Fluffy sheermals are perfect accompaniments for kormas & niharis. Photo: Rhea Dalal
Ramzaan may have come and gone, but the flavours linger. I have always loved the rich and robust flavours of the food at Bohri Mohalla and every year, all through the month of Ramzaan, the husband and I make frequent trips there to indulge ourselves. The kebabs,tava fries, rolls, niharis, and of course the sweet delights like phirni, malpuas and the freshly-made hot jalebis call us back every year!
Another magical place for such food, though quite distinct from what we get in Mumbai, is the Jama Masjid area of Delhi. In the lanes nestled under the towering domes of the Masjid are treasure houses of Mughlai cuisine – kormas, biryanis, kebabs, ishtu, the list is endless! I’ve been there only once, but those flavours linger quite strongly and I hope to go there again soon.
Most of this food is best had there on the street – I don’t think one can quite replicate the flavours at home, but there are some things one can make at home quite successfully. Like Sheermal, for example. A soft pillowy flat bread that’s flavoured with saffron, enriched with lashings of ghee and milk, this bread is the perfect accompaniment to the sumptuous niharis and kormas. Most of us don’t think beyond rumali rotis, naans and parathas to go with Mughlai gravies, and the fact that restaurants usually don’t offer anything else doesn’t really help. Since the Sheermal is relatively quite elusive, I find the best thing to do is to make this lovely bread myself.
Recipe for Sheermal
2 + ¼ cups maida
½ tsp salt
1 tsp instant yeast
2 tsp sugar
¼ cup warm water
¼ cup ghee
1 tsp kewra water or 2 tsp rose/orange blossom water
½ cup milk
¼ tsp saffron strands
1. In a cup mix the warm water with the sugar and the instant yeast.
2. In a large mixing bowl mix the flour with the salt. Add the yeast mix and stir.
3. Beat the egg lightly and add it to this mix.
4. Now add the ghee a little at a time and keep mixing till the mixture resembles large breadcrumbs. You can do this step in your food processor. Use only as much ghee as is required.
5. Slowly add the kewra water (or other) and milk and knead the dough till it forms a rough ball. Put the ball on a lightly floured surface and knead it well till it is absolutely smooth and soft. Add milk as required.
6. Brush a bowl lightly with a bit of ghee and put in the dough, leaving it to prove. Cover with a damp napkin and leave it undisturbed on your kitchen counter till the dough doubles in size. This could take up to two hours depending on the weather.
7. Soak the saffron strands in a little warmed milk.
8. Once the dough has doubled, punch it down gently and knead for a couple of minutes. Leave it to rest for 15 minutes.
9. Preheat your oven at 180 degree C.
10. Divide the dough into four balls. Gently flatten each ball to make a disc approximately 6 inches across. Brush the top with the saffron milk. Then poke the entire top surface of the disc neatly with a fork.
11. Bake the Sheermals for 12 to 15 minutes till the bread develops a beautiful golden colour.
12. Brush with butter or ghee as soon as you remove them from the oven.
13. Serve with a korma or any flavourful dish that has plenty of gravy.
Rhea is a trained archaeologist, but has hung up her trowel. At present, she is a food blogger who writes and edits content on a freelance basis. She enjoys cooking, exploring cuisines and ingredients, and their histories. She shares her experiences on her blog euphoRHEA. She also dabbles in amateur photography, paints on ceramics, and organises occasional food or history-based events in Mumbai and Navi Mumbai. She moderates the biggest Facebook food group, Chef at Large, and runs The Porkaholics (only for pork lovers) and Foodies in Navi Mumbai (focused on the growing food scene in Navi Mumbai).