Easy Saffron Sweet Rice and Flaked Almond and Saffron Semolina Halava

Govardhan Puja is just a few days away, and I have always been in love with the part of that children’s Govardhan Puja song that goes, “Dear father please prepare, rice, dahl, halava, puri, pakora, laddhu, rasagulla, sandesh, sweet rice meant for the brahmanas. Meant for the brahmanas, chanting the vedic hymns, decorate the cows, feed them well, keeping them in front, circumambulate the hill. Govardhan Puja, Govardhan Puja.” It seems that there is supposed to be a feast on Govardhan Puja, because when I looked in the Krsna Book, all of the preparations in the song were mentioned.
Ok, so sorry if I gave you the impression that I was going to write recipes for all of those here. We just don’t have the space for all those different recipes on this one newsletter. However we do have space for the halava and the sweet rice. I know, Yay! So here it is…

Easy Saffron Sweet Rice

[Recipe by Pishima]

This is a recipe that my mom told me how to make, and that I have watched her make quite a few times. It is really easy to make and it comes out beautifully. Unlike many other Indian sweet rice recipes, this recipe uses basmati rice instead of shorter grained rice.

1 Gallon milk (Organic is best)
1 cup basmati rice
1 1/2 cups sugar (I like cane)
1/2 tsp saffron

In a large pot bring the milk to a boil. Once the milk begins to boil add the rice. Boil for a little while until the milk begins to appear thicker, not so runny. Add the sugar and the saffron and boil some more. When you see the rice begin to float on the top of the milk instead of just dropping to the bottom of the pot, you know it is ready. Cool and serve warm or chilled. Garnish with some pistachio nuts if desired.
Variations: To make richer creamier sweet rice, replace some of the milk with cream.

Flaked Almond and Saffron Semolina Halava
Now to the halava. It is somewhat of a tradition in many temples, to make a replica of Govardhan hill out of halava. I do find myself looking forward to seeing the halava Govardhan, every year. Even if you don’t live near a temple you could make your own Govardhan hill and distribute the prasadam to your friends and family. This halava recipe is from Kurma’s second cookbook “Cooking with Kurma: More Great Vegetarian Dishes” and is really deliciously decadent.

Flaked Almond and Saffron Semolina Halava
[recipe by Kurma Dasa]

To many aficionados of Hare Krishna cooking worldwide, halava rates on top of the list of their favourite dishes. It’s hot, buttery, sweet, flavoursome, and completely satisfying, especially on a cold winter’s day. In this recipe, the humble semolina teams up with the world’s two most expensive spices-saffron and cardamom. Enriched with milk, sultanas and flaked almonds, serve fluffy, plump grained halava hot with cream, custard, or as is for an epicurean experience.

Preparation and Cooking Time: about 30 minutes
Yield: enough for 6-8 persons or 4-6 halava addicts

2 1/2 cups (560ml) water
1/2 cup (125ml) milk
1 1/4 cups (310ml) sugar
1/2 teaspoon (2ml) saffron strands, soaked in 1 tablespoon (20ml) boiling hot milk for 30 minutes
140g unsalted butter
1 1/4 cups (310ml) course grained semolina
1/3 cup (85ml) flaked almonds
1 teaspoon (5ml) ground cardamom
1/3 cup (85ml) sultanas

Combine the water, milk, sugar and the soaked saffron in a 2-litre/quart saucepan. Place over moderate heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat to very low and cover with a tight-fitting lid.

Melt the butter in a 2 or 3 liter/quart saucepan over low heat, stirring occasionally. Add the semolina, and slowly and rhythmically stir-fry the grains for about 20 minutes, or until they darken to a tan colour and become aromatic. Add the flaked almonds to the grains towards the end of the toasting process.

Raise the heat under the syrup, add the cardamom and the sultanas, and bring it to a rolling boil. Raise the heat under the semolina for 1 minute, stirring continuously. Remove the saucepan of semolina from the heat, and slowly pour the hot syrup into the semolina, stirring steadily. The grains may at first splutter, but will quickly cease as the liquid is absorbed.

Return the halava to the stove and stir steadily over very low heat until the grains fully absorb the liquid, start to form into a pudding-like consistency, and pull away from the sides of the pan. Place a tight-fitting lid on the saucepan and cook over the lowest possible heat for 5 minutes. A heat diffuser works well. Remove the covered saucepan from the heat and allow the halava to steam for an additional 5 minutes. Serve hot.

To make the halava hill, mound the halava onto a baking tray with sides. You can use shredded coconut dyed with green food dye for grass, cookies with blue icing for lakes, and little “simply wonderfuls” for boulders. If you have children, this is a fun project to let them help with. They can really get creative decorating the hill.

Wishing all of you a sweet Govardhan Puja celebration.