Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Kesari to kick off Navaratri

Happy navaratri everyone! I am sure most of our readers need no introduction to this festival but for all others,  navaratri ("nava" means 9, "ratri" means night) is a Hindu festival that celebrates the 9 forms of Shakti - the female divine force in Hinduism. While the festival is celebrated all over India, each region and each community has it's own traditions. From Durga Puja in the east to Kolu in the south, from Gharba in the west to Dussehra in the north, the rituals are quite varied! 

Our Kolu for this year is all ready and I decided to make a sweet dish to mark the beginning of navaratri today. Maha and I are veterans at combined cooking through the phone, 3000 miles apart! We usually pick South Indian dishes that are complicated or simple/common recipes that we haven't tried or been able to master yet. Our pick for today was Kesari. 

Kesari (or sojji) is also known as Sheera in Maharashtra and Sooji ka Halwa in North India. Kesari gets its name from the "kesar" (saffron) color and flavor that is used in the dish. This is one of the most common sweets made in a South Indian household, more like a sweet version of upma! Now, on to the recipe shared by Maha and her mom.

Rava/Sooji - 1 cup 
Water - 3 cups
Sugar - 2.5 cups
Cashew halves - a handfull
Raisins - a handfull
Cardamom - 8, crushed to a coarse powder
Saffron - a pinch
Orange food color - a pinch
Ghee - 4-5 tbsp (and a little more if you wish!)

In a non stick pan heat 2 tbsp of ghee and roast the raisins and cashews to a light golden color, remove them onto a plate and set aside. Boil the water in another dish on the side. Add the rava to the same pan in which you roasted the cashews/raisins and roast till it turns to a dark pink color, you will see some smoke and also smell the roasted rava. On medium heat, this takes about 10 minutes but make sure you constantly stir the rava. 

When the rava is done, reduce the heat to "low" and now slowly add the water. Warning, there will be a lot of splashing so, watch out! Keep stirring as you add the water and make sure there are no lumps. Now, add the food color and keep stirring. Turn the heat back to "medium", check to see if the rava is cooked and only when it is cooked add the sugar (it is hard for the sooji to cook after the sugar is added). Keep mixing till it looks like a pudding. Now, add the saffron, cashews, raisins and cardamom. Finish it off with 2-3 tbsp of ghee (or more, hey it's the festival season!), mix well and the final consistency will be a soft-combined-mass that doesn't stick to the sides of the pan. 

A few quick tips from Maha: 

To test if it is done and to make sure it has reached the desired consistency, take a spoon of the kesari and put it in a bowl greased with ghee and let it cool down for 20-30 seconds and check. 

If you are serving it later or even a day after, take out the required amount in a serving bowl, sprinkle some ghee over, microwave and serve!

You can also soak the saffron in a tbsp of warm water and add it in.

A final note about the food color, I used Wilton's orange food color. The amount you add depends on your choice of color. So, start with a tiny drop, mix it in and add more if you desire.


  1. You have no clue how much my mouth is watering. I think I am going to make it RIGHT NOW.. Off I go..

  2. Thanks Tania :) I just updated the post w/ one final note about the food color. Happy cooking :)

  3. yummy yum! enjoying it till is boost cake to give me a boost in life :)

  4. We did 'kanjakaan' today. Its where we treat little girls as Goddesses. I made a variant of this - doesnt look as good as this but for a first time effort, it was decent. :-)


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