Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Sikarni - (yogurt, saffron, pistachio dessert)

Sikarni - (सिकर्नी) - Saffron-Pistachio Sikarni from Kathmandu

...Brighten your day by sampling the most delicious sikarni of Nepal ...from my mother's kitchen ...
Let's Celebrate Nepali culture this week by preparing the most loved yogurt desert of Nepal that we lovingly call it सिकर्नी - sikarni, pronounced, "see-kar-nee." Simple but elegant, sikarni is an exceptionally full-flavored, delicate, and creamy dessert made from drained yogurt, sweetened with sugar, flavored with saffron-green cardamom and sprinkled with chopped pistachios.  This savory desert was made lovingly by my mother regularly when growing up in Kathmandu with my siblings in the heart of the city.  It's probably where it originates too, in the Kathmandu Valley.  The sikarni was so delicious, and we savored spoonfuls at a time, sometimes with freshly cut-up tree-ripened mangoes, or just about any other seasonal fruits, or simply chopped nuts. This classic recipe was passed down from my mother, and I have been making it for festive occasions and family get together ever since.  

Sikarni is a versatile dish that takes on the flavor of whatever it is mixed with such as ground nuts, flavorful spices such as nutmeg and ground cardamom or any other ingredients of your choice, and let your creativity run wild to give a new twist to the dish.  Adjust its sweetness by using more or less sugar to suit your taste.  Refrigerate it for up to four days in an airtight container.

To celebrate and honor Mother's Day, (May 9 - Nepali Matha Tirtha Aunsi) and (May 11- USA) this week, I would like to share this recipe in my blog. It is such an easy and simple desert with a great taste that comes from simple ingredients.  It is definitely worth trying and I hope it becomes a traditional yogurt desert in your family too!

To get started, all you need is yogurt, sugar, cardamom, saffron, and chopped nuts.  I usually make my own home-made yogurt from one gallon milk, but you can use two 32-oz container of store-bought yogurt.  Here are my directions... Homemade Yogurt (page 394 - Taste of Nepal cookbook) or two 32 oz containers of ready-made yogurt, 1/8 teaspoon saffron threads, plus 8 to 10 saffron threads for garnish, 2 tablespoons milk, 1 cup of sugar or to taste, Seeds of 8 to 10 green cardamom pods, finely ground with a mortar and pestle, 1/2 cup raw pistachios, coarsely chopped.

Directions - line a large colander with 3 layers of cheesecloth or muslin cloth.  Place the yogurt in the colander and bring the corners of the cheesecloth together to form a bag.  Set the colander with the yogurt over a large bowl, and drain whey.  Make sure the bottom of the colander is high enough, so the yogurt does not get touched the drained whey.  Place the colander and bowl in the refrigerator and check in a few hours to make sure the whey has not reached the colander.  Depending on the fit of your colander and bowl, you may need to remove the whey once or twice as the yogurt continues to drain. 

To facilitate the draining, adjust the bag, shifting it about and turning it upside-down in the colander from time to time.  Drain until the yogurt reduces to about half its original volume, or until it resembles soft cream cheese.  This may take 12-14 hours.

Gently crush 1/8 teaspoon of saffron with mortar and pestle.  Dissolve in the milk and set aside.

Remove the yogurt from the cheesecloth and transfer to a bowl.  Add the saffron-infused milk, sugar, and cardamom seeds and beat until light and creamy.  Stir in 1/4 cup of the chopped pistachios.  Transfer the mixture to a decorative platter, sprinkle with the remaining chopped pistachios and saffron thread.  Serve it immediately or cover and refrigerate until you are ready to serve.  Sikarni keeps covered in the refrigerator for up to 4 days.  If any whey rises to the surface, stir to incorporate it into the yogurt mixture. Makes 6 to 8 servings.

From Jyoti's kitchen - my favorite desert sikarni - pamper your taste buds!
.... using my home-made yogurt for sikarni ..
... scooping out the yogurt and pouring in a cloth-lined colander...
... traditional way of straining yogurt through cheesecloth to remove the whey ...
....removing the collected thickened yogurt and transferring  into a bowl - a little lengthy process to drain the whey
... getting ready to mix the nuts with drained yogurt
... coarsely grinding a small amount of nuts in a mortar and pestle and the green cardamom seeds is getting ready to be grind into fine powder.
....saffron strands mixed with warm milk in a mortar and pestle to dissolve, which will impart golden hue and delicious flavor to yogurt dish, sikarni ...
... the drained yogurt is ready - it should be a little thinner than cream cheese, but thicker than sour cream. Beat the yogurt until well blended, smooth and a little fluffy ...
... transfer into a serving dish and mix with saffron infused milk and chopped nuts
... sprinkle the chopped pistachios on top to garnish
... here is the picture of simple and scrumptious yogurt dessert, sikarni eaten at the end of a Nepali meal.  Have friends and family come over to enjoy!
As a variation - serving the creamy sikarni dessert,  mixed with pureed mango pulp in an individual bowls topped with a cherry in the middle.
Another picture of sikarni with chopped fruits and nuts in an individual bowl.
Freshly cut mangoes getting ready to be mixed up with sikarni
... making individual desserts cups by spooning mango-sikarni mixture, topped with chopped nuts into parfait glass bowl.
... mouthwatering dessert just looking at it.  Make sure to cool it, before serving!
Authentic and simple yoghurt sikarni from my mother's kitchen...
No matter what your favorite fruits are - mangoes, banana, pomegranates, strawberries, lichees, berries - just add the chopped fruits in a decorative bowl, scoop sikarni yogurt dessert as a delicious topping with chopped nuts as a garnish.

I hope you enjoyed my blog posting on Sikarni dessert of Nepal, specially prepared for Mother's Day - शुभ-कामना आमालाई! 
Happy Mother's Day In Different Languages

Copyright Information

All information on the Taste of Nepal blog are restricted use under copyright law. You may not re-use words, stories, photographs, or other posted material without the explicit written consent and proper credit to Jyoti Pathak. If you would like to use any materials here, please contact me.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Kaaphal or Kafal Fruit - काफल - (Bay-Berry)

Kaaphal or Kafal - काफल - A Very Popular Wild Fruit of the Central Himalaya

Himalayan Wild Fruit - Kaaphal - काफल  - photo courtesy S Bhattarai
Nepali name: Kaaphal or Kafal
Common name: Bay-Berry, Box myrtle
Bot. name: Myricaceae Buch-Ham. ex D.Don. (M. nagii Thunb.)
Family Myricaceae - information source - An Introduction to Nepalese Food Plants by Regmi

Kaaphal is one of many extremely delicious wild fruits found throughout mid-Himalayan region. The fruit looks somewhat like deep-red colored raspberries.  They barely have any pulp, have a big round seed in the center.  Since they are very refreshing to eat, they are well liked by many Nepalese.  When I saw the above picture of Kaaphal in the Facebook, captured by Saroj Bhattarai (around April-May), it made my mouth water. I was remembering my childhood days.  

The fresh fruits have a reputation for being a little acidic even when they are ripe, but more sour when unripe. They have a limited harvesting period and available for a short period of time only.  When they were in season, local villagers picked and gathered the berries carefully from the wild growing areas and transported to Kathmandu in a wicker baskets (doko-daalo). We loved to eat the fruits with sprinkling of salt or rock salt and chili powder and it was a popular treat in the beginning of the summer months.  We were prevented eating under-ripe ones because they caused upset stomach, but we were hooked on these sweet, salty and spicy snack berries.  Now I wonder how simple things in life that made us so happy. Today I want to share with you the much loved wild berries that is growing throughout many parts of Nepal.  If you can get a hold of it, it is worth trying!     

I am so happy to introduce this weeks guest blogger, Bindesh Shrestha, and delighted to share his posting on the "Wild Berry from the Himalayas Kafal" written and posted originally at DesiGrub on July 28, 2012 (click the link). I have been a long-time fan of Bindesh's blog and find it very creative and inspiring. Please visit his site at "DesiGrub" (shared adventure with food from around the world)  and you will discover a very educational and informative site.   

Often described as one of the tastiest wild fruits, Kafal is a berry found on the foolhill of the Himalayas.  The raspberry-looking fruit with sweet and tangy flavors has a thin fruit coating with a large stone core, thus it's a drupe.  Eating kafal required you sucking on the fruity outer layer followed by spitting out its pit - (photo and text from DesiGrub)

Kafal is picked from a dozen-meter long wild trees during May and June.  Kafal trees are found on hills of Nepal and Northern India, between the altitudes of one and two thousand meters above sea level.  Kafal changes to reddish purple color ellipsoid-shape fruit at its maturity.  In scientific journals, kafal is mostly called Myrica esculenta, but also referred as Myrica integrifolia and Myrica nagi.  In ancient Sanskrit language, kafal is often called Kaiphala or Katphala, and believed to have a medicinal property in its bark. - (photo and text from DesiGrub).
Still today, street hawkers go door-to-door to sell kafal from a bamboo baskets in Kathmandu.  Once ordered, kafal are measured in a rusty tin container called manas (half liters), poured into a paper cone made from old newspaper, and sprinkle with spicy salt seasoning.  Since the shelf life of kafal is very short, only 2-3 days, people interested in eating kafal are recommended to fly to Kathmandu during May-June.

Kafal is celebrated with unprecedented number of songs and stories unlike any foods in the region.  Even a surname "Kafle" is said to be in honor of those kafal trees that gave fruits to people for millennia.  There are many songs about kafal such as reli khola bagar, kafal pakyo lahar (Nepal), kafal gedi kutukai (Nepal), Kafal pakyo hola banma (Nepal), and Rangeelo kumaon kafal kheja (Uttarkhand). Kafal is celebrated with unprecedented number of songs and stories.

There is much folklore interwoven with kafal and life in Himalayas than any other fruits.  Here are my two favorite tragic tales about why birds sing during kafal season.

A Nepali tale of a brother who leaves his sister to join an army.  He promises to return every year to enjoy kafal together.  He never returns, but she continues to send message every year when kafal ripens.  Even after her death, she now returns as a bird to let us know "kafal pakyo" or kafal is ripe".

Another story from Indian state of Uttarakhand is about a mom, who picks up a basketfull of kafal to sell.  She asks her daughter to look after the kafal basket and not to eat any fruit.  When mom returns, she realizes the kafal has lost some weight.  Suspecting her daughter must have eaten some, mom punishes her by beating.  The daughter kept on crying that she didn't taste any kafal.  It rains and kafal gain back some weight that they had lost due to scorching summer heat.  Unfortunately the girl died, and now she comes back every year in kafal season as a bird to sing "kafal pakko, meil ni chakkho" or kafal has ripened, but i didn't taste them."Often these stories are tragic, may be ripening of kafal symbolizes the change of season and end of beautiful Spring, kafal being one last sweet fruits of Spring before a harsh Summer. - (Photos and text - DesiGrub) 
Images of Kaaphal in the tree - photos courtesy xNepali
 The street vendor cries out, “Kaapfal aayo, kaaphal aayo” (the fruit has arrived) - photo from ECS magazine
Kaaphal for sale - photo courtesy Manoj Joshi

Copyright Information

All information on the Taste of Nepal blog are restricted use under copyright law. You may not re-use words, stories, photographs, or other posted material without the explicit written consent and proper credit to Jyoti Pathak. If you would like to use any materials here, please contact me.