Semiya Payasam – An Easy to Make Sweet From Kerala

Men in our country are in general male chauvinists. When a woman demands that her husband treat her as an equal, a friend, (with some romance thrown in, ofcourse), would she be asking for too much? Well, if the demand is made of a man with an inflated ego (there would be no need to make such a demand of a reasonable man in the first place), it would definitely be asking for the impossible.

But I do wonder if women are not to blame to some extend for this social setup. So many mothers expect their daughters to help with the house work, while their sons are allowed to play, watch TV or do school work. In many homes, parents are willing to dole out plenty of money on a boy child’s education, while that of a girl child is neglected or not given the same importance. Aval padichu collector agumo (Why spend on her education, she is not about to be a collector), would be the appropriate dialogue at this juncture. (Yes, I do watch a lot of Malayalam movies ;)).

Yet again, the same mothers search for rich and educated girls when their sons reach marriageable age; rich so that she brings home a hefty sum of money to cover all the expenses incurred on the boy’s upbringing and education, and educated so that she could find work and bring home even more money, thereby lessening the burden on the boy’s shoulders. Of course, it goes without saying that she should know to cook and clean, so that our dear boy does not starve and is well cared for. Now does it surprise you that while a man in India relaxes with TV and books after work, a woman in India rushes home after work to cook, clean, wash, take care of kids and finish up a lot of pending tasks. Oh, and she also has to make coffee for hubby dearest who is terribly exhausted and resting his poor aching muscles.

A Nair friend of mine informed me that things were very different in their community till a couple of generations back. They followed a matrilineal system, wherein a family traced its roots through the women in the family. A woman continued to live at her Tharavad (joint family) even after marriage, and the women of the family had an important role to play in all major decision making and money and property matters though the maternal uncle was head of the family. There was no dowry system, and the husbands did not have much of a role in the day to day affairs of the tharavad :D.

Infact, my friend had a great aunt (or was it great great aunt, I can’t remember) who was married to two men at the same time! When I expressed my disbelief at this, my friend told me that polyandry was not an uncommon practice in the Nair society at the time. I felt sorry for the women who made the mistake of marrying (at all) twice or more (what a headache it would have been), but I did feel tickled thinking about the ensuing jealousy. I guess marriage ties were loose and informal in the community at the time, unlike what they are today, but the men must have been more careful about how they dealt with their wives, since women were at freedom to terminate the relationship as and when they pleased. The freedom enjoyed by the women then does seem incredible now; I wish women today had at least the freedom to swear loudly when there were too many dishes to be done. But with the concept of Pathi Parameshwar (the husband is god) fixed in the minds of the pathis (husbands) at least, this seems to be a distant dream.

And talking about Nair Tharavads, I have never been to one. But I can clearly imagine (aided by my friend’s descriptions and scenes in lots of Malayalam movies) beautiful old nallukettus (houses with internal courtyards); lots of happy and pretty women dressed in white kasavu pudavas (white clothe with golden embroidery), chandana kuri (sandalwood paste) on their foreheads and a tulsi leaf in their hair; huge_ kullams_ (walled ponds with a flight of step leading to it on one side) for the women to bath in; old, stooped women chanting holy verses and lavish vegetarian meals served on banana leaves as during Onam Festival. What better way to complete this vision of perfection than with a semiya payasam, a sweet dish starring semiya or vermicelli and milk.

  • Servings: 3-serving
  • Time: 30 mins
  • Difficulty: easy
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Men in our country are in general male chauvinists. When a woman demands that her husband treat her as an equal, a friend, (with some romance thrown in, ofcourse), would she be asking for too much? Well, if the demand is made of a man with an inflated ego (there would be no need to make such a demand of a reasonable man in the first place), it would definitely be asking for the impossible. But I do wonder if women are not to blame to some extend for this social setup. So many mothers expect their daughters to help with the house work, while their sons are allowed to play, watch TV or do school work. In many homes, parents are willing to dole out plenty of money on a boy child’s education, while that of a girl child is neglected or not given the same importance. Aval padichu collector agumo (Why spend on her education, she is not about to be a collector), would be the appropriate dialogue at this juncture. (Yes, I do watch a lot of Malayalam movies ;)). Yet again, the same mothers sear

Summary

  • Cuisine: kerala
  • Course: dessert
  • Cooking Time: 30 mins

Ingredients

3/4 cup Vermicelli
3 cups Whole milk
1/4 – 1/2 cup Sugar
1/2 cup Cream
2 tablespoons Ghee (clarified butter) or butter
1/4 cup Raisins
1/4 cup Almonds / pista nuts / cashew nuts  
3 pods Cardamom crushed ,
2 tablespoons White sago
1/4 cup Water
2 drops Vanilla essence (a modern twist)

Steps

  1. In a thick bottomed pan, heat a tablespoon of ghee or butter. 
  2. Fry the nuts till they have changed colour, remove and keep aside. 
  3. Toss in the raisins and when they have swollen up, remove and keep aside. 
  4. Add the remaining butter or ghee and lightly fry the vermicelli on a low flame, till it has browned lightly.
  5. Boil water and add sago. Cook for about five minutes.
  6. Boil milk in a pan. 
  7. Once the milk starts boiling, reduce heat to a simmer and add the vermicelli, sago, powdered cardamom, half the raisins and nuts, and sugar. 
  8. Keep stirring and let cook till the vermicelli is completely done. 
  9. Add cream, and remove from fire. 
  10. Finally add the vanilla essence and mix well.
  11. Garnish with the remaining raisins and nuts and serve.

Most people like payasam to be very overpoweringly sweet, so you need to adjust the amount of sugar you add according to your taste.

You can thicken the payasam by boiling for a longer time, or if you find the payasam to be too thick (which often happens with me) once it has cooled down, add more milk and bring to boil again.

Payasam can be served hot or cold.

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