Indira’s Independence Day Parade precipitated this…this blog, I mean. And immediately I thought of this fragrant pulao that I haven’t made in a while. It is one of the few sweet dishes that we Kashmiris have. It is not an exaggeration when I say that you can count all of them on one finger, if you count like my husband.
And I thought why not showcase one of them (how exclusive is that!) to celebrate our day of Independence. It is sweet, and it has saffron as its primary colour, the top colour in our tiranga. When served at wedding wazwans it is always the first course – that should tell you something about its stature for a people who don’t care much for the sweet stuff! In old days, sugar must have been dear in a place connected to the rest of the subcontinent only by treacherous mountain roads. The pulao is, quaintly, always paired with a tangy north-Indian kind of achar (the Pachranga kind).
After a few anxious moments on seeing Archana’s entry (Whew! That was close!) I present to you the Modur Polav (sweet pulao) from Kashmir, the northern-most state of India, as my entry at Mahanandi, the very inspiring blog by Indira. In my search for Andhra food I stumbled on her blog some time back and …you surely know what happens to foodies in places like that?
This pulao uses saffron as one of the main spices, the most exclusive variety of which grows right here in Kashmir. This is an authentic recipe from my Mom. I can vouch that it comes out great every time I make it – which is as well – imagine the benchmarks I must have had to confront marrying into a Maharashtrian household! All them varieties of sweets and me with my ‘repertoire’ of all of three. But to tell the truth, I have needed just two of those to have family and friends raving about my dessert-making abilities!! Those have been two real Aces up my sleeve.
Modur Polav (Sweet Pulao)
4 C long grain Basmati rice
4 C sugar (additional 1 1/2 C if using non-Indian sugar)
1/2-3/4 C Ghee (depending how rich you like it)
whole cardamoms, cloves, black peppercorns, cinnamon, and bay leaves
1 t (heaped) saffron strands
1 C each: almonds (blanched and split), raisins, dry coconut slivers, and chuara (dried dates)
3/4 C mishri (crystal sugar) – optional
Pick over and wash the rice. Drain and keep aside. Boil water (about 16 cups) in a large pan. Add the rice. Bring to a rolling boil and let the rice cook till it is 3/4 done (about 5 minutes). Drain the rice and keep aside.
Meanwhile, soak the saffron in a few teaspoons of water or milk and grind in a pestle and mortar. This tiny one is solely for this purpose!
Heat ghee (between 1/2 cup to 1 cup; I used half a cup). Add all the spices except saffron. Let them sizzle for a bit. Add sugar, stir and add 1/2-3/4th cup of water. Bring to boil – there should now be a thick syrup.
Drop in the prepared dry fruits. It is easier to chop the dried dates if you soak them in water for half an hour. Give a stir and add the partially cooked rice. Carefully mix to incorporate the syrupy dry fruits. Add the saffron liquid, swirling with a spoon. If you would like the pulao to have an even colour, then add the saffron to the syrup before adding the rice. I like the varied tones of yellow and saffron in my pulao. Add the crystal sugar, if using. Cover and cook on low heat for 1 hr. Longer if you like a crispy layer at the bottom. Gently mix to separate the rice grains. Serve warm.
Difficulty level: beginner! But the impact level is definitely – advanced! Just be careful with the 3/4 cooking of rice – you should be fine if you follow the timing exactly.