Atithi Devo Bhava or “The guest is equivalent to God” is a Sanskrit verse which has become a code of conduct for most Hindus.
My religion (Judaism) teaches us that God is One, and therefore nobody can be placed at the same level as God. However, it is true that I always try my best to treat my guests like royals by making them as comfortable as possible.
Most of my friends love to eat and drink as much as I do, but I would not consider all of them true foodies. For me, a real foodie is always interested in trying new things or places and learning about the food they eat.
Last Friday, I had the pleasure to invite 4 real foodies for dinner. My older friends Melanie and her husband Oren, who I can say are real epicureans. And my newer friends Faye and Yakir, who I recently met at a local food blogger group event. Faye, not only is a true foodie, but she actually makes a living of food (my dream). She wrote 23 cookbooks in English, as well as in French and Hebrew, and she has been a regular columnist of The Jerusalem Post for the past 20 years. Her husband Yakir is her partner in crime and assists with writing and photography.
That Friday night, I decided to cook an Indian Feast, in anticipation of Diwali, and also because, if you know me by now, Indian cuisine is by far my favorite cuisine! This was also the occasion to use the various serving dishes I purchased in Mumbai a few months ago, for the first time.
I started planning for the feast a few days earlier, by researching the best recipes I could find online. For appetizers, I settled on palak pakoras (spinach fritters), salmon tandoori and papdi chaat (North Indian appetizer made with wafers, yogurt, potatoes, chickpeas, chutneys and sev, chickpea flour crunchy vermicelli). Then, I served a thali (assortment of dishes on a platter) including mushroom matar (peas and mushroom curry), baingan bharta (eggplant curry), tadka dal (lentil soup), with raita (cucumber yogurt dip) and homemade naans (Indian breads). Since you cannot finish a meal without a dessert in my book, I prepared a mango lassi (mango-based yogurt drink) with a pineapple kesari.
Pineapple kesari is the recipe I am sharing with you today. I discovered this dessert just a few years ago, as I have been more accustomed to Northern Indian cuisine since this regional cuisine is what you typically find outside of India. My favorite Indian desserts had always been mango kulfi (rich mango ice cream that I posted a few months ago), and gulab jamun, deep-fried cheese solids served in sugary syrup, flavored with cardamom, rose water and saffron. I promise that gulab jamun is much tastier than the description sounds!
But pineapple kesari is slowly becoming a favorite of mine too. Vera mentioned my first trip to India earlier this year, in her samosa recipe post. This is where I had samosas at the famous Guru Kripka restaurant / factory in the heart of Mumbai. During this business trip, I had the chance and the privilege to be guided by my partners.
Radhika, Rajit and Pritesh were the best hosts you could ask for. When they found out that I was literally in love with Indian food and culture, they showed me around the city in the few hours we had to spare between meetings with clients.
One of the best experiences I had was to go to Radhika’s cousins’ restaurant Café Mysore. Café Mysore is a very famous restaurant in Mumbai. It is named after the third largest city of the South Indian state of Karnataka. Why is this restaurant so famous? Because it is one of the most well known authentic South Indian restaurants in the city of Mumbai. Some of the richest and most powerful men in the country (South Indian transplants mostly) actually eat there very often.
Radhika made me try everything she could as she was on a mission to make me fall in love with South Indian cuisine. I had dosas with their respective coconut chutneys, sambar, filter coffee, a few other snacks (I wish I remembered their names!) as well as… pineapple kesari. And yes, I did in fact fall in love with most dishes.
Pineapple kesari is a version of rava kesari. Other versions include banana (called prasadacha sheera or kelyacha sheera in the North), mango, or coconut. Kesari can also be made with vermicelli instead of semolina, it is then called semiya kesari. It is also sometimes prepared with aval or poha (flattened rice) and is then called aval kesari.
Some people use milk instead of water in the standard rava kesari recipe to make a richer dessert. It is then called milk kesari with the same ingredients but with added raisins.
Rava kesari comes from the words rava (semolina) and kesari (from kesar which means saffron). Rava kesari is a typical South Indian dessert, especially popular in the states of Tamil Nadu and Karnataka.
It is known as sheera in Marathi/Hindi, rava kesari in Telugu, sooji halwa or suji halwa in the North, sooji kesari and rava kesari in Tamil or called kesari bhat in Kannada.
The main difference between rava kesari and sooji halwa is the coloring. Saffron is traditionally used to color rava kesari but nowadays, more and more restaurants use food coloring instead.
Rava kesari got famous in Tamil Nadu during the period of the Maratha Empire around the 18th century, and spread throughout India thereafter. However, the origin of this dessert seems to be more ancient, as rava kesari seems to be an adaptation of an Ottoman treat called irmik helvasi or semolina (irmik) halva.
In fact, kesari is a type of halva. Halva is a generic term for sweets throughout the Middle East, southeast Europe as well as India and its neighbors. Actually, halva can be nut-butter based, as in the halva that Vera made when we stopped in Israel, or it can be flour-based, like in rava kesari (semolina) or halwa bahrani (cornstarch). But it can also be based on other ingredients, such as carrots as in gajar halwa, which is the Indian delicacy that Vera will share with us later this week.
Rava kesari is usually eaten for breakfast but can also be eaten as a dessert. It is very often served during pre-wedding and wedding ceremonies. It is also served as naivedyam or prasadam (offering to God) during the festival of Navratri as well as other festivals. Navratri is the Hindu festival of nine nights dedicated to the glorification of Shakti, the feminine form of the Divine.
The semolina used for rava kesari as well as most preparations where semolina is the main ingredient is the coarser type. The finer semolina is typically used for batter.
In South India, semolina is used to make savory foods, like rava dosa (a variant of dosa) and upma (thick porridge with seasonings and vegetables), in addition to rava kesari.
Coarser semolina is also the one that is used to make couscous dishes, such as couscous au beurre, but also other North African specialties like Vera’s kesra bread, and also probably one of my favorite North African desserts, a Tunisian cake called aricha (or harissa), very similar to more common basbosa or nammora.
Since the beginning of 196 flavors, we have used semolina interchangeably for savory recipes such as Cypriot flaounes or Iraqi kibbehs and for sweet recipes such as beautiful Lebanese maamouls or Burmese sanwin makin.
To make kesari, you will need another Indian staple called ghee. Ghee is nothing more than clarified butter. You can usually find it at specialty stores or Trader Joe’s in the United States. You will also always find ghee at Indian markets wherever you live. And if you can’t find it, you can make it yourself like Vera showed us in her Armenian burma recipe.
I served the pineapple kesari with a mango lassi after a rather copious dinner, so I chose to serve a smaller portion using a round cookie cutter (or emporte-pièce as we would say in French), a rather unusual way to serve pineapple kesari but it totally worked by garnishing it with the nuts on top. You can also serve it in bowls or verrines, as long as it is warm or hot.
I highly recommend this recipe, a very quick and easy dessert to prepare (how is that for a change?) Big thanks to Radhika who was kind enough to share Café Mysore’s recipe.
- 1 cup semolina (sooji/rava)
- 1 pineapple , peeled and chopped
- 1 cup clarified butter (ghee)
- 1 cup sugar
- A pinch saffron , dissolved in 2 tablespoons milk
- ½ teaspoon cardamom powder
- 5 cashew nuts
- 5 almonds
- 5 pistachios
Heat ghee in a pan over medium-high heat.
Add semolina, mix well and sauté on a slow flame for 5 to 7 minutes, stirring continuously till it turns golden brown.
Add saffron and cardamom powder then mix.
Add pineapple and further cook for 2 to 3 minutes.
Add 2 cups of water and mix.
Cover and cook on medium heat for 3 minutes.
Add sugar and mix.
Stir till all the moisture evaporates and semolina is cooked completely.
Serve hot or warm, garnished with cashew nuts, almonds and/or pistachios.