Recipe: Pistachio Son'desh
of sweet dreams and food-allergy nightmares (!)
It is no secret that I have a sweet tooth.
I visibly swoon at the sight of a traditional Indian sweet shop – and unashamedly salivate over their giant trays of decadence and large vats of succulent treats. The many varieties of gulab jamuns, jalebi, boondi laddu… they invade my dreams. Seriously.
But these treats also give me nightmares. Sadly, I can only look but not eat anything from the traditional Indian sweet shop or a regular cup-cake shop. And neither can my daughter.
In our household, we have a few, but very unusual food allergies. We are allergic to desserts with aged sugar and processed milk (dried milk, condensed milk, milk powder etc). And just like our allergy for all things related to fresh jalapenos and peppers, this allergy too is a genetic tick. So, we don't eat anything made with day-old sugar syrup, aged jaggery, molasses, corn syrup (yuck), sweetened condensed milk, white chocolate (for its powdered milk and its sugar), cheesecake varieties, 90% of the brands of store bought ice-cream, certain brands of milk (go figure), marshmallows, and certain kinds of cheeses. I feel like a Kings' 'food tester'.
These allergies eliminate more than 70% of store-bought dessert-type treats. Our biggest challenge is the holiday time because sweets are unavoidable. All versions of cheap sugar trigger our food allergies, only controlled by strong antibiotics that I am sadly, now I immune to. Therefore, we have to be extra careful.
This is a blessing in disguise. We are conscious about everything we eat - and in the process are eating cleaner than ever before! No processed foods enter our home unless I know we can eat it. I don’t hesitate to toss something if we can’t.
And, the other saving grace is: if the dish is home-made, with ‘from scratch’ ingredients, without using any ingredients we are allergic to – we are ok.
Rather than lament the loss of desserts, I manage our food allergies by making plenty of our favorite Indian desserts, from scratch. Happy dances ensue and we start cooking. We consume it in a short span of time, it is not difficult at all.
Here is a recipe for one of my favorite ‘sweet-dreams inducing’ desserts, typically found in a sweet-shop: Son’desh. It is a traditional dessert from the West Bengal region, coveted for its creamy simplicity and relished for its unforgettable flavors.
I first eaten this a child, an uncle got me addicted to it and I have searched high and low ever since, for recipes to make it well. However, most recipes either use condensed milk (X), powdered sugar (X) or store-bought paneer (X). Once I figured it out, this dessert features at nearly every CC gathering.
Another note, although popular during Hindu religious holidays that dictate a strict vegetarian diet such as Navratri, Dasserha / Durga Pooja and Diwali, the dessert need not be restricted to those holidays alone. Once you see how easy it is to assemble, you wont need a special reason to make it.
Pistachio Son’desh / Creamy Paneer Fudge with Pistachio
Time: 20-30 minutes plus cooling time
5 cups of whole milk
1-2 tbsp white vinegar
½ cup granulated white sugar (to taste)
Seeds from 3-4 green cardamom pods, crushed
1/8 cup whole milk, additional, optional
1/3 cup unsalted pistachio meat
1 tsp. ghee or non-stick spray
1, 9 X 9 sized shallow ceramic or glass dish with suitable lid
Fine mesh sieve cheese-cloth
Very lightly grease a shallow ceramic dish with ghee or non-stick spray, set aside. Finely sliver the unsalted pistachio meat / meal and set aside.
Heat five cups of milk in a large non-stick saucepan. Just as it begins to show signs of boiling, remove from heat. Add one tbsp. of white vinegar and stir until it is fully distributed. The milk will curdle into whey and milk solids (fresh paneer). This is normal. Return the pot to the stove and warm through for an additional two minutes, slowly adding in the second tablespoon of vinegar only if the whey appears cloudy or milky. Continue to stir. Remove from heat and allow this to cool.
Strain the liquid using the fine-mesh cheesecloth to collect the paneer. Drain completely, squeezing out any remaining whey. Carefully rinse the freshly made paneer under cold running water. Taste it to ensure there is no sour taste from the vinegar or whey. Rinse until the paneer is tasteless. Squeeze dry. Using a hand-held blender, cream the paneer into a smooth paste. Add a few drops of whole milk if needed for a creamy texture.
Warm the paneer paste in a clean non-stick pan. Cook away any remaining moisture. Add sugar to taste, a few tablespoons at a time, stirring well after each addition. Add the cardamom powder and continue stirring until the mixture begins to leave the sides of the pan. Remove from heat.
While the mixture is still warm, pour it into the greased shallow dish and spread it around. Sprinkle the slivered pistachios over the top. Pat it down into place, compacting the mixture into a flat fudge like mass, using the back of a spoon into an even layer. Pre-cut the fudge into desired shapes using a sharp paring knife. Cover the pan with plastic-wrap or an airtight lid and refrigerate the Son’desh for 2-3 hours until firm. Carefully lift out pieces before serving. Son'desh is best served cool or at room temperature.
(Devour, but I don't need to tell you that.)