A distinct memory from my childhood is that of sweet aromas wafting through our 1 bedroom apartment on birthdays, festivals or anniversaries or special days to mark a celebration. This has remained with me through my life and no festival, birthday or anniversary seems like a special day without these aromas permeating every corner of my home. It’s the aroma of slow roasting sev (vermicelli) in ghee, mixed with the fragrant lily garlands waiting to be hung on the door by the tallest member of the family (Mr.40 in this case) and my dad when I was a kid. It evokes such a feeling of festive nostalgia, that I resolved that wherever I was in life, this memory would always be re-created for my family.
The recipe ofcourse comes from the pompous ladies of the Kapadia and Patel clan who try to go one up on each other by repeating and parroting the recipe at every social gathering, to an extent that I have it memorised and can write down Hilla, Ruby, Aran and Nergis’ version word for word (LOL).
Sev is a thin wheat based vermicelli that comes in a pre- roasted or non- roasted avatar. Its sold in rolls. Its slow roasted or fried in ghee over low, low heat, patiently turned over and over so that its evenly browned and no strand is charred. The roasted ones also need to be roasted again….there is no escaping the ghee.
My mom-in-law Ruby whose sev is legendary has a special vessel or kadai (for roasting or frying), a Katli (steel pot) to measure out the water and uses her fist to throw in the sugar. The frying process can take a long time depending on the quantity you are making and at the end of it expect muscular arms and shoulders.
The frying is done the previous day or evening and the addition of the water and final cooking on the morning of the big day. Though I follow Ruby’s directions religiously I refuse to use copious amounts of ghee. Hence I end up frying my sev in far less ghee and I use a non-stick based pan or pot that I have reserved for making sweets. So this Parsi New Year as I patiently stirred the Sev I felt my late Mamma’s presence telling me “Use more ghee, you silly girl. It will lubricate your joints”
I admit sev is not my favourite Parsi sweet, but I make it for the sheer happiness it brings to the day. A lot of Parsi dishes that require skill and patience are a dying art as not many of us have the time or patience to stir the pot and its so much easier to outsource. But this is one dish which I refuse to outsource as the store bought ready to make variety won’t spread the aromas of happiness. 🙂
PARSI SEV (VERMICELLI)
200 grams Sev (roasted)
180 grams sugar
6-7 heaped tablespoons ghee
500 ml water
1 teaspoon finely ground mix of nutmeg, cardamom and mace*
2 teaspoons Vanilla Essence
1 tablespoons Rosewater (optional)
Pinch of salt
2 tablespoons Milk
Garnish- 50 grm mixed nuts- cashew (halved or broken), blanched and slivered Almonds, Charoli
25-30 grms golden raisins (washed)
Blanch and cut almonds into thin sticks. Break cashews into halves or quarter pieces and wash the raisins to remove any dirt and dry on a kitchen towel. Fry all of the above, individually until a very light golden brown using 1 tablespoon of ghee. Drain on kitchen paper. The raisins burn easily so fry on low heat and remove as soon as they plump up.
Remove vermilcelli from its roll and breqk it into 4-5 inch pieces. In a heavy based non-stick pot heat 2 heaped tablespoons ghee. Put the sev into the pot and keep stirring it on low heat so that it browns evenly. You will notice that as you stir it around the sev breaks down further to 1 cm or abouts. If you feel the need for more ghee add a teaspoon.
Once the sev is evenly browned either plunge the bottom of the pan in cold water or remove the sev to another platter, to stop it from browning further. Once cool return to the pot and add the sugar, nutmeg-cardamom powder, pinch of salt. You can prepare upto this stage the night before or the previous day.
Heat a litre of water till it comes to a rolling boil. Pour a little less than half of it into the sev and turn the heat to high. Give the sev a gentle stir so as to get the spices, sugar, water mixed in. Add the milk and vanilla essence. Stir gently. Once it reaches a boil skim off any scum from the surface. Lower the heat, cover the pot and let the sev simmer. Check it every 5 minutes to see if its cooked. It should appear slightly tramnsculent and the texture should be firm without being mushy. Be careful whilst stirring at this stage, do so with a butter knife so as not to break the delicate strands. If its not cooked in 10 minutes and the water has dried up, add 3-4 tablespoons of hot water and cover and continue cooking.
Remove to a platter, garnish with nuts and raisins and serve warm.
* Spice mix: Cardamon 20 pieces + 1 large nutmeg + 4-5 strands mace. Grind to a fine powder and store in an airtight bottle. Makes a great tastemaker for French toasts or a bowl of porridge.
- Tip: Its better to add less water to the sev and add a little more later. Initially add enough water so that it just about covers the sev. Keep the remaining water hot so that you can use it as required