Semolina and Saffron Pudding (Rava Kesari)

What makes a recipe authentic?

Typically, authentic recipes use ingredients and methods of cooking that are specific to a particular region. The ingredients used and the methods of cooking developed came from what resources are available in that part of the world.

Therefore, it is utterly inauthentic to attempt to cook an "authentic" recipe from one part of the world in another part of the world. Let's take Indian cooking for example. Coconuts are readily available in India and so are used in many of Indian recipes. However, coconuts are not readily available in Minnesota. So what is more inauthentic - to substitute the coconut for something that is more native to Minnesota or to buy a coconut that has been shipped from a far away place and has lost most of its flavor?

Recipes evolve as the people using those recipes evolve. I believe that authentic cooking is using what you have around you. So, when I couldn't find curry leaves for avial the other day and substituted celery leaves, I don't believe I was being inauthentic to Indian cooking.

I was being non-traditional.

Non-traditional cooking is often where we have the most fun. New flavor combinations come alive when experimenting. If you start with fabulous tasting ingredients, it's hard to go wrong. That's what I tried to do with avial and now with this pudding.

Rommegrot, or Norwegian rice pudding, is a favorite dish in my family. It always makes me think of my mom... and the Rollag Steam Threshers Reunion... I was delighted that when I tasted rava kesari I immediately thought of the rice pudding I ate growing up. The only differences between the two are polenta for rice and the addition of saffron.

This pudding is a dessert. It is sweet, flavorful, and satisfying. I'm looking forward to making this again when it gets cooler outside.

And for those of you who are raisin averse, don't simply omit them. Their tart and tangy flavor is a great compliment to the sweet pudding. Pineapple or nectarine would be a delicious substitute.

Semolina and Saffron Pudding (Rava Kesari)
8 servings, adapted from India's Vegetarian Cooking: A Regional Guide by Monisha Bharadwaj

2/3 cup ghee (I used unsalted butter)
1 heaping cup semolina (I used coarse-ground polenta)
3/4 cup sugar
Large pinch of saffron
2 cups warm milk
Pinch of ground cardamom
2 teaspoons raisins

  1. Melt the butter in a heavy saucepan. Add the polenta and let cook for a few minutes, stirring often.
  2. Add the sugar and stir until it melts, a couple of minutes.
  3. Mix the saffron into the milk. Add a couple tablespoons to the saucepan and stir well, breaking up any clumps. Add a couple more tablespoons and stir well, breaking up clumps. Add the rest of the milk to the saucepan and stir well. 
  4. Add the cardamom and raisins. Reduce the heat to medium-low. Cook, stirring frequently (less stirring is needed at the beginning, more toward the end) until the mixture is fully cooked and has a pudding consistency. This will take about 10-15 minutes. Serve warm.

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