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Quintessential shemai

By Asma Aziz

Eid is a time of festivity, celebration and compassion. After the month-long rigours and restraint of Ramadan, the sighting of the new moon on the first evening of Shawwal signals not only the return to regular routines, but also to the joy and indulgence of Eid ul Fitr. This is a time when homes are kept open, families get together and peace and happiness is shared with friends, neighbours and the underprivileged. A time-honoured custom on this occasion is the preparation of various forms of shemai (vermicelli). Even abroad, this simple delight has become deeply synonymous with Eid ul Fitr -- I remember, while living overseas, how our non-Muslim friends would refer to this occasion as the vermicelli festival.

While shemai is very common, it can be prepared in many different ways. Vermicelli is typically cooked with milk, but it can also be prepared dry, and even savoury.

Vermicelli zarda
500g vermicelli
3 cups milk
Few strands of saffron
200g ghee
6 pods cardamom
4 pieces (1” each) cinnamon
4 cloves
3 cups Sugar
A few drops of rose water
100g Raisin
½ cup mawa
Almonds for garnish, chopped
Pistachio for garnish, chopped

Heat milk and soak saffron in it. Cover and keep aside. Heat ghee in a nonstick pan, and fry the vermicelli, cardamom, cinnamon and cloves in it for 2 to 3 minutes. Add the saffron infused milk and stir gently with a fork, separating the strands. Once the milk evaporates and the vermicelli is cooked, reduce the heat to low, and mix in the sugar a little at a time. Mix in rose water and raisins, cover and cook on low heat for about 5 minutes. Garnish with mawa, almonds and pistachio.

Egg vermicelli zarda
250g vermicelli
5 eggs
1½ cups milk
A few strands of saffron
A few drops of rose water
¾ cup ghee
2 pieces (1” each) cinnamon
2 pods cardamom
2½ cups sugar
Almonds for garnish, chopped
Pistachio for garnish, chopped

Heat milk in a pot till it reduces to about 1 cup. Mix in saffron and rose water and let it cool. Beat eggs lightly, and mix in with the milk. Break vermicelli into small pieces. Heat ghee in a nonstick pan, and fry the vermicelli, cardamom and cinnamon in it for 2 to 3 minutes.

Add the milk and egg mixture and stir gently with a fork over low heat, separating the strands. If needed, add more milk until cooked. Mix in the sugar a little at a time. Once the sugar dissolves, cover and cook on low heat for about 10 minutes. Garnish with almonds and pistachios

Vermicelli barfi
800g vermicelli
¼ cup milk
500g condensed milk
A few strands of saffron
5 tbsp ghee
100g almond, very finely sliced
50g pistachio, very finely sliced

Heat milk and soak saffron in it. Cover and keep aside. Break vermicelli into very small pieces. Heat ghee in a non-stick pan and fry vermicelli on very low heat, stirring constantly, until golden but not brown. Add the saffron-infused milk and condensed milk to the vermicelli, and mix well. Cover and cook on very low heat for about 5 minutes (vermicelli should be cooked but remain crispy). Grease a tray and spread the vermicelli on it evenly using a spatula, making an approximately ½ inch thick slab. Spread almonds and pistachio over the top and press down softly so that they stick well. While still warm, cut out into pieces.

Vermicelli -- Spicy
2 cups vermicelli
2 tbsp oil
4 tbsp cashew nuts, chopped
1 tbsp mustard seeds
½ cup onions, chopped
5 or 6 curry leaves
2 tsp ginger, chopped
1 or 2 dry red chillies, split open
1 tsp green chillies, chopped
1 cup hot water
Salt to taste

Heat oil in a pan and roast cashew nuts lightly. Take the cashew nuts out and put aside. Fry mustard seeds (in the same oil) until they pop. Add onions, curry leaves, ginger, dry chillies, green chillies and sauté. Add vermicelli and fry until golden but not brown. Mix in hot water and salt, cover and leave on very low heat until cooked. Mix in cashew nuts and serve hot.


By Abdullah tareq
Head Chef Cilantro

Eid ul Fitr marks the end of the holy month of Ramadan. And come Eid come sweets. Always complementing each other, Eid is celebrated with a concoction of sweet treats to tingle our taste buds. This Eid, we bring you a few sweet recipes you can prepare easily.

Lemon drizzle cake
This cake keeps very well in the freezer for 2-3 months, wrapped well in foil. Once defrosted it will stay fresh for at least a week.

100g butter
100g caster sugar
2 large eggs
100g plain flower
1/2 tsp baking powder
Zest and juice of one lemon (the big yellow ones)
2 tbsp of warm water
50g granulated sugar

Beat the butter and caster sugar until pale and creamy. Mix in the eggs one at a time. Sift the baking powder and the flour together, and combine with the mixture taking care not to over-beat. Add the lemon zest and stir in the water. Pour into a greased 1 kg loaf tin, and bake in the preheated oven at gas mark 4/180C/350F for 1 hour. Meanwhile, melt the granulated sugar in the lemon juice over a gentle heat to form a syrup.

When the cake starts to shrink away from the sides of the tin and has browned nicely, take it out of the oven and turn onto a wire rack. While it is still hot, prick it all over with a skewer or a fork and spoon the lemon syrup over the surface, taking care to catch any escaping juices on a plate set underneath. Pour these over as well until all has been absorbed. Dredge the top with icing sugar to server.

Laila's brownies
75g butter
40g cocoa
225g sugar
50g plain flour
2 large eggs
1/2 tsp baking powder

Prepare an 8 inch square tin. Rub the tin with butter so it doesn't stick, and heat the oven to 180C/350F/gas mark 4. Melt the butter. Then with the pan off the heat stir in the cocoa and the sugar. Add the eggs then the flour and baking powder. Beat. Pour the mixture into the tin and bake for 30 minutes. Cut when cool. You can add chocolate chips or nuts to this recipe as well.

Simone's upside down pineapple cake
The cake is wonderfully dense, with a sweet caramel and candied pineapple flavour. The original recipe calls for sour cream which isn't always available and is quite expensive. So instead, my friend uses Aarong plain yoghurt, which is very cheap and the cake still tastes great.

1 cup of dark brown sugar
1/2 cup unsalted butter
1 can (20 oz) of pineapple slices
1 1/2 cups flour
6 tbsp of ground almonds
3/4 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 3/4 cups of sugar
1 cup unsalted butter at room temperature
4 large eggs
3/4 tsp vanilla extract
3/4 cup sour cream or yoghurt

Start by making the caramel topping. Take brown sugar and butter and combine and melt in a saucepan on medium heat until sugar dissolves and the mixture is bubbly, this should take several minutes. After the sugar melts, don't stir. Pour the mixture into a 10 inch diameter stick-free cake pan with 2 inch high sides. Arrange pineapple slices in a single layer on top of the caramel mixture. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F or 180 degrees C. Whisk the flour, almond, baking powder and salt in a large mixing bowl.

In a separate bowl, use an electric mixer to beat the sugar and butter together until light. Add eggs one at a time, beating after each addition. Beat in the vanilla. Add dry ingredients alternately with sour cream or yoghurt in 2 additions each, beating well after each addition. Pour cake batter over caramel and pineapple in pan. Bake cake until tester inserted into the center comes out clean, about 1 hour to 1 hour 15 minutes. Cool cake in pan on a rack for 10 minutes. Turn cake out onto a platter. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Instant chocolate mousse
This is a very easy mousse recipe by Nigella Lawson. When you haven't got time for overnight setting in the fridge or you don't want to use raw eggs, this mousse is perfect.

Serves 4-6
150g mini marshmallows
50g soft butter
250g good dark chocolate (minimum 70 per cent cocoa solids), chopped into small pieces
60ml hot water
284ml double cream
1 tsp vanilla extract

Put the marshmallows, butter, chocolate and water in a heavy-based saucepan. Put the saucepan over heat, though keep it fairly gentle, to melt the contents, stirring every now and again. Remove from the heat. Meanwhile, whip the cream with the vanilla extract until thick, and then fold into the cooling chocolate mixture until you have a smooth, cohesive mixture. Pour or scrape into 4 glasses or ramekins, about 175ml each in capacity, or 6 smaller (125ml) ones, and chill until you want to eat. The sooner the better!

Mango mousse
2 cups mango (pulp)
2 cups heavy whipping cream
14 oz gelatin (1 packet)
1 cup sugar
2 tbsp cold water
2 tbsp hot water

Sprinkle gelatin over 2 tbsp cold water. Let stand for 1 minute till it softens. Mix hot water in it. Mix gelatin in mango pulp. In a cold steel container, beat cream and sugar a little. Mix cream in the pulp and beat till soft peaks form. Fill glasses with required amount of the mousse and refrigerate at least 4 hours before serving. Garnish with whipped cream and thick mango pulp.

Photo: Sazzad Ibne Sayed
Abdullah Tareq


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