We are not a very ritualistic family, so dressing up in traditional finery and putting up the gudi (a stick with an upturned tumbler and flowers, heralding the new year) is something we never did. But, if you were to think of food rituals, we have never been short of those.
When I was growing up, seldom did a Gudi Padwa slip by without an elaborate meal that surrounded the quintessential Shrikhand-puri. Amma would make a very well-planned trip to Dadar (the closest Marathi-centred destination where stores like Bedekar and Panshikar made brisk business of Maharashtrian pantry essentials with the occasional seasonal treat thrown in for good measure) or to “town.” In the summer vacation, when we visited our grandparents in South Bombay (it was Bombay then), we walked down to Bora Bazaar in the early evening sun with our grandma to shop for vegetables only because she dangled the carrot in front of us—a treat of Kokum Sarbat or Kairi Panhe at the Bedekar store.
It might have been easier for Amma and my grandma to just buy tubs of readymade Shrikhand from the neighbourhood sweet shop or from stores like Bedekar, but like most women of their generations, they liked to make things at home. Besides, we always thought that the store-bought versions of Shrikhand were a tad too sweet for our taste. And therefore, Shrikhand is always made at home. The only exception to the “from scratch” rule is buying the “chakka” (hung yogurt) instead of spending another couple of days planning it in advance—asking the milkman to deliver four times the quantity of milk—only full fat—that he delivers everyday, turning it to yoghurt by adding just the right amount of good quality yoghurt starter, letting it set, and then tying it up in linen, knotted tightly on the tap over the sink to drain the water, for hours, until it achieved a slightly grainy texture. It was only after this critical step that the real Shrikhand making could commence. So, chakka was always bought from a Bedekar or a Samant to help cut down everyone’s anticipation.
Armed with kilos and kilos of Chakka neatly packed in layers of newspaper to insulate it, Amma returned and a quick wash later, she was ready to measure the Chakka and mix it with the rest of the ingredients. A good Shrikhand is one that can stand by itself on a plate; it shouldn’t need a bowl to hold it together, and it must have a slight edge of the tanginess from the yogurt—too much sugar takes that away and the Shrikhand ends up like a syrupy mess that you cannot eat more than a few teaspoons of. A touch of nutmeg (most families use cardamom) and a generous bit of saffron bleeding its colour into the tiny bowl of milk it is mixed in—and a scattering of green pistachios and brown-edged slivers of almonds complete the picture.
A minimum of 3 kilos of Shrikhand was made every year at Gudi Padwa. A scant half kilo would be consumed on the festive occasion while the rest would be neatly packed into steel dabbas and stashed away in the freezer. As kids, we seldom had the patience to thaw the Shrikhand and consume it with a meal long after Gudi Padwa had come and gone; we would simply use an ice cream scoop and treat ourselves to this lovely dessert as we vegetated on the couch on hot summer afternoons. Today, I’m taking off from that memory and converting it into a dessert that is light and enjoyable to a contemporary palate.
Recipe for Shrikhand FroYo
1 kilo Chakka (hung natural yogurt)
¾ kilo granulated sugar
A pinch of salt
¼ nutmeg, finely grated
A few strands of saffron, lightly roasted, bruised, and immersed in ¼ cup lukewarm milk
1 and ¼ cup unsweetened whipped cream
Chopped nuts and sprig of mint to serve
1. Combine all the ingredients (except the whipped cream) in a large vessel and leave covered for a few hours at room temperature until the sugar begins to dissolve into the yogurt.
2. Pass through a soup strainer or blend/whisk until it becomes smooth.
3. Add the ¼ cup of whipped cream and fold into the yogurt mixture to combine. Now, add the remaining whipped cream and fold gently.
4. Transfer to airtight vessels (preferably plastic; metal causes ice crystals), cover with cling wrap, and freeze for 4-5 hours or overnight before serving with a garnish of chopped nuts and a sprig of mint.