The erstwhile cutest kid on the planet turned 18 this month. The year that marks adulthood. But to me, he’ll always be the kid who gave hugs on demand, loved Speed Racer and Winnie the Pooh, and waited for the moment I stepped out of the room to climb on top of my drafting table and add orange smiley faces, blue flowers and purple grass on my architecture school work sheets. Got to love a kid who leaves you smiley faces with oblivious equanimity, but it was only because he was so cute and cuddly (and because his other aunt had me in a death grip) that he survived.
This kid had a sweet tooth the size of Kentucky. His love of all things sweet has not waned at all through his teenage years. I love when he comes to visit as it gives me license to have honeyed somethings in the house all the time. I made him brownies when he was last here. And now, as Diwali is nearing, when I miss my family more than ever, I’m thinking of him and how much he loved the festival and was frightened by it in equal measure.
Every year at Diwali, mom made the traditional faral. This made our little guy very happy. One of the first things he learned to do a year after he was walking was make his way to the kitchen and pull on my mom’s pallu while asking for a laddoo or pedha. He’d insist on a piece for each hand and then scamper away to his toys. He talked to the toy dog and little bear and you could see he was torn between eating the sweets himself and trying to feed them to his toy partners. The toys never got to them though because, after much cajoling, he ended up handing at least one piece over to a hungry aunt. Then the firecrackers would start going off all around the neighbourhood. The loud ones scared him, and made him cry. That’s when more sweets would be produced to calm the fright. Yes, he made those festivals memorable.
I thought of this burfi on his birthday, keeping his love of sweets in mind. He loves burfi, an Indian sweet. I had a bunch of frozen coconut and a condensed milk can that I was trying to make something with. The only coconut dessert recipes I like are Indian ones. I can’t deal with the sweetened desiccated coconut flakes in coconuts pies and German chocolate cakes (coconut and chocolate is my personal nightmare). Coconut isn’t meant to be suffocated in chocolate. Its pure, fresh flavour should shine through on its own. There’s a Persian mint plant in my garden that has the most fragrant, cooling mint leaves. The leaves are much prettier than the more widely available English mint. I had previously made a simple syrup with these leaves, then realized too late that I used up all the sugar there. From that adversity was born this gorgeous, glorious recipe.
Traditionally, burfi is made with milk and sugar.You start with fresh or frozen grated coconut, thawed first. This is lightly toasted in some ghee. To this, you add the sweet stuff and the cardamom and then let it reduce. In this case, I used a combination of the mint sugar syrup and condensed milk, which by the way I think I could eat just on its own. The mint offers you a clean, fresh palate when you’re done eating the burfi. It’s the perfect after dinner sweet. I plan to make whole batches for Diwali and serve them up to visiting friends and guests.
Minty Coconut Burfi with pistachios
Source: Own recipe
Makes about 36-40 squares.
Grated coconut – 2-1/2 cups, fresh or frozen
Mint Syrup – 1 cup
Condensed milk – 3/4 cup
Whole pistachios – 1 cup, shelled & toasted
Green cardamom – 8, shelled
Ghee – 3 tbsp
For the mint syrup:
Sugar – 1-1/2 cups
Water – 1 cup
Mint leaves (I used Persian Mint) – a generous handful of leaves
To make the syrup:
– Place the sugar and water in a small pan on medium heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar.
– Once the liquid comes to a boil, turn down the heat till the syrup is just simmering.
– Crush the mint leaves in your hand and add to the liquid, giving it a stir.
– Simmer covered for about 12-15 minutes.
– Move off heat and fish out the mint leaves with a slotted spoon.
– Pour into a clean bottle or jar when cooled and store in the fridge for up to a month.
To make the burfi:
– Grind 1/2 cup of pistachios to make a coarse meal.
– Place a wide pot or pan on just under medium heat.
– Heat the ghee. Then add the coconut and mix. Fry lightly for a couple of minutes.
– Add the condensed milk and the sugar syrup. Mix well to bring everything together.
– Pound the cardamom with a pestle in a mortar until coarsely cracked.
– Add the ground pistachios and the cardamom to the coconut mixture.
– Stir the mixture so that everything is incorporated. Allow to reduce and thicken to a thick, fudgy consistency, stirring intermittently so that it doesn’t burn on the bottom. (The mix should be heavy to stir by the time it is done with no visible or separated liquid.)
– Spoon the mixture onto a parchment lined or ghee-greased pan of your choice. Strew the remainder of the pistachios over this, pressing them down lightly to hold in place.
– Once cooled, place in the fridge for at least 30 minutes to set.
– Cut into squares or shapes of your choice to serve.
Those sweetened, desiccated flakes – which, in my opinion, are an abomination to coconuts everywhere – just won’t do for this recipe. If you run short on the fresh/frozen kind, you can round it out with unsweetened coconut powder if you like, but no more than a 1/4 cup. Other recipes use all desiccated coconut for burfi. Fresh or frozen yields infinitely superior results.
You could use saffron instead of cardamom for coconut burfi. In this case, I believed the cardamom would complement the mint syrup, instead of competing with it as I imagine saffron would. You may disagree. By all means, use saffron if you want. The mint yields a wonderful refreshing flavour to the burfi, like the mint filling does to chocolate in an After Eight square. I liked adding some ground pistachios to the mixture itself so that the nutty flavour runs through it. This burfi is more fudgy and pliable compared to the crumbling textured that burfi usually has. Friends of mine loved it, doing their best to place the variation before I told them what it was.
Here’s to my nephew, whose love of sweets inspired this recipe. I was the age he is now when he was born and I have watched him grow from a loving, adorable and energetic little kid to an intelligent & smart young adult. I can’t wait to see what he continues to become. Here’s to the wonderful child who made me understand that even when orange smiley faces show up where you don’t want them to, they can brighten up your life.