When planning any sort of dinner party one of the first questions I always ask myself is ... "What's for dessert?!"
There are a lots of wonderful Indian desserts to go with a variety of meals but when planning dessert for the Indian equivalent of our Thanksgiving, there are traditions and rules. Think pumpkin pie. What would Thanksgiving dinner be without pumpkin pie? Pongal meals very often finish with a sweet rice kheer or pudding, done with special pongal rice. But since I was already serving a big rice and dal main dish, I went looking for other suggestions. That's when vermicelli pudding was suggested to me.
Growing up in an Italian American household, vermicelli meant one thing. Tomato sauce, pasta and definitely not dessert. Even in my mom's wild, culinary imagination, she's never been willing to go that far. First I had to explain to Alan that he was going to be having pasta for dessert. Good thing he trusts me.
Actually, pasta for dessert is a great idea. Thread-thin vermicelli noodles in a sweet vanilla milk pudding spiced with cardamom and studded with butter-toasted raisins and cashews is perfect after any company meal whether you're serving Indian food or not.
Another great thing is that this is a dish that can made ahead and served either rewarmed a bit, at room temperature or chilled. Can't beat that. It also cooks in about 1 hour.
Here's what to do:
In a large pan or pot, heat 8 cups of milk.
Stir the milk as it heats and bring it to a boil.
Lower the heat to a simmer and keep stirring. There's a lot of stirring in this recipe, but it's worth it.
Simmer it down until it's reduced about 1/4 of it's volume.
Meanwhile heat 1/2 cup of unsalted butter in a skillet. When it's hot and melted, toss in:
2 Tbs of halved cashews
1 Tbs of raisins
When they're lightly browned, take them out and set them aside.
In the same butter, saute 1 cup of vermicelli broken into pieces of about 1 and 1/2 inches. Where to find this special dessert pasta? I get my vermicelli from the Indian market, but if you don't have an Indian food source near you, any fine, thin, dry vermicelli will work.
When it turns a dark reddish color, add it all to the milk mixture. Keep the milk boiling when you do this.
Cook it all together until the vermicelli is cooked through.
1/2 cup of sugar
4 crushed whole green cardamom pods
1/2 tsp of saffron
Stir it together well.
Take the raisins and cashews and garnish the pudding before serving it.
Serve it warm or cold.
This is a delicious twist on traditional rice pudding and what can you say about a recipe where the hardest part involves stirring?