To continue with the holiday/festival theme, here is a recipe for an Indian dessert I made for Diwali last month. Ras malai is one of my favorite Indian desserts. The soft and sweet pillowy goodness of paneer “dumplings” floating in sea of cardamom and pistachio milk is just irresistible. It’s also incredible that the entire dish is basically made from one major ingredient, milk. Half the milk is processed to make the “malai”, meaning cream in hindi and the other half makes up the “ras”, meaning juice. So, this year for Diwali, I wanted to try my hand at actually making ras malai!
I was a little daunted by the aspect of “making the malai” and originally opted to “cheat” by buying an instant ras malai mix. It comes in two packets, one to make the malai and one to make the ras. This, as it turned out, was a bad idea. In the past, I have used the instant mix from the same company to make another popular Indian dessert, gulab jamun and it had turned out well. But only because a good friend of mine had warned me that the instructions on the package were wrong and one had to actually use less water/milk to make the dessert! Well, apparently the rational scientist in me didn’t think that the instructions on the ras malai packet could also be wrong! Oh, but they were! Adding milk to the mix to make the dumplings didn’t result in a dough that could be shaped, but a messy batter that was only good for tossing in to the trash! I did try to “save” this by making my own homemade paneer with 2% milk and adding it to the mush to try and get a doughy consistency, but that also failed! So I learnt two lessons. 1) instant ras malai mix is bad and 2) paneer made from 2% milk has the consistency of rubber! There, I’ve warned you!
So not to be made a fool of by the instant mix company, I decided, it was time to make the malai from scratch (gasp)! I headed over to a Indian recipes website called “Show Me The Curry” (ha, yes!). Last Diwali, I had followed a recipe for microwave kalakand (another Indian dessert!) from this website that turned out amazing! I found a detailed and precise (almost scientific) recipe for ras malai and decided I was going to follow this method, at least for the malai part. I’ll come to the ras later. The main thing to remember for this recipe is to use whole milk for the paneer..none of the 2% or 1% or heaven forbid, fat free stuff! Whole milk results in creamy delicious paneer that will make super soft ras malai.
For the ras part, since I still had the packet to make the ras from the Gits mix, I decided to use that. The instructions for these apparently were correct! It also tasted good and wasn’t overly sweet! In the recipe from Show Me The Curry, they ask you to boil down milk until it is reduced by half the volume. However, I don’t see why you couldn’t just use canned evaporated milk for this. The next time I make ras malai, I’ll probably do just that.
8 cups whole milk (OR 4 cups whole milk and 2 cups evaporated milk)
2 tablespoons lemon juice (you can substitute with vinegar if you don’t have lemon juice)
5 cups water
1 cup white sugar
a pinch of Saffron
1/4 teaspoon cardamom powder
2 tablespoons chopped pistachios and almonds
Sugar for the Ras – to taste
1. Boil 4 cups milk in a pan and once it boils, slowly add lemon juice (or vinegar) and stir. When the milk curdles and separates, take the pan off the heat and strain the curds or paneer into a colander lined with a cheese cloth. Pour some cold water over the paneer and hang the cheese cloth for at least 30 minutes to drain all the liquid.
2. Remove the paneer from the cheese cloth and run it through a food processor to make a smooth dough. You will know it’s ready when a ball of dough forms inside the bowl. Dive the paneer into 12 equal portions and roll each portion to form a smooth ball. Press the ball lightly to flatten it out.
3. Dissolve 1 cup of sugar into 5 cups of water in a pressure cooker and add the flattened paneer. Pressure cook the paneer for one whistle sound. Immediately switch off the stove and set a timer for 5 minutes. After 5 minutes, remove the lid and take out the paneer with a slotted spoon into a bowl and allow it to cool for a couple of minutes. If you don’t have a pressure cooker, you can use a saucepan and simply boil the paneer pieces for ~10 minutes.
4. In the meantime, boil the remaning 4 cups of water till it is reduced to half the volume. Alternatively, skip this step and use 2 cups of heated evaporated milk. Add sugar to the evaporated milk to taste, saffron, cardamom powder and nuts.
5. Once the paneer pieces are cool, gently squeeze out some of the sugar syrup and place them in a serving dish. Pour the milk preparation over the paneer and chill in the refrigerator.
6. Enjoy homemade ras malai!