Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Payasam, The Sweet South Indian Dessert. And It's Gluten Free.

   I've been having a lot of fun lately exploring some of the new products that Whole Foods sent my way. It seems that every year there are new trends in foods just the same as there are in hair, clothes, and make up. Smoking, fermenting, gluten free, and a host of other stuff I haven't yet gotten around to are the things that are looming for 2015. At least, that's what I hear.

I've smoked vegetables in hay...

...and served them with a seaweed pesto.

I've pickled and fermented...

...and yet, every year there are still more frontiers to be crossed.

   Every year I intend to get to the Winter Fancy Food Show in San Francisco, and somehow something always seems to interfere. Two years ago it was a storm that made travel difficult, last year I had the flu, and this year the Golden Gate Bridge was closed to re-do the middle barrier the very weekend I'd planned on going. So once again I missed a bunch of the fun. But when I got the offer to try some new goodies from Whole Foods Market it was like my own little mini fancy food show.

   I have to say, that I have a lot of weird stuff  (by conventional standards) in my pantry normally. It's a habit I got into when I was a kid growing up in San Francisco in a working class household where money was super tight. Food was not something one helped oneself to without permission. Hearing Alan's stories about just getting anything he wanted out of the fridge at any time he wanted blew my mind. I did not grow up in Westport Connecticut and anything in the pantry that had a piece or slice missing was going to be the subject of a lot of rigorous questioning. Think Bengazhi, only about peanut butter.

   So I devised a way of getting around the problem. I took my pocket money from neighborhood jobs like sweeping up the hair in the local beauty salon and baby sitting and took myself all over San Francisco where I would shop at any ethnic neighborhood market. I cultivated a taste for stuff that the rest of the family wasn't interested in. Stuff that was tasty and inexpensive. Stuff that I could stash in the pantry and be assured it  would not be touched by anyone but me. I cultivated  tastes that went beyond peanut butter and jelly, and once I started cooking, the world opened up. Sometimes things are exotic, but sometimes even the simplest things make a big difference, which brings me to Payasam.

   Payasam is a fabulous South Asian dessert that goes by many names. Kheer, Payesh, Khir, Payasa. It's enjoyed all over the sub-continent by every ethnic and religious group. It's a versatile dish, as it can be made with dairy, or vegan, with coconut milk, sweet with sugar or jaggery, and filled with nuts, raisins, dried fruit, saffron, semolina, vermicelli, dal or rice, nobody doesn't like Payasam. A lot of Westerners know it as a thick and delicious Indian rice pudding. I've made a lot of kheer/payasam of various types.

With dal...

With coconut milk...

With shredded bottle gourd...

With fruit and rice...

All of them were delicious. But one thing I never equated with payasam was quick and easy. In fact my kheer recipe is in Paula Wolfert's Mediterranean Clay Pot Cooking. It's based on a Northern Italian Budino and it takes a while to say the least. So, when it comes to payasam, fast and easy makes for a great dessert. Since even though no one at our house is gluten intolerant a great many friends are, which was why I was so happy to get a carton of Maninis Gluten Free Pasta.

This made for a perfect South Indian style Vermicelli Payasam that was also Gluten Free!

South Indian Vermicelli Payasam

Here's What You Need:
1 cup of Maninis fresh gluten free spaghetti
2 and 1/2 cups of milk
3 Tbs of sugar
1 Tbs sweetened condensed milk
1 pinch of ground cardamom
2 Tbs of cashew pieces
1 pinch of saffron
2 Tbs chopped fresh pistachios
1 tsp ghee, unsalted  butter or coconut oil

Here's What To Do:
Melt 1 tsp ghee butter in a small saucepan.

Add in the cashew pieces and toast them gently.

When they're nice and golden set them aside.
Pour 2 and 1/2 cups of milk into a pot or pan.

Add in 3 Tbs of sugar and stir it together well.

Bring the milk and sugar mixture to a boil.

Add in 1 cup of pasta.

Stir everything around and let the pasta cook. Fresh pasta takes only a few minutes. You want your pasta soft but not falling apart mushy.  
When the pasta has softened add in 1 Tbs sweetened condensed milk...

...and 1 pinch of ground cardamom.

Stir things up until the mixture starts to  thicken a bit and then add the  cashews.

Take the pan off the heat and let it cool a bit.
The payasam will thicken in the fridge as it sits for a few hours.
Ladle it into serving dishes or bowls.
Sprinkle the top with a bit of crumbled saffron and finely chopped pistachio and serve it up!

   I love this dessert, it's sweet but not too sweet and the milk and spices gives it a lovely, fragrant flavor. As for the pasta, if you've never had a vermicelli pudding before, try it, you'll like it. Also unlike a lot of payasams, this makes up very quickly and is ready to eat after just a couple of hours in the fridge.This recipe makes 4 or 5 generous servings. Coming up next, I seem to be on a dessert kick and I'm on the fast track to a vegan chocolate mousse. Follow along on Twitter @kathygori

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