Tuesday, April 1, 2014

The Sweetness of Friendship--Shrikhand or Yogurt Pudding

It's thali time again. The comforting aroma of everyday Indian food floods my senses. Unlocks endearing memories of convivial cooking with Mum. Of seemingly endless parade of meals in my grandma's house. These memories of celebrations are overwhelming, elongated sensory adventures into my past. They are a glorious walk down memory lane, accompanied by a large helping of freshly prepared food. The latter is almost always a given!

The business of preparing this feast is cathartic and comforting. Being transported by smell to my grandmother's house, my mums kitchen, is my guilty pleasure. Especially when we put together twelve and fifteen course meals, served in gloppy messes on bright green banana leaves. The extended family sat on the floor, legs crisscrossed, eagerly awaiting the many treats that followed in sequence. It was sweet and savory on one platter or rather a leaf! You HAD to finish whatever was portioned out to you, as this was food blessed by the gods. The joy of all that communal feasting has left me with a lifelong desire to cook thali-style meals.

Feast days are mandatory fasting ones where we starve for part of the day and gorge after sunset. Gudi Padva is one such festival. You welcome the new year and dust out evil spirits and of course pig out. This year close friends of twenty eight years join us. Keith and Colleen. Coll, as I affectionately call her, is the older sister of my imagination. Our friendship is one of trust and closeness, like a comfortable, well-worn sweater that keeps you warm. I met her twenty eight years ago when her daughters were tots in plaits and pretty frocks! It is at her house we took shelter. Not once, but through two storms. Our families are close, celebrating life moments over the years. It is a friendship and camaraderie to be treasured and bettered through happy times and sad, disaster and joy. 

Other friends comes to dinner too. Mary Lou and Roy join us to celebrate too. Another couple who open their hearts and house to us. We met Coll and Keith at their house all those years ago. Our children have grown up together, with  play dates, sleepover and vacations, making hilarious memories for us and them. We go back a long way, corkscrewing through the twisted path of life, the foundations of our friendship strong and steadfast. 

I know they will love the meal. I make it with love and care. I throw caution to the wind, using dollops of ghee, fried food, bold spices and lots and lots of sugar!

Serves 3 or 4

1 32oz container Yogurt
5 tablespoons Sugar
1/2 teaspoon Saffron
2 tablespoons Milk
Pinch of freshly grated Nutmeg
Pinch of Cardamon Powder
2 tablespoons chopped Pistachios (optional)
1 tablespoon sliced Almonds (optional)
1 tablespoon dried Rose Petals

Dampen a 24"x24" cheesecloth with water. Lay the cheesecloth over a sieve.

Empty the yogurt onto cheesecloth. Gather up the edges so the yogurt sits snugly in the center. Use a twist tie to close off the top. 

Hang the cheesecloth over the sink to let the whey drip. (I tie the cheesecloth ends to the faucet.) Alternately let the yogurt sit in the sieve with a heavy weight ( a couple of cans or bottles) pressing down on the cheesecloth.

Let the whey drip for 4 hours or let weighted yogurt sit for 3 to 4 hours. 

Heat milk in a microwave-proof bowl for 10 seconds. 

Crumble saffron into warm milk and let it steep for 1 hour.

Remove yogurt from cheesecloth and place in a large bowl.

Use a whisk to break up yogurt. 

Add sugar, saffron, nutmeg and cardamon powder. Use the whisk to blend yogurt till thick and smooth.

Scrape into a serving bowl and garnish with pistachios, almonds and rose petals.

Let the flavors develop in the fridge for at least 1 hour.

Serve cold with pooris.


I use full-fat unflavored yogurt. There is no substitute. 

Please note the absence of pistachios and almonds in the photograph as allergies abound in my house. Do add them as they taste delicious in the shrikhand.

Seven thalis abound with sumptuous delights. Going counter-clockwise, we start with chutney,roasted eggplant raita, keroli or sweet plantains stuffed with coconut, dal and rice, chawli bhaji, cauliflower peas bhaji, corn cucumber bhaji, sambhare or coconut curry, pumpkin and eggplant bhajias and ofcourse ...Shrikhand and poori.  Boarding-house reaches are the norm. Contended murmurings emanate from all sides of the table. Replete, we laugh, reminisce, and give thanks for all that is good in life. People come into our lives. These friends stay. For me the gift of friendship is the gift that keeps giving.