Tamil Muslim grannies show their love through their cooking. They are also fiercely protective and rule the family with an iron fist, but they play the “I’m only a woman – what would I know?” role to the hilt. If my grandad was the head of the family, granny was the neck. She made the head turn as she saw fit! She’s only 4 feet tall, but my god, she could manipulate you to do anything. When I’ve spent some time with her, I usually land up doing things I wouldn’t normally even think of. Sometimes it’ll take me a good week before I even realise what she’s been up to!
Anyway, back to food! To my granny cooking is almost a religion. If she’s cooking for a large crowd, she’ll even start the process with a prayer. She’s cooked for wedding functions and religious holidays, and her Birni recipe is the best I’ve ever had (no – I’m not biased).
Birni is slightly different from Phirni. I’ve never actually had Phirni, but I understand it’s made out of rice. Birni is made out of Semolina. It is usually served with Tomato Pachadi at weddings or with Coconut Pooris. It’s a must at Tamil Muslim wedding receptions. You won’t hear the end of it if the Birni isn’t up to scratch. Every guest will express his or her displeasure on the way out.
My granny’s version is creamier and richer than any other. It’s easy and cheap to prepare and will serve a large crowd easily. As it was Eid last week, I thought Birni would be a great way to celebrate.
You will need (to serve 6):
- 1 cup coarse Rava – roasted in a dry pan
- 4 cups water
- 1 tin condensed milk
- 1 tin carnation milk
- Milk – as needed
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 1 cardamom pod – crushed slightly
- ½ cup cashew nuts
- ½ cup raisins
- Saffron or Saffron extract
- 1 drop orange food colouring (optional)
- Once the Rava is roasted, pour water into the pan and keep stirring until Rava is well cooked. If needed, add more water. You want the Rava soft and edible.
- Roast the cashew nuts in ghee, remove from heat and powder half the amount of nuts – keep aside
- Roast raisins in ghee until they swell and look ready to explode, remove from heat – keep aside
- Heat ghee, add cinnamon and cardamom and fry well
- Add condensed milk and carnation milk and bring to boil
- Add Rava, raisins, cashew nuts and cashew powder – stir well until no lumps – add food colouring if you wish
- As it cools, the Birni thickens, so before serving, always pour milk and stir well. You want a porridge like consistency
Birni is usually served warm and liquidy, My mum loves it chilled and thick though, like halwa. It’s entirely up to you! My granny serves her Birni with Coconut Pooris.
For the Pooris you’ll need:
- 1 cup Maida
- 1 tablespoon ghee
- Coconut milk
Mix the Maida and ghee, add enough coconut milk to form a tight dough. Roll out thinly and using a cookie cutter, cut out small rounds.
Drop the rounds into hot oil, they should puff up like pooris, turn over and fry the other side until crisp. Serve with Birni.