The one with the mulfi
As monsoon lashes against the Kerala coast, and rains creep up the sub-continent following their usual trail, I decide that I too in my fashion must address the Indian obsession with the mango. Clichéd it is, of course; bordering on oral fixation, true; but, well, cultures perhaps owe it to themselves somewhat to live up to their stereotypes, especially if said stereotypes were first generated-for and subsequently were seen-through-and-analyzed-as-thus-by goras.
Ergo, the mango.
Or rather, if we were to go with the flow, the magical mangoes from Dharamtallah, which played a critical role in pushing me from one side of the blogosphere (foodporn-viewing) to the other (foodporn-contributing or whatever). But long before these magical mangoes, came the train journeys to Howrah, at the end of the summer holidays. So that is where the story really begins.
Every June, when Mummy would return to Calcutta from the glorious environs of what is now Jharkhand, she would be accompanied, alongside a scrawny child (me), by several baskets bursting with fresh vegetables and fruits, several gunny sacks full of rice grown on my grandfather’s land, several bags stuffed with local delicacies – I remember a particularly delicious home-made snack called jhilkut – and several canvas thailas full of sundry other items that, like the rest, were far superior to any Bengal produce, sweetened as they were by the quaint properties of the Jharkhand water-table. I might be exaggerating slightly – but that, more or less, was the general picture. Co-travellers were no problem. They were won over with mountains of food that my grandmother would pack as though for a troop of soldiers going to Siachen, and if I remember correctly, some of them even went home with a few goody bags of choice vegetables.
My father, who is somewhat of a posh sort, would be most annoyed at the spectacle we presented at Howrah. But he would have no choice but to stuff it all into our creaky fiat premier padmini.
These days, when I return from Calcutta, my mother clamouringly packs a massive quantity of stuff for us. Mostly I put up with it. Believe me, it is far easier to just go with it than explain otherwise to her. Earlier this month, for instance, I ended up paying through my nose at the excess baggage counter. But yes, the five kilos of gobindo bhog rice she had packed was comforting; it is, after all, supremely expensive in Delhi. 70 rupees a kilo! (No, no, don’t do the math. Apparently, the excess baggage does not count; she has even offered to return it to me.) And the magical himsagar mangoes of Dharamtallah do not even fall into this category: they cannot be had in Delhi for love or money. The spouse was not amused.
With the last of the above mangoes, I decide, extremely uncharacteristically I’ll have you know, to do something special. Mango kulfi did seem appropriate, but I was faced with a couple of problems: I had neither my usual recipe (that had been twice tried, with mixed results) nor kulfi moulds. The consequences of moving in and out of cities with random casualness – one part of one’s worldly baggage is always elsewhere.
However, my Julie Sahni classic cookbook – Classic Indian Vegetarian Cookery – suggested that muffin moulds might just as easily be used, a possibility that appealed for its sheer quirkiness. And Julie Sahni’s recipe, you would have guessed from all the tautology, was a classic. So there was no need for condensed milk, evaporated milk, cornflour, milk powder or even whipping cream. One only needed a litre of regular milk (I acquired two packets of full-cream from Mother Dairy) and a dash of nutmeg powder, preferably freshly grated, and some sugar. The mangoes, you would recall, I already had.
In the traditional mode, I sliced off the tops and soaked them in water for half an hour.
According to Sahni, “It is the slow cooking of the milk that imparts that distinct characteristic rabadi aroma only classic kulfi has. Also, because the milk mixture is frozen without being churned, the kulfi develops a special grainy texture not unlike that of Middle Eastern halwa, something between ice-cream and sherbet.”
Luckily, electricity in my Council House-ish kitchen is subsidized, so I could guiltlessly thicken the milk slowly, on my non-traditional induction cooker. Simmering the litre after it reached boiling point, and continuously stirring it (well, okay, one is ideally supposed to stir it constantly – I did my best) I achieved a rather aromatic slightly-coddled creamy-texture result, sweetened slightly. To that was added the mango puree, the dash of nutmeg, and subsequently, in clingfilm-lined muffin moulds, it was frozen inside generous aluminium foil packets.
It was delicious, even if I say so myself. The mulfi.
I’m including the recipe in case you wish to attempt it.
(Adapted from Julie Sahni’s Classic Indian Vegetarian Cookery (1999). London: Grub Street, 2003. P.428)
1 litre/1 ¾ pints milk
4 tablespoons sugar
Freshly grated nutmeg: one-eighth of a teaspoon
250 ml mango pulp
1. Bring the milk to boil over high heat, stirring constantly to make sure no skin forms (as that shall deter evaporation). Subsequently, lower the temperature to medium and cook the milk, gently bubbling and boiling, until it is reduced to 400 ml. Stir often so the milk does not stick or burn. Add the sugar and cool thoroughly.
2. Fold in the nutmeg and mango pulp.
3. Pour into kulfi moulds (or, at a pinch, muffin tins lined with cling-film and covered with aluminium foil) and freeze.
4. Unfreeze and devour.
Notes: As someone with no culinary sense of proportions I did splash the thickened milk around in my measuring cup once or twice in between to check if it was thickened enough. Though it’s a bit of a dangerous process, I would recommend it.
It is important to keep stirring regularly if not continuously. The last time I’d attempted it, the milk for the kulfi had got slightly burnt – and though my Russian gourmet-cook friend, the unfortunate one sampling it, said making it “smoky” was a good French twist – it is a situation that is not easily rectifiable.
It tastes far superior (at least to my untrained palate) to the recipes that use condensed milk, evaporated milk, cornflour, whipping cream etc.
Finally, point 4 does not take from Sahni’s book. But works pretty well.