule in India. Although I only saw remains of those royalties in the museum and while walking around the royal palace. But all the stories my dadi (grandma) told us as kids were filled with real kings and queens of Rewa. There weren’t any stories of cinderella and her trip to the ball for us but stories of my dadi dining with the queen and her princesses for her birthday and the royal procession my dada ji (grandpa) got to lead as he was the first person in the state to earn three bachelor degrees. Just like any princess stories they were breathtaking for a little 5 year old girl, even more so as they were real.
So is the cuisine of Rewa, rich, royal and distinct. Although I never got a chance to dig deep. My mummy came from a different region with different culinary traditions passed on to her and food in our household was mostly influenced by that unless we were visiting dadi in Rewa and we would get to devour into her cooking.
But as they say, when you marry someone you marry their whole family. Well, my baby brother got married recently and he not only brought his wife to the family but also his mother in law. This one isn’t the mother in law from those story books. This ones a shy lady, always adorned in a bright colored saree, glass bangles and red bindi. Not a woman of many words but unfathomable amount of knowledge of the cuisine of Rewa. In the last one and a half years of my brother’s marriage I’ve already worked my way through several jars of kathal ka achar (spicy pickled raw jackfruit), masala vadi (sundried lentil drops) and Chulhe ki naankhatai (shortbread cooked on charcoal).This kind of “marrying the family”, I like!
I am trying to learn as much I can from aunty via whatsapp messaging and phone call conversations. This recipe I am sharing today is one of aunty’s. Doodh Ka Sheera, is not very far from a paneer ki kheer where fresh or store bought paneer is cooked in milk. Only here the milk is first slow cooked to be reduced and then a coagulant, lemon, lime juice or vinegar is used to curdle the milk. The real magic happens right after that. Unlike the making of paneer where you get rid of the whey, some sugar is added to the whey instead and cooked with the paneer which by now turns into soft, spongy cheese balls. In the end you get a dessert which looks and tastes very much like rasgulla and paneer ki kheer would make babies. That does sound like a pretty sweet baby, doesn’t it?
Ingredients: Serves 3-4
8 cups – Whole milk (full fat)
2 tablespoon (or a couple teaspoons extra if required) – Distilled white vinegar
1 cup – Granulated sugar (I like my dessert mildly sweet hence the quantity. Adjust sweetness per your liking).
1 teaspoon – Cardamom seeds (coarsely crushed)
1/3 cup – Mixed nuts of choice (silvered pistachio, almonds etc) optional
1 teaspoon – Ghee (clarified butter) optional
In a heavy bottom saucepan or pot bring milk to a boil. Reduce heat to medium low and let it simmer down and reduce to approximately 3/4 of its volume. (Don’t leave the side of simmering milk pot for long for it can stick to the bottom or boil over. Keep stirring with a wooden spoon on regular intervals.). Spoon out approximately 1 cup of reduced milk. Save it for later.
Once the milk is reduced, bring the heat to medium high, add vinegar. Stir continuously until it curdles. (try not to stir vigorously or break the curdled balls. The bigger the balls the better.)
Stir in sugar. Bring the heat to medium low and let it simmer for 10 minutes or until the syrup is thickened slightly.
Stir in cardamom. Turn the heat off. Let it rest and cool down.
Melt ghee in a pan. Add the nuts. Give it a quick saute until the nuts begin to turn golden. Turn of the heat. Set aside.
Spoon sheera in a serving bowl, pour a few spoons of reduced milk, garnish with golden nuts. Enjoy!