Gulabi Mawa Payesh

Rose flavored Solidified Milk and Rice Pudding

Rice Pudding is an ambrosial Indian dessert be it known as Kheer in the north or Payasam in the south, better yet Payesh in the east. Sure to be made on festivals and birthdays or for any celebrations big and small, it certainly takes the sweet spot as one of my favorite milk based Indian desserts.
Payasam is not quite a novelty to anyone from the urban middle class of South India. This pudding too by that definition is somewhat similar. It has rice and it has milk. The distinction of it lies in the elite choice of ingredients that set it apart from the rest.

{Mawa Payash Ingredients on a tray; any guesses? last one is rose-water with petals to identify}

After the making of Mawa Gujiya, a considerable amount of Mawa leftovers lay in my refrigerator begging to be used up by the best before date. Attaya (my mom in law) who’s visiting us and is a versatile cook herself proposed this pudding idea. The recipe instantly appealed to me for three reasons:
  • mawa – use of mawa in a rice pudding sounded quite nifty
  • rose-water /essence – not many South Indian sweet desserts that I have learnt or grown up eating call for it
  • aromatic rice – though there are umpteen types of rice puddings down south, all of them call for short grain rice (say like sona masoori or similar local rice)
I wish I could find a better translation for Mawa. Even wiki couldn’t find me a better choice. Solidified milk neither sounds as cute nor represents the richness that ‘Mawa’ does. Even then, I am forced to stick to it for the lack of a better word.
What is Mawa? Good question.
Mawa is the end product of slow cooking or simmering whole milk until it loses most of its moisture resulting in a semi solid mass. And yes, nothing less than whole milk will do. It is not that Mawa cannot be made from non fat milk, but Mawa isn’t Mawa minus the fat. Something like say what is cream without the fat, right?
There are many versions of Mawa based on the amount of residual moisture and the texture of the end product. Beyond that is a little out of scope here, if you are curious, wiki will tell you more.
Now that you know what I meant it to be, just call it Mawa or at least Khova; see they rhyme too…

Payesh as I have learnt is a Bengali rice pudding. Technically speaking, I’ve never once set foot on the Bengali soil, so how am I better equipped to talk about it? Not quite. All credits must go to Attayya who in fact has traveled far and wide as well as lived in many parts of the Indian subcontinent and as she did, one thing she never missed was adding distinct recipes from the local food culture to her repertoire. And me? I just got lucky to be part of this chain.

Authentic or not, this recipe is for keepers. The only thing I’d like to see different next time probably is jaggery in place of sugar.

If you ask me how it is? It tastes exactly like how any good rice pudding should, a tiny bit chewy, a whole lot creamy and luscious all the way. The aroma of rose-water and the flavor and nuttiness of pistachios is perfect. Substitute it with almonds or cashews or anything else and it won’t quite cut it.

Pure rose-water smells heavenly and lends itself beautifully to everything that it comes in contact with, making it simply delicious. That of Mawa Payesh is no different story.

The best food memories are from the growing up years, in my opinion. For the lack of such an association with Mawa Payesh (I’ve just been introduced to it a few weeks back) let me ask you this, if you’ve grown up relishing this pudding or anything similar, what fond memories does it bring back for you?

Gulabi Mawa Payesh Recipe

Printable Recipe
Things you’ll need:
  • 1-1/2 tbsp basmati rice or any aromatic rice (I used Kohinoor white basmati)
  • 1-2 tsp ghee
  • 1/2 cup milk (I used non fat)
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/2 cup crumbled mawa / khova (I used frozen mawa)
  • 4 tsp cane sugar
  • 4-5 strands saffron
  • 1 tsp 100% natural edible rose-water or pure rose essence*
for garnish
  • pistachios
  • banana slices ~ optional

How it’s done:

Wash basmati rice until the water runs clear. Strain well and keep aside for 30 mins.
In the meanwhile, if using frozen mawa thaw by letting it sit on the counter until it can be handled, then crumble with your fingers and set aside.
Heat ghee in a heavy bottomed pot over medium heat. When ghee is hot enough or fragrant, add the strained rice and sauté until rice appears translucent or about 5 mins. Add milk and water to rice and bring it to a boil. Crush saffron strands between your finger tips and into the pot. Stop for a minute and savor the sweet aroma of the saffron residue on your finger tips, this is the part I love most, of cooking with saffron.
Now simmer covered until rice is soft and well cooked but not mushy or about 15-20 mins. Stir intermittently to prevent Payesh from sticking to the bottom of the pot, getting burnt or boiling over.
Mix in crumbled mawa and stir well to combine. Add sugar and stir until dissolved. Do not cook any longer once sugar has been added or you’ll risk rice turning rubbery. Take the pot off heat and cool to room temperature. Finish by stirring in the rose essence and refrigerate for at least 2 hours before serving.
Serve chilled in a small clear glass with banana slices (optional) and/or slivered or crushed pistachios on top.
Don’t
Add rose-water to hot payesh or the rose aroma evaporates due to the heat.
Skip setting the strained rice aside for 30 mins. It is essential for the basmati rice to cook well.

Note

Add sugar only after rice is thorougly cooked.
Mawa can be either store-bought or home-made. Though making Mawa at home is a tedious affair, that home-made taste is often compromised in the store-bought ones. If you have the time and patience, go for it. Here are some super easy ways to make your own using evaporated milk and dry milk powder.
Mawa is usually available in world food markets or Indian grocery stores in frozen form.
Add only just enough saffron as mentioned to add a touch of color to Payesh so that saffron aroma stays from clashing with that of rose.
If using rose essence, add a few drops and check first and adjust accordingly. Do not add all at once as essence is much stronger than rose-water. Pure rose-water is simply the distilled water of roses.
I have used CORTAS rose-water with ingredients listed as only distilled rose-water.
 Rose essence however almost always comes with some kind of alcohol along with the rose oil.
As mawa is rich by itself, I have used non-fat milk. However, go for 2% milk or even whole milk if you are looking for a richer and creamier Payesh.
If you want to make this recipe healthier, substituting white basmati with brown basmati rice would be a good start.
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Rave Unde | Rava Laddoo

Saffron and Cardamom flavored Sweet Semolina Balls

[ruh way ; oohn day] (kannada)
Simple – check; Easy to make – check; Tasty – check.
In comparison to all other traditional South Indian sweets, this one is distinct – in its simplicity, ease of preparation as well as minimal active cooking required.
There couldn’t be a sweet more humble than Rave Unde. Let’s just say it is.

And because it involves shaping dough like mix into balls, it makes a perfect no-fuss preparation to involve your little budding chef(s) in the kitchen as your assistant. It’ll be fun, I promise!
I normally don’t make open promises like I just did. Not that I can’t keep them, but let’s just say I don’t. I just go about doing things. Anyway, there’s a reason I said that for.
The few times I remember distinctly when Rave Unde was sure to be made at home was during Gokulashtami (festival celebrating Lord Sri Krishna’s birth). To us, this was a festival of gastronomical proportions where sweets and savouries of at least twenty varieties were lined up as an offering to the Lord. And, a huge joint family meant that any help from all members of the house, irrespective of age, however small the contribution, was greatly appreciated. Now comes the fun part. And when Rave Unde was to be made, the main cook (my aunt) and her associates (her younger sisters) would be less interested in ‘menial’ jobs like shaping the dough mix into balls. That is where we (my brothers too) would happily pitch in and feel proud to have been part of the festival kitchen conundrum.
Those are a few of my most cherished kitchen memories from childhood. Now, you get my promise?

If you can keep this between us, let me tell you something. If I can count one sweet food I hated the most, growing up, it wouldn’t be any other than Rave Unde. I know, right?
But, times have changed and so have I. To be honest, I have surprised myself by my increased liking for it and more so, the number of times I have made it more than I expected.
I could never think of eating Rave Unde plain i.e. without the fruit and nut garnish
psst: I ate Rave Unde as a child only for the cashews and raisins in them!. So, those are indispensable, if I must say.

 Cardamom and Saffron are such classic eastern flavors. Saffron lends the faint sunshine yellow color to Rave Unde along with its mellow floral aroma.
Every time I crush saffron between my finger tips, however caught up I am in the recipe, I pause for a few seconds (if not for minutes) to smell its pleasantly out of the world aroma – it feels as if I am smelling a beautiful golden red sunset!
Skip if you must, but what is a sweet with its aroma and hue stripped?
 Totally out of context, yet it will be a shame if I don’t say a word about them. Those little dainty blue flowers my friend, are none other than the Texas Blue Bonnets. They are pretty big a deal here in Texas.
In a slightly broader sense, Blue Bonnets : Texas :: Cherry Blossoms : New York

April showers are expected to bring blue bonnets (not may flowers) here. Though this April saw a drought instead of the showers, we were lucky to spot a whole field full of them. Pretty pretty, aren’t they?


 I never met a Rave Unde that did not like raisins and cashews. This fruit and nut couple is a marriage made in heaven. Wherever they go as a couple, they are sure to transform anything they come in contact with. Need I say anything different for Rave Unde?
That is my little girl’s hand trying to grab a cashew in between photo shoots. Just couldn’t keep from posting here.
 If you never ate Rave Unde once, there’s absolutely no harm in trying it.
Assuming you are familiar with it, what kind of nostalgic childhood memories do you associate with Rave Unde?

Rave Unde | Rava Laddoo Recipe

Printable Recipe
Things you’ll need:
  • 1 cup chiroti* rava / fine semolina / fine sooji
  • 1 cup powdered/confectioner’s sugar
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 2-3 tbsp fresh/frozen grated coconut
  • 2 tbsp ghee
  • 8-10 cashews, broken into small bits
  • 1 tbsp golden raisins or more
  • 5-6 strands saffron
  • 3-4 cardamom pods, freshly ground
Prep work:
Keep the cashew bits about half the size of a raisin. I use kitchen scissors or a traditional Indian nut cracker for this job.
Wash and pat dry golden raisins. If not for the dirt, it makes them softer for the semolina balls to hold them well without dropping out.
A mortar and pestle brings out the best freshly ground cardamom. The one I have is of marble and I bank on it for all such small grinding work.
If using frozen coconut, thaw in the microwave for 10-20 secs or let sit on the counter for 30 mins before use.

How it’s done:

If milk is not pasteurized, bring it to a boil else heat milk until just steaming either on a stove top or in a microwave. Crush the strands of saffron between your finger tips into the milk, cover and let sit to infuse.
Heat ghee in a heavy bottomed pan or kadai on medium-high heat. Do not let the ghee smoke at any point. When ghee is hot enough or shimmering, add broken cashew bits and fry until just golden brown. Strain and keep aside. To the same hot ghee, add fine semolina and roast on medium heat until fragrant and golden brown. Remove into a large mixing bowl. Even though it might seem like forever, try not to increase the heat higher or owing to its fine grade, rava/sooji will get burnt.
To the same kadai, add freshly grated coconut and roast until fragrant and all the moisture is gone. Remove on to the roasted rava.
Add washed golden raisins, fried cashew bits, ground cardamom, powdered sugar and give a good stir to mix all the dry ingredients well. Spoon some of this dry mix onto the bowl or plate of fried cashews and scoop away any residual ghee. There’s no place for wastage in an Indian kitchen!
Now for the main part, divide the dry mix into two sections. Make a small well in one part of the mix and add milk a tbsp at a time mixing fast simultaneously until you can just mold into a ball with your fingers and cupped palm. Too much milk and you’ll find it is very easy to mold, but when cooled Rave Unde will turn out to be rock solid and hard to bite as you can imagine.

The right consistency is when it can hold its shape but crumbles on pressure. If you get this right, Rave unde should melt in the mouth and then you’ll get to bite on the fried cashews and soft golden raisins.

To make a perfect round ball, first cup in your palm, roll and move with your fingers while applying pressure within the cupped palm until it appears round enough. Arrange all the balls on a plate and let cool.

Store in an airtight container when cooled and consume within 3-4 days.

Don’ts

Do not mix all the milk at one time, just go with one tbsp at a time.
Do not substitute ghee with oil preferably. The sweet nutty flavor of ghee is a must addition to the taste of Rave Unde.
Avoid using granulated sugar as it will not blend with sooji/rava as well as powdered sugar.
Note
If you do not have / have run out of confectioner’s sugar, just run regular granulated sugar in a blender until super fine
Cardamom is best when freshly ground. Avoid buying ground cardamom from the store, as it loses its fragrance on the shelf rather quickly.
To skip stove top rava roasting, instead microwave rava/sooji spread on a microwave safe plate for 2-3 mins in 3o sec intervals, stirring in between intervals.
Though people do make it even with Upma rava/sooji which is a thicker grade of rava, I prefer to make it only with fine rava for its melt in the mouth texture.
Desiccated coconut is a good alternative to fresh grated coconut, if not available.

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