Monday, June 30, 2008

Rava Kesari/Sooji Halwa (Indian Cream of Wheat Halwa/Pudding With Cashews and Raisins)

For my 100th post I wanted something special. I cannot imagine anything that could be better than Rava Kesari or Halwa, one of the simplest though a most favorite of Halwas, which is often made as a divine offering on many auspicious religious occasions all over India as well as at special breakfasts and teas. It is also a quick dessert to make along with the other emergency cream of wheat dish, Upma, when unannounced guests arrive as the ingredients for making them are common staples readily available in most homes.

This lovely sweet dish probably got the name of 'Kesari' because it is foremost or 'a lion' among sweets (kesari's Sanskrit meanings). It is probably unlikely that 'kesar', a Hindi word for saffron, contributed to its name since Hindi was not a very well-known language in the south until the modern era. Although it is generally known as Kesari in South India, in other states, Northern and Southern, it may be called Kesari Bhath, Seera, Sheera, Suji Halwa, or simply Halwa.

Kesari (also known as Sojji in the state of Tamil Nadu) is customary at the "girl-seeing" ceremonies along with Bajjis (veggie fritters) in South India when a young man and his family visit a prospective bride and her family for the first time. The popular Sojji-Bajji theme with its endless possibilities for mischief lends itself to a lot of hilarity in many Tamil movies.

Here is the basic traditional recipe for this wonderful dish though there are many variations - sometimes whole wheat/another flour is used instead of cream of wheat, milk in place of some or all of the water, etc. Although at our home it is made simply - most of our family members are purists :-), other recipes include mashed ripe bananas, crushed or finely chopped pineapple or mango, etc. The fruit is added towards the end of cooking and cooked for a few minutes until well incorporated. Toasted Almonds and/or Pistachios may be added or used to decorate also.

Serve Kesari hot or warm - the wonderful aromas are best enjoyed while warm; it is truly an olfactory as well as a gustatory delight. Cold numbs it and just doesn't do justice to all the fragrant ingredients. When I make kesari, usually it doesn't stick around to get cold :)!

Rava or Suji are the Indian names for cream of wheat; cream of wheat as well as all the other ingredients are readily available in Indian markets.


2 cups Cream of Wheat (Suji, Rava)
1 cup Ghee or Unsalted Butter
2 1/2 cups Sugar
1 pinch Saffron threads
7 pods Cardamoms
1/4 to 1/2 cup raw Cashew pieces
1/2 cup seedless Raisins
21/2 to 3 Cups Water


Roast the cream of wheat using some of the ghee until golden brown and fragrant in a skillet - constant stirring is essential to prevent burning. Alternately dry roast (without any ghee) the cream of wheat in the oven by spreading in a large pan or rimmed cookie sheet at 350 degrees F until golden stirring once or twice. You can use it right away or let cool and store in an airtight container; this step may be done ahead.

Crush the cardamom pods slightly to remove the dark seeds inside; discard the pods. Crush the seeds and the saffron threads with a teaspoon of sugar (the sugar helps to grind the seeds and saffron) to a fine powder and set aside in an airtight container until needed. This is best done just before making the kesari to prevent the fragrant volatile oils from evaporating.

Sauté the cashews in a little of the ghee in a small pan until golden; stir in the raisins and sauté until puffed. Set aside to stir into or decorate the kesari.

Heat the water in a kettle/pot and keep ready.

Melt the ghee/butter in a large heavy bottomed pot, stir in the cream of wheat, and mix well.

Pour the hot water slowly into the cream of wheat while stirring constantly - if you use the lesser amount of water, the kesari will be fluffy; the larger amount of water will produce a softer one. 

Stir in the sugar, cover, and cook over low heat until the water is absorbed - about 15 minutes or so.

Uncover and cook over medium heat stirring vigorously for a few more minutes until the kesari is no longer sticky and leaves the sides of the pot. Remove from heat.

Sprinkle the ground cardamoms-saffron, mix well, cover, and let rest for 15 minutes.

Stir in the roasted cashews and raisins if desired or save them for decorating individual servings.

Now you have the choice to serve the kesari as a cake cut in pieces or in soft scoops.

If you decide to dish out the kesari simply in soft scoops, just leave covered in the pot until ready to serve.

If you decide to serve the kesari in pieces, spread all of the hot kesari in a 9" by 13" pan (buttered with ghee) and firmly smooth the top. Cool slightly and cut into desired shapes and sizes.

Kesari can be made ahead of time and reheated just before serving.

Enjoy Kesari for Happy July!!


Anonymous said...

I have tasted the results of this recipe for years and I can vouch for its all-satisfying result. In my mind it qualifies for the title 'The King of Desserts'. For me, it is always associated with a spiritual event honoring a saint of India and therefore it has a deep spiritually satisfying experience.

Bravo, Kesari Lovers...Go for this one and you will not be disappointed.

Secret Kesari Lover

Andrea Frazer said...

I miss you! I bet you are traveling now, coming up with all sorts of dishes before the school year starts.

I wonder what could make this delicious treat gluten free? Or is that just not an option as the key ingredient is cream of WHEAT. It might be like asking "Hmmm... how to go swimming without the water?"

Do tell when you have time. Miss you.

Geetha said...

Hi Mama P: I am back. Missed you too.
You can make this dish gluten-free - just substitute coarse cornmeal for the cream of wheat. Haven't actually tried it myself with Kesari; but Upma is great with cornmeal - so I figure, why not Kesari? I am going to try it myself and check it out :).

Anonymous said...

Geetha - thanks for this wonderful recipe!!! it turned out really yummy :))...xoxoxo - Rudri

Geetha said...

Dear Rudri, I am so glad this worked out well for you. Thank you for letting me know. Happy cooking!

BeeKay said...

Hi Geetha. Kesari the sweet is a favourite Niveidhyam -Prasaadh Offering to both Shiridi Sai Baba & Sathya Sai Baba; known only to few.

Kesari has lot more significance to Ambal.

Regards. Beekay

Geetha said...

Thank you for your comments, BeeKay! Kesari or Halwa has a great significance to many communities - in the North also it is customary for various religious occasions. Happy cooking!