Birthday cakes were not part of my childhood celebrations.
But don’t feel too sorry for me. For birthdays, and on other special occasions, my mother prepared a creamy cardamom-spiked pudding. This addictive dessert was the perfect ending to a spicy meal.
There are many variations of the pudding but the main ingredients are rice or vermicelli, milk, sugar, ghee, cashews, raisins and cardamom. A richer version of the pudding uses expensive saffron threads, pale green pistachio nuts and tiny currants.
My mother liked the simplest version and so that is my preference too.
She used Indian vermicelli that was super thin. The vermicelli was broken up into bite size pieces and then toasted in a little bit of ghee. The scent of toasting vermicelli always brings back memories of many birthday celebrations.
Indian cooking (and other types too!) is a multi-sensory experience. My late mother-in-law never used the timer when baking her famous apple pie. She knew by the aroma when it was done and she was never wrong! When you have an instinct for cooking this is easy but for those of us who tend to forget what’s on the stove or in the oven, a timer is essential.
Birthdays meant the scent of cashews frying in golden ghee. Celebrations were never complete without the pungent and heady scent of green cardamom pods being crushed.
My mother only added the smallest amount of raisins (perhaps they were expensive) but it didn’t matter; the finished pudding was always delicious.
We enjoyed our pudding at room temperature or even warm. But if you prefer your pudding cold, feel free to chill the mixture.
You can’t place candles in this pudding, but getting older will be a little easier when you taste a bite of this creamy soothing dessert.
4 1/2 cups whole milk
1 cup vermicelli (Indian is best, but Italian will work too), broken into bite size pieces
1 can condensed milk
4 tablespoons ghee
1 tablespoon raisins (you can add more if you want)
4 tablespoons whole or halved raw cashew pieces
4-6 cardamom pods, peeled and then crushed in a mortar and pestle
Bring milk to boil (TIP: Coat the pan with water before adding milk to keep from sticking). Let the milk simmer for about 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, heat 2 tablespoons of ghee in a large saucepan and roast the vermicelli until golden brown.
Add the vermicelli to the thickened milk and cook for 6-8 minutes (depending on the kind of vermicelli).
Once the vermicelli is tender, add the condensed milk. Keep stirring and cooking for an additional 2 or 3 minutes. Remove from heat. The pudding will thicken in the fridge and as it cools. If it is too thick add a few tablespoons of warm milk before serving.
In a small sauce pan heat the remaining ghee. Add the cashew pieces and sauté until a light brown, add raisins and keep stirring until everything is golden brown. In a few minutes the raisins should get nice and plump. The kitchen will be filled with a golden nutty aroma.
Remove sauce pan from heat, add crushed cardamom and stir. Add this mixture to the cooling pudding and stir thoroughly.
Enjoy warm or cold.
Warning: Birthday candles will sink! Serves 2-4 or sometimes just one!