Happy Holi! Today is the festival of Holi, a riotous celebration of bonfires and colored powders thrown into the air! It’s a festival to celebrate good triumphing over evil and the rebirth that comes with spring. Almost every Hindu festival has traditional foods meant to celebrate the happy time and Holi is no exception. Different households and different regions celebrate Holi with different treats. My dad’s side of the family celebrates Holi with a delicious cool treat of super thick and creamy yogurt that’s delicately sweet and flavored with cardamom and saffron. This yogurt is eaten with super rich cream of wheat flatbreads, almost as though the crisps are crackers and the yogurt is a dip. The crisps are kneaded with plentiful ghee and then fried in ghee and almost taste like pie crust! The slight tartness of the yogurt perfectly balances the richness of the puris for a wonderful, cool, rich dessert.
The yogurt is known as shrikhand in Gujarati. You start out with full fat yogurt, I used cream top full fat yogurt for a bit of extra richness, and wrap it up in cheesecloth for at least 24 hours to thicken it and force the whey to separate. This is basically the process by which greek yogurt is made. You could certainly just use greek yogurt, but the goal is to make the yogurt a bit thicker than your average greek yogurt. I recommend putting a weight on top of the wrapped yogurt to force even more whey out. After the 24 hours have passed, add some saffron that has been bloomed in warm milk along with sugar, cardamom, slivered almonds, and pistachios and stir well. That’s all it takes to have this wonderful treat!
The puri are a bit more involved, but worth it for their rich butteriness. Mix together all purpose flour and cream of wheat with a good amount of melted ghee. Knead together with a small amount of water. the dough should be quite stiff, almost like pie crust. There is no need to worry about overworking the dough. After that, make small 1 inch diameter balls and roll them out to about 2mm of thickness. They don’t have to be perfect circles! Make a small indent in the middle. This is done to prevent the whole puri from puffing up. Then they are fried in ghee. Make sure the ghee is warm enough, but not too hot. You want the puris to turn slightly golden but no where close to brown. I find the easiest way to do this is to throw a tiny nubbin of the dough into the ghee. If it starts to bubble but not brown, it’s ready. Not only is there a good amount of ghee in the dough, they are fried in ghee! All this makes a deliciously rich flatbread that goes perfectly with the sweetness from the shrikhand. The puris are buttery and flaky and will separate into layers when they are fried. They are totally wonderful and completely delicious.
Hinduism is full of rich mythology and many of these stories contain moral fables. The story of Holi is based on the fourth avatar, or incarnation, of Vishnu, one of the main gods in Hinduism. One version of the story goes that a demon king named Hiranyakashipu held a tyrannical reign over the world. Hiranyakashipu had been granted near immortality after worshipping Brahma. He would be unable to die at the hands of a man or a beast, inside or outside of a structure, during the day or at night, nor on the ground or in the air, or by a weapon. Due to his hubris, he forced all of the inhabitants in all of the kingdoms to give up their gods and religions and worship him exclusively. He had a son named Prahalad who refused to do so and remained steadfast in his devotion to Vishnu. The evil king was so incensed by this that he tried over and over to kill Prahalad, but Vishnu always came to his rescue. Eventually, he asked his sister, who had a magical cloak that could withstand fire, to take Prahalad into a massive bonfire so that he would be burned alive. She brought him into the fire but had a change of heart and removed the cloak from her shoulders and draped it over Prahalad so that he could be saved. Hiranyakashipu was outraged and started to attack Prahalad at which point Vishnu burst out of a pillar in the form of half man-half lion, Narasimha, and dragged Hiranyakashipu to the threshold of the palace, lifted him onto his lap, and eviscerated him. As it was dusk at the time of this fight, all conditions for Hiranyakashipu’s death were met and he perished, but not without repenting his hubris. One of the reasons for the bonfire is to celebrate the triumph of good over evil with Prahalad’s aunt’s sacrifice. Her name was Holika, which is where the name of the festival comes from. Over time, the festival has come to be associated with the renewal of spring and the changing of the seasons. The only time I ever got to celebrate Holi in India was when I was 2 years old. I hope to go back to celebrate in full force sometime soon. In the meantime, I get to eat the delicious treats that this festival brings with it. I hope you make them too to celebrate the goodness in all people and the joy and renewal that spring brings with it!
Saffron and Cardamom Yogurt with Cream of Wheat Crisps ~ Shrikhand ane Safed Puri
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Celebrate the spring festival of Holi with deliciously sweet and thick saffron and cardamom yogurt and cream of wheat crisps. Happy Holi!
- For the Yogurt
- 1 qt full fat yogurt
- 100 g (1/2 cup) granulated sugar
- 2 tsp milk, warmed
- 1 pinch saffron
- 1/2 tsp cardamom seeds
- 1 1/2 Tbsp slivered unsalted almonds, plus more for garnish
- 1 1/2 Tbsp slivered unsalted pistachios, plus more for garnish
- For the crisps:
- 70 g (1/2 cup) all purpose flour
- 30 g (3 Tbsp) ravo (a.k.a soji or cream of wheat)
- 30 g (2 Tbsp) ghee, melted and cooled
- 25 mL (1 Tbsp + 2 tsp) warm water
- 1/2 cup or more ghee to fry, depending on size of frying vessel
- For the yogurt:
- Place a strainer in a large bowl. Layer in several layers of cheesecloth. Carefully pour the yogurt into the cheesecloth and tie the ends together. Place a bowl over and put a can or two in it to weigh it down. Place in the fridge to drain for at least 24 hours.
- After 24 hours, the yogurt should be very thick and there should be about 2 cups of whey that have separate from the yogurt. Gentle squeeze the yogurt to squeeze out any additional whey and transfer into a large bowl.
- Mix the saffron together with the warm milk and allow to bloom for a few minutes. Gently crush the cardamom with a mortar and pestle by hitting it one or two times. Add the sugar to the yogurt and stir vigorously to combine thoroughly. Add the saffron and milk, cardamom, almonds, and pistachios and stir well.
- Garnish with additional pistachios and almonds.
- For the crisps:
- Mix together the all purpose flour and ravo. Pour in the ghee and mix well. Add the warm water and knead until a stiff ball is formed. Roll out individual 1 inch balls. Using a thin rolling pin, roll to 2 mm thickness. Using your thumb or the end of a wooden spoon, create a small indent in the center of the puri. Repeat with remaining balls of dough.
- Heat an adequate amount of ghee in a small pan suitable for frying to 360-375F. If you don't have a fry safe thermometer, test using a tiny piece of dough. It should bubble immediately, but not brown. Fry the puris two at a time for about 1 minute per side, or until slightly golden and puffed. Cool on a wire rack set over paper towels.
- Serve with the shrikhand and enjoy immensely!
You are supposed to dip the puris in the yogurt. There is no salt in the puris when they are eaten with the shrikhand. If you'd like to use them as a snack or to eat with other things, add two generous pinches of salt.
You can streamline the shrikhand by starting with greek yogurt, but it should still be strained for at least 8 hours to thicken further. Your yield of yogurt will be higher, so either increase the other ingredients or start with about 2/3 as much yogurt.