I have a confession to make. Something that most of you will think is odd.
I like Indian desserts.
There, I’ve said it.
Still with me? Maybe you like Indian desserts too. Well, let me tell you, we’re in the minority. When I say ‘in the minority’, there are around 1 billion people who do like them but there are only 84 of us that live outside India. I’m not sure why they are treated with scorn and are the brunt of many jokes. They are fragrant, colourful and sweet. Tooth achingly sweet. Perhaps it’s the unusual shapes or the exotic ingredients but there’s just something that people don’t seem to like. It suits me because I can always have other people’s desserts if we go for a banquet. My favourite is Gulab Jamon, those spongy little balls of dough fried in ghee then soaked in a cardamon syrup but I also have a weakness to semolina halwa served warm, studded with fruit and nuts.
This month’s Random Recipe hosted by Belleau Kitchen is a back to basics challenge. Dom’s asked us to simply select a random recipe. I plucked out Nigella Lawson’s Feast from the lucky dip and the random number generator directed me to page 328 in the Curry Banquet section. The recipe: Sweet Scented Vermicelli. I was conflicted by my recipe choice. I was more than happy to make the dish and even happier that I had all of the ingredients in my pantry. Still, if I was going to be making this dish, perhaps I should have been referencing something more authentic like Madhur Jaffery. I confess the picture in Feast was not a patch on the beautifully bronzed and crisped version in my ‘A Taste of Zanzibar’ book. Still, Nigella was who I had randomly plucked out, so page 328 it was.
I should have used my noodle and gone with my gut instinct. Like many a Nigella recipe, she’s big of word flourishes and scant on detail. From the start I was suspicious. The picture, though in soft focus, did not not look particularly appetising. It also had a golden saffron hue. I checked the recipe twice and there was no saffron. Was this a famous Nigella errata? I fried those little blighters as instructed but they just would not brown. As a regular user of rice stick noodles (as they are known in Vietnamese cookery), I know a quick soak in a modest amount of boiling water softens the noodles.
So, I was dubious about the inclusion of 250ml of water and then a further 250ml of milk. The result? Far too much liquid. I suggest that the 250ml of water was completely unnecessary and if I’d just used the milk, the texture would have been much better. Then there’s the sugar. I have a very sweet tooth but even I knew that 200g of sugar was going too far. I added only 100g and found the dish still very, very sweet. Perhaps all that sugar was supposed to caramelise and turn the noodles a golden colour? Perhaps. The inclusion of a tablespoon of rosewater was also heavy handed. Having had experience with this flavouring, I reduced the quantity to half a teaspoon but even less would have sufficed. No instruction either on whether this should have been served warm or cold. I assumed warm and, after draining off the excess liquid, piled a small amount on a serving platter and scattered with the garnish. It should have looked like a golden tangle of noodles with festive adornment. It looked like a pile of limp white noodles with some nuts on top. Not mine or Nigella’s crowning moment. Next time I’ll just stick to Madhur or Charmaine Solomon if I need to make an Indian dessert.
- 15g ghee
- 75g raw cashew nuts
- 150g vermicelli (rice stick noodle)
- 250ml milk
- 2 cardamon pods
- 1/2 tsp rosewater
- 100g caster sugar (Nigella suggests 200g but read the note above)
- Heat ghee in a heavy pan and then fry cashews until lightly browned. Watch the cashews so they don’t burn. Remove from pan and set aside.
- Add vermicelli to the pan and fry over a low flame until the strands are golden brown.
- Add 250ml of water to the pan, cover with lid and bring to the boil for 5 minutes (or, skip this step completely – see note above)
- In another pan or a jug in the microwave, heat the milk, cardamon and rosewater until nearly boiling, then stir in sugar.
- Add milk mixture to vermicelli and simmer uncovered for around 5 minutes, then turn the heat off, clamp on a lid and let the noodles absorb the milk for 5 – 10 minutes.
- Serve in a decorative dish with nuts scattered over the top.