Rava Kesari - Indian Semolina And Saffron Halva or Pudding
Rava Kesari is an Indian sweet which is very easy to prepare and is generally celebratory fare, whether served as prasadham (blessed food offerings) for minor ritual pujas or at grander affairs. For Palakkad Iyer weddings, rava kesari is always served as the sweet dish for wedding breakfasts.
This sweet is also made as “naivedhyam” (ritualistic offering of food to God before partaking of it) for Satyanarayana puja, in particular, except it is made without the saffron. In south Indian homes, this sweet is also made on non-festive days as an ordinary everyday kind of sweet dish as well, as the ingredients are all commonly available in most kitchens.
Rava kesari is a soft halwa or pudding made from semolina (rava), milk (or water) and lots of ghee. It is traditionally served slightly warm, but tastes equally good chilled. When served warm, the kesari has a soft, almost melt in the mouth texture though it becomes slightly more solid and sets a bit if refrigerated.
Kesar or saffron, which gives the kesari its name, is added to this pudding to give it a lovely flavour and beautiful golden orange hue. Since saffron is very expensive and wasn’t easily available in the olden days, many people used to, and still do, add an orange powdered colouring for the same effect.
In our homes, I have seen rava kesari made without the saffron. This version, cream coloured from the semolina, also tastes as good because most of the flavour of this sweet preparation comes from the ghee and the cardamom in it. Rava kesari is also known as Kesari Bhath, Sooji Halwa, Sojji, Sajjige, Sheera in different parts of India. Please note, as pointed out by a reader in the comments following this post, that sajjige contains banana unlike this kesari which doesn't contain any fruit other than raisins.
In my opinion, the perfect rava kesari should be soft in texture yet hold its shape, should be just so that it softens further and almost melts in your mouth before you swallow it, and be fragrant with ghee without drowning in it.
While unbelievably simple to make, it is funny how very few people can actually make this kesari very well. I have come across very few people who do, and its quite possible that I have been keeping company with the wrong sort where it comes to making kesari. Most of the time, I have found the kesari to be dry and solid enough to be sliced, which is not good. Else it is so greasy that it leaves your fingers heavily coated with ghee! Oh yes, the best way to eat kesari (and most Indian food) is with your fingers and definitely not with a cold metal spoon.
Since kesari is traditionally made with a lot of ghee, it is not a sweet one can eat in large quantities and a few tablespoons can be filling. This is possibly why it is not served as dessert but as a sweet preparation in smaller quantities along with a meal.
Many years ago, this day was the start of a new chapter in our lives. Today’s anniversary isn’t quite the celebration we would have liked it to be, as my husband is away on work. So we will postpone celebrating it when he gets back this weekend.
In the meanwhile, I just couldn’t let this day pass without marking it in some way. After a lot of thought I decided on this semolina pudding since it’s a favourite here but been a while since I last made it.
A little while back, Asha celebrated her blog birthday and the wishes I sent her won me a little hamper of some Iranian saffron and saffron salt. As it happens, this gift was very apt since my stash of saffron had just got over. I still haven’t figured out what to do with the salt, and would welcome suggestions. As for the saffron, I can think of a hundred ways to use it including this rava kesari.
As with most traditional recipes, each household has its own way of making it, though the main ingredients remain the same. Here is my way of making it. Many people do not add milk to this sweet, but I prefer to as I feel the milk adds to the taste and rich feel allowing me to cut down on the ghee that I use.
One secret to a good kesari is to add enough liquid (but not too much) to ensure that the rava (semolina) cooks very well before adding the sugar. The other thing is not to skimp on the ghee. One can be careful with the amount of ghee that goes into this sweet, but too little of it will result in a dry and somewhat pasty texture which is not desirable.
- Put the saffron strands in the warm milk and keep aside for about 20 to 30 minutes to bring out the flavour and colour.
- Heat about 1 tbsp of ghee in a heavy bottomed or nonstick pan. Add the rava (semolina and sauté, over medium heat, till it starts turning pinkish/ golden brown and giving off an aroma. Do not brown the semolina even slightly. Empty it onto a plate and keep aside.
- Put another 1/2 tbsp of ghee in the pan and fry the raisins in it till they turn whitish/ golden brown and puff up. Remove them and keep aside. To the same little bit of residual ghee, add the broken cashewnuts and fry till golden brown. Remove them and add to the raisins.
- Into the same pan, pour the milk with the saffron threads in it and water and bring the whole thing to a boil. Turn down the heat to medium and add the rava (semolina) while stirring constantly to ensure there are no lumps.
- Keep stirring, frequently, and cook till the rava (semolina) absorbs all the liquid and is cooked well. It will start bunching up in to a ball when stirred and look soft and slightly puffy. Ensure it is well cooked, as once the sugar is added the kesari (pudding) will not soften anymore.
- Add the sugar and mix well. The sugar will melt causing the kesari (pudding) to loosen up a bit. Cook for about 5 minutes , stirring occasionally, making sure the kesari does not get stuck to the bottom of the pan.
- Now add the remaining ghee and cook till the ghee gets absorbed and the kesari looks shiny and starts coming away from the sides of the pan to the middle. This should take another 5 to 10 minutes.
- Finally add the powdered cardmom, the fried raisins and cashewnuts. Mix well and serve warm. Else refrigerate the kesari and serve cold, or warm slightly once again before serving. This will keep for about 2 to 3 days refrigerated.
This rava kesari is also my submission to this month’s Sugar High Friday which is being hosted by Elissa with the theme “browned butter”. Browned butter is very much a part of cooking in India, especially in our sweets and we know it better by the name “ghee”.