Over the years my taste buds have come to prefer desserts which are more on the exotic side as opposed to rich, gooey indulgences. Don't get me wrong, I love well made Crème brûlée or Chocolate Pots de Crème, but would sooner indulge in a serving of Shrikhand or Gula melaka.
Now you might wonder why a good Hungarian/Australian girl like moi would find ingredients such as cardamom, saffron, rosewater and pandan so much more alluring than, say, cacao. The answer is twofold. Firstly, I just adore those exquisite flavours. Secondly, through the cooking school I co-owned once upon a time, I had the unique privilege of watching leading cookery writers and chefs from Australia and around the world prepare a range of desserts. And even more deliciously, I was fortunate enough to sample their offerings.
Now, I can't recall each and every morsel... some of them were sweet nothings, others were drop-dead delectable. What I can tell you is that across almost a decade I tasted standouts such as Charmaine Solomon's Shrikhand, Kurma Dasa's halva and Gulab jamun, and Gabriel Gaté's mango and passionfruit tart. There was black sticky rice made by gourmet farmer Matthew Evans, summer pudding and vanilla panna cotta prepared by Geoff Jansz, and caramel cardamom bananas made by spice legend Ian 'Herbie' Hemphill. Oh yes, not to forget Margaret Fulton's poached tamarillos, Diane Holuigue's slow roasted quinces, and Lyndey Milan's rhubarb tarte tatin, among others. Now I think of it, even the head pastry chef from Stars in San Francisco, Emily Luchetti (now with Farallon), paid a visit to share her baking techniques!
Over the years through these events, my tongue virtually travelled the world exploring a diverse range of textures and tastes, many of which I am delighted to share with you on Good Things. And yet there is still so much to learn and discover, and thanks to the Internet, the culinary world is at our fingertips.
As an example, this week's exotic, fruity finale is a recipe I happened across via a site called Food Stories which posted a photograph from The Lady 8 Home. I was salivating as soon as I saw Minnie's image, but the title 'Qubani ka Meetha – this is from Hyderabad' aroused my curiosity even more. Minnie's recipe was one of nine entries in an interesting North vs South cook's challenge (or blog hop) hosted by Hyderabadi Cuisine Recipes.
Qubani (pronounced khoo/baa/nee) is the Hindi term for apricots, and meetha means sweets. In essence, an apricot compote made with dried and/or fresh apricots. According to my research, Qubani ka Meetha is a hugely popular sweet in Hyderabadi cuisine, often served at the end of the meal at weddings and parties. It can be served with clotted cream, almond custard, or malai (which is a form of cream or milk pudding).
I've experimented with variations on the recipe, having now made it a number of times using both canned apricots (as it's winter here and fresh apricots aren't in season), as well as dried Turkish and also organic dried Australian apricots. With Minnie's version, the dried apricots are soaked in water overnight to plump them up and then the water is used in the cooking. I found that by just poaching the dried apricots in sugar syrup, they plumped up even more than when soaked beforehand. I added the saffron and ground cardamom to the syrup for more flavour. It also struck me that this compote would sit beautifully with some rosewater or vanilla junket, an old fashioned, easily digested milky dessert that used to be made with rennet, but nowadays with a tablet or powder. Actually, my 1970 edition of The Commonsense Cookery Book lists junket in the chapter on 'dishes for convalescents, aged and children', which seems perfect given that I am recovering from some form of autoimmune sickness (this may explain why I am craving junket lately).
So now to my take on Qubani ka Meetha:
SAFFRON & CARDAMOM APRICOT COMPOTE WITH ROSEWATER JUNKET
275g dried apricots
2 cups (500mls) water
1/4 cup sugar, less if preferred
1 teaspoon saffron threads
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1-2 tablespoons slivered almonds
1-2 tablespoons pistachio nuts
To make the apricot compote, or sweet (Qubani ka meetha: place the dried apricots, water, sugar, saffron threads, cardamom and lemon juice into a saucepan, stir to combine. Bring to the boil, then lower the heat and simmer gently. Now, you can cook the apricots until they are completely mushy and there is barely any syrup, or you can cook until the apricots are soft and there is plenty of the thick, spicy syrup. Towards the end of the cooking, you can add 1/2 the nuts and then use the rest as a garnish. Serve warm or chilled.
500mls low fat milk
2 junket tables
a few drops of rosewater
To make the rosewater junket: dissolve 2 junket tablets in a tablespoon of cold water and set aside. Meanwhile, heat the milk to just lukewarm (37 degrees C). Add the rosewater and stir in the dissolved junket tablets. Pour immediately into serving dishes and allow to stand undisturbed in a warm place. Once firm, you can chill the junket in the fridge. When you are ready to serve, carefully spoon the apricot compote and syrup over the junket and sprinkle with the remaining nuts. Serves 4-6.
The process in pictures...
Qubani ka Meetha a la Lizzy - simple and exquisite...
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Tell me about your dessert preferences. Do you enjoy exotic flavours, or do you prefer the more traditional? And what's your all time favourite?
Cooking and writing have been a lifelong passion.
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- Liz Posmyk
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NB: I use Australian standard measuring cups and spoons in my recipes.