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Surul poli and badham kheer - a journey to find the missing piece of my puzzle

Passport & Plate - Surul poli and badham kheer

United Kingdom | Friday, 6 March 2015 | 4 photos

SURUL POLI INGREDIENTS: serves: 4-5 portions

- 1 cup - wheat flour
- 1/3 cup - lukewarm water (lukewarm)
- 1 1/2 litres - full cream milk
- 1/2 cup - sugar
- 2 tablespoons - ghee
- A pinch of salt
- Oil for frying
- A few strands of saffron
- 1/2 a teaspoon of freshly ground cardamom
- Rose petals and edible string for decoration

BADHAM KHEER INGREDIENTS: serves 4-5 portions

- 1 cup almonds
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 2 cups water – 2 cups
- 3 cups full cream milk
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground cardamom
- A few strands of saffron
- A pinch of freshly grated nutmeg


How to prepare this recipe
Surul poli:
1. Heat the milk in a heavy based pan. Once it reaches boiling point reduce the heat, and keep stirring until the milk thickens and condenses. Add the sugar and saffron. The milk should turn a creamy yellow colour. Add the freshly ground cardamom. Keep the milk hot on a very low flame.
2. Knead and prepare a soft dough by mixing flour, salt, ghee and water. Cover and set aside for 15-20 minutes at room temperature. Divide the dough into small lime-sized balls and roll them out into even round shapes - pooris.
3. Heat the oil in a pan and fry the pooris, one at a time, on a medium heat, until they turn golden brown. Gently remove the poori's and set aside on absorbent paper for a couple of minutes, then add the poori's to the hot milk. After a few minutes remove the pooris and transfer them to another dish; add a ladle of milk to each. Repeat the process until all the poori’s are in the milk. Remove the milk from the heat.
4. Leave the poori’s to soak overnight.
5. Just before serving, gently roll the poori's (they will be very soft) into cylinders and onto the edible string, and tie a bow. Warm up the left over sweet milk and drizzle it over the poori’s. Garnish with rose petals.
6. Serve the surul poli with a small cup of badham kheer.

Badam kheer
- Soak the almonds for 6 to 8 hours or overnight. Use your fingers to gently squeeze the almonds and remove the skin from them, blanching them.
- Blend the almonds to very fine and smooth paste, adding water gradually.
- Heat a heavy based pan and add the ground almond paste. Bring to boil and simmer on a low heat, while stirring, until all the water evaporates.
- Add the sugar gradually and stir until the sugar dissolves. Add the milk and bring to boil.
- Add the saffron, grated nutmeg and cardamom powder.
- Reduce heat and simmer for 10-15 minutes.
- Cool the badham kheer and it is ready to be served with the surul poli.

Enjoy your delicately flavoured South Indian sweet treat!


The story behind this recipe
Ever since my cousin found me as a baby immersed in a tub of ghee at our grandmothers house in Tanjore, having eaten my way through a boulder of jaggery, I knew that I had very special spot for all things sweet. This recipe is our family’s most prized heirloom, passed down from my great-great-grandmother and far beyond, with an almost sacred reverence.

Assembling the ingredients for surul poli and badham kheer is an adventure I’d look forward to from the moment I set off from Heathrow back to Tamil Nadu, lost in daydreams of accompanying my grandmother to the local market in Kumbakonam, where the piles of almonds would be taller than the men selling them. We’d soak them overnight underneath the ‘mitham’, a gateway to the stars in the courtyard, and I’d sit on her giant ‘oonjal’ (wooden swing), on the ‘thinnai’ (porch) and blanch them while she plaited my hair (no more oil, ammama, please!). I’d beg to be allowed to the farmland at the back to milk the cows and we’d slowly condense the fresh milk over the outdoor stone stove, as the giant banana tree leaves rustled above.

The swirling aromas of freshly ground cardamom and saffron would linger for days, especially after occasions like ‘Bogi Festival’, where teams of women would pound rice on one side and wheat on the other, in perfect rhythm, singing as they worked into the evening. I would duck and dive between them, using the pestle of the ‘ural’ as a microphone while sneaking lumps of sugar into my pocket.

This recipe is steeped in childhood nostalgia, and I can hear my grandmother explaining how the poori balls should be roughly the size of a lime every time I make the dough, and almost reach out and touch her as she carefully ladles the milk over each one. I can now carry on with the rest of my days safe in the knowledge that my ammamma’s surul poli and badham kheer has been served at one of our pop ups, and I know she would be proud to see all those empty plates, save for a few rose petals: my personal touch.

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