Thursday, February 9, 2012

The Big Falooda

Falooda is a very popular Indian dessert, or you could call it a drink, introduced by Parsis, (not to be confused with Farsi or anything else middle eastern) an economically powerful sect who know good food. Its similar to Parfait and has these amazing layers of varying textures and flavors. In India, vendors push around falooda carts or park in populous spots during hot evenings, and families gather around for a cool refreshing change of palate. The main ingredient in Falooda is milk and loads of it. Unlike other Indian desserts which use milk, falooda uses a thinner leaner milk, which makes sure the drinker, is not weighed down and at the same time it has enough carbs in it, to give your tummy that full feeling, if you have decided to have some snack and a falooda, and call it a meal! My first time eating (or drinking) a Falooda was when I was about 15 years, and hanging out with a close group of friends in a crowded funfair. The Funfair had all the usual carousels, small stalls with carnival games, and our favorite assorted haunt of tiny food, jewelry and toy stalls.
The pulsating throngs, the twinkling lights and the noises were just what us older kids needed, who could take care of themselves, and still feel safe in the crowds.
As our shopping bags and tummies loaded up, and at least 3 rounds have been made to every stall, we decided to head home, and try out the cheap merchandises that would drive Mom nuts for days to come.
And we decided to spend the last change on something to drink and the nearest one we saw was an Old Man, with a cart, full of colorful syrups, and huge steel barrels containing milky-sweet vermicelli dessert. My Mom was big on outside foods and food poisoning and had strict rules on what to eat and what not to eat from stalls; so I refused peeking suspiciously at everything. But eventually peer pressure won, and I decided to try, falooda, and keep it a secret, from my germ-phobic Mom.
The Vendor took a large long glass, and plopped a big spoonful of gelatin into it and followed up with a thick milky layer of cooked tapioca pearls, and followed up with the vermicelli, cooked in milk and flavored with rose syrup. Then he added something really suspicious-looking, black and gelatinous, which reminded me of frog eggs, in the local pond. And just as if to take my mind off it, he added a big scoop of icecream and topped it with rose syrup. I looked at everyone, and saw everyone scooping, eating, chugging and slurping, and decided to follow the suit. And believe me, in the October heat of Mumbai, amidst all that crowds, I had this epiphany of how much of a good thing I was missing, all this time, as I spooned this amazing crazy mix of flavors, textures and smells and savored it.
The ice cream at the top, melted in my mouth and the refreshing scent of roses embraced my nostril, refreshing everything it came in touch with. The vermicelli milk was cold and I could feel it smoothly going to the base of my stomach, filling the last 5% of whatever stomach space we had left. The "frog-eggs" were some kind of seed, which was gelatinous and thinly layered on the out and crunchy as I chewed it between my incisors. And as I grew bolder, I thrust my spoon to the bottom and scooped up the jelly and mixed with the sweet milk and chewy mini globs of tapioca, it was sweet and tangy and a total change of scenery. And as the glass emptied, my friends looked at me and I smiled real big and nodded amongst the I-told-you-so-s.
And Falooda made my list of approved  and favored foods from that day on wards.
The ready-made mixes available at general stores in India always had the Vermicelli, Sugar, Rose Flavoring and Sabza (basil) seeds{the black frog-eggs thingies} mixed in a pouch and all one had to do was cook it all in milk, chill and serve it with Gelatin and Ice cream. It lacked the thick sweet slimy texture from the tapioca pearls.
I didnt bother until recently I went to a friend's place where she brought out falooda for my kids and hers. Her version was similar to my first encounter with falooda. It had everything! And upon asking her, she told me that she got a different mix of falooda from a Middle eastern grocery store, which sold Falooda kits, with everything, but actually tasted different. She also had the same readymade mix I used, and combined both the packs, and seperated them into 2 portions to use later. But I could see that it was not a very practical plan of driving across the town, to get this, then stock up with the Indian mix, and then mix them together AND cook it up!! For someone who loved Falooda THAT much, I thought it was worth going into an experiment.
And thus started my quest for that perfectly refreshing tall glass of falooda, with all the fixings. It was fairly easy once I deconstructed the ingredients and tried putting together one by one. Its no shortcut dessert like a Gits Gulab Jamun or readymade frozen desserts, found in Indian grocery stores. This is one beautiful, fulfilling dessert that will be fun for the kids and filling for the adults, and if you watch the calories, while you put it all together, its going to be super light too! A milkshake will carry more calories, than this!

This recipe serves 6 adults.

So without much more ado, here it goes:-

4-6 tbsp of Rose syrup (needed at various stages
6 cups skim milk (divided)
1 cup thin vermicelli;  pre-roasted if possible ( A good substitute is the thinnest rice sticks you can find in Asian Markets. Anyways, if you are using rice sticks, soak them in hot water and drain, then add to milk)
1/2 cup tapioca pearls, cooked in 2 cups of  water (pref in a pressure cooker)
2 tbsp sabza seeds (basil seeds/ takmaria seeds) soaked overnight, in warm water.
6 tbsp of sugar (divided) or you can use artificial sweeteners
1 pkt rose or strawberry flavored gelatin( like Jello)-- made as per pkg instructions
4 scoops of Rose/ Vanilla/ Saffron ice cream

1. In a non stick sauce pan, bring the milk to a boil and add 5 tbsp of sugar and vermicelli and cook the vermicelli until done (abt 10 mins for most pre-roasted varieties). The noodles should be tender and holding shape. Dont let them get mushy. Let cool.
2. Once the Vermicelli cools, add the cooked tapioca pearls and remaining sugar. Mix in the rose syrup and the sabza seeds. Stir well until combined. This is the base of the Falooda. Depending on how you like it, thin or thick, use it directly or diluted with milk.
3. Immediately before serving, fill a fancy dessert glass or a tall glass with 1 scoop of prepared gelatin, into the bottom of the glass, add the milk vermicelli mix, to reach 3/4 level of the glass. Then top it off with ice cream and more rose syrup if needed. Serve with a long spoon to reach the very bottom and scoop up all that last bit yumminess. Enjoy!!!

* For a beautiful presentation, or for a special impression, use fresh rose petals as a topper and on the base plate holding the goblet/glass. ;-)

** Since I got more than one question about Sabza Seeds, I am posting a link here that will help in identifying the spice.
 No, Its not Nigella! Its also known as Tukmaria/ Falooda/ Basil Seeds. I know we get Basil seeds at any garden store, under the name Ocimum Basilicum. But since those seeds are not for edible use, (think chemical fertilizers), using them is not recommended. If you can get organic seeds, from verifiable sources, then clean them in hot water a couple times and you are ready to go!
Another tip is to go browsing in Asian Markets selling groceries. These seeds being the major ingredient in bubble teas and Thai/ Vietnamese soups, who knows? You might just get lucky!

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