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Tuesday, September 14, 2004

milky way redefined

Milk is normally identified as the raw material necessary to make butter, cheese, ice creams and condensed milk. Pizzas are considered to be incomplete without a generous topping of grated cheese! In India, however, milk is the basic ingredient of innumerable varieties of delicious sweets found from Kolkata to Coimbatore. In the sixties, Dr Kurien and his ‘Operation Flood’ created a revolution of sorts and gave rise to a phenomenon called ‘Amul’! It has, since, become a household name associated with practically all types of preparation involving milk, except, possibly, rosogollas! Gone are the days when the milkman would milk the cow or buffalo right in front you and transfer the fresh warm frothy milk from his bucket to your container. The complete system of storage and distribution of milk has undergone a tremendous change – with pouches being delivered at your doorsteps today along with the newspaper!
One of the simplest of sweet dishes that can be prepared with milk base by anyone is ‘payas’ (in Bengali) and ‘payasam’ (in Malayalam). It is the end product of raw rice being boiled in milk. When the mixture starts to thicken, sugar is added apart from cashew nuts, pistas (pistachios) almonds and kish-mish. Bay leaves and ground cardamom impart a heavenly flavor. The preparation should be allowed to cool to room temperature before serving. This special dish is a must in birthday parties. The Malayalam version adds grated coconut.
Another simple dish involves a great deal of time and patience and is to be attempted only if you have an abundance of both. All you have to do to have a helping of ‘kheer’ is to take about two liters of milk in a large vessel and simmer for at least four hours over a slow flame. After four hours, you have to ensure that it does not start to stick to the walls of the vessel hence you must continuously stir the contents. The final product also should be served when cool. In Bengal there are innumerable moulds made of clay or wood which are used to give attractive shapes. No flavoring agent is necessary because, when two liters of milk is reduced to two hundred grams, it automatically acquires a distinct flavor of its own.
Other popular milk preparations in the North and the East are made from ‘chhana’. This is nothing but milk intentionally curdled by using lime or alum or some sour substance. The curdled mass is drained of all traces of water and used to prepare mouth watering rosogollas. Recently, these are being compressed mechanically and marketed as slabs of paneer. The preparations with paneer very seldom fall in the category of sweets. They are used to make tasty wholesome dishes with plenty of spices. Alu paneer, matar paneer and palak paneer, to name a few, taken with tandoori roti or roomali roti are relished by young and old alike.
And, of course, a brief on milk products will be incomplete without a mention of curd and raita.


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