Thursday, December 16, 2010

Karachi Food Diary Day 10-11 (Rice pudding, kheer)

December 16, 2010 Thursday- Day 10
Muharram 9th.. lots of majlises. Lunch was at home, deliberately light; kichri (light, fluffy rice and lentil dish), beef and potato cutlet and yogurt. There was also an interesting pasta dish. It seems the continental cuisine, or for that matter any other cuisine, is adapted in the most interesting way to the local desi palette. This dish was shell pasta with tomatoes, sliced green chillies, spring onion, cilantro and cheese (I believe cheddar) and, I suspect, a generous squish of tomato ketchup. Pasta was nice and soft; i know not the ideal, but tasty and satisfying in a very desi way.
Desi Pasta
A number of emotions well up at these majlises. It feels like there is a window opening up on itself. It is the palpable spirituality and I also credit my yoga practice that the overwhelming feelings I have are those of love and thankfulness; for being able to be in Karachi at this time, for those around me. Hisas at the two day gatherings was kheer; the most divine rice pudding in the world. Later that night went to my aunt's house for the final masjlis. Up till this point all the gatherings were, for the most part, for women. Tonight was mixed. It has been a family tradition dating back to my great-grandmother in the days immediately following India-Pakistan partition in 1947. The imambarah was glittering and even more divinely lit than ever. Various aunts and uncles took turns speaking and sharing their knowledge and experiences. The grand finale was the recitation of a beautiful lament written by my great-grandfather. After the evening ended, I did something that takes me back to my childhood; the centuries old candle-lighting ceremony. The philosophy behind it is to stay up the whole night and keep the memory alive of those who lost their lives the next day starting at dawn. This is done by visiting an odd number of imambarahs, lighting candles and singing laments. In the past we even went to as many as 9. However, keeping the time (we started at 11:30pm) and the security situation (this being Karachi, of course) in mind, we stuck to only 5. So, me, my mother, aunt and various cousins piled up in our cars and headed out. At one of the house, the men also joined in the lament and the result was powerful, harmonious and beautiful. Got home at 4:30am and fell asleep immediately.

December 17, 2010 Friday- Day 11
The 10th day. Most people observe a faqa on this day, i.e., refraining from eating and drinking water till about 4pm. At about that time, we went to a family friend's place where the necessary preparations and prayers were done. The food was delicious; rice, daal, saag (spinach), haleem (slow cooked lentil and meat dish) and baghare baingan (sauteed eggplant). It was lovely.
This rice pudding dessert is a favorite for all festive occasions. It is full of milky, nutty goodness. The most delicious kheer is the slowest-cooked one when the color changes from milky to a deep almond white. Rinse 1/4 cup short grain rice in a couple of changes of water. In a preheated heavy dish, add 1 tsp. butter and lightly sauteed the rice for a couple of minutes. Now add 4 cups of whole milk, turn heat to medium and bring to a slow, roiling boil. Once a boil has been reached, reduce heat to low and leave to cook for about 2-3 hours to achieve the creamy consistency. It is very important to keep stirring regularly during this period to prevent the pudding from sticking. As you see it thicken, add in 1/4 cup sugar, crushed seeds of 5-6 cardamom pods, 1/4 cup thinly sliced almonds and pistachios (reserve another 1/4 cup to serve as garnish), a pinch of saffron strands. Stir in all these ingredients for another 5 minutes. Take off heat and allow to cool. Taste to adjust sugar if necessary and garnish the dish with more almonds and pistachios slivers. Traditionally, individual dessert servings were allowed to cool and set in earthenware dishes. If you like to can do the same by scooping into individual ceramic or glass dessert bowls, garnishing and allowing them to cool in the fridge. Serves 4.

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