Like I mentioned in my last post, I always try to add a couple of non-traditonal dishes to the traditional festive lunch for Onam. Its just my way of adding some excitement to the otherwise predictable menu. This year I made a Lime Pachadi (Steamed Limes in Seasoned Yogurt) and an Apple Paneer Rabri/ Rabdi.
I usually make two payasams (sweet dishes/ South Indian style puddings), one with sugar and milk and the other with jaggery and coconut milk. This time, Onam arrived on a working day which meant there was nop one but me at home for lunch. So we decided to have our festive meal for dinner. This practise of having lunch for dinner was unheard of in the old days, but one must change a little with the times in order to preserve certain traditions for fear of losing them altogether.
We are not very used to having very heavy meals at night, so I decided to make just one payasam this year and that too a non-traditional one. My fruit basket was over flowing with apples because I couldn’t resist temptation during my visit to the market and came home with more than we could eat. On my routine weekly trip to the market last week, I saw these beautiful sweet green Indian apples so I bought some. Then I saw some lovely red and yellow ones, so I bought a few of those too. Who can resist locally grown fresh produce? Not me!
My husband took one look at me take the apples out of my shopping bags and remarked, “You’re going to photograph them, aren’t you?” Well, I bought those apples for that too!
So I needed to put some of those apples to good use, and turning them into a sweet dish for Onam seemed a good way to go. Rather than cook a typical South Indian style Payasam (called Kheer in North India), I was going to make one with apples in it. You can use green or red apples so long as they are sweet kind. Look for sweet and reasonably firm apples (no tart ones here please) as you don’t want them to disintegrate to mush on the milk while cooking.
One thing to watch out for is the curdling/ splitting of milk when adding acidic fruit to it like apples. I didn’t have this experience and it might have been because I had reduced the milk down before adding the grated apple. One way to make sure this doesn’t happen is to add the grated apple (grate it a little finer for this) after cooking the Rabdi, and folding it in.
I chose to make a Rabdi (or Rabri as it is sometimes called). Rabdi is a sweet, milk based dish made by boiling the milk on low heat for a long time until it becomes thick and almost pinkish in colour. The sugar, cardamom and a large amount of chopped/ sliced nuts (almonds and pistachios) give the Rabri its distinctive flavour. Rabri can be served warm but is usually served chilled.
The trick to a good Rabdi is to slowly reduce the milk to about 1/3rd its original quantity while constantly scraping down the solids that collect on the side of the pan. These bits of rich milk solids add texture to the Rabri giving it a hint of chewiness. One can also add a bit of crumbled paneer (an Indian fresh milk cheese) to the Rabri while its cooks to enhance this texture.
So it is important to use a heavy/ thick walled pot or pan to reduce the milk without having it catch at the bottom and burn. There are short-cut methods to reduce the time involved in cooking down the milk, like using condensed milk to make Rabdi. While this works too, nothing brings out the taste of the Rabdi like the longer way of cooking it. You will also not get the “grainy” texture that is typical of Rabdi.
Rabri is a rich pudding and the best way to savour it is in small quantities. While Rabri is served on its own as a sweet or dessert, it is also served as an accompaniment (sometimes unsweetened or mildly sweetened) to other Indian sweets like Malpua, Jalebi or Gulab Jamun much like sauces are served with Western desserts.
Apple Paneer Rabdi/ Rabri/ Payasam/Kheer