Here in the Philippines, the common perception of Indian cuisine is that it is highly spiced, curry-intensive, distressingly aromatic (Indeed, people who are fond of Indian food are accused of having dreadful body odour.), and certainly not for either the faint of heart or the tender-tongued. This is a seriously prejudiced notion, considering that regional South Asian cuisine has a number of options that are very mildly flavoured and the selection of sweets has something for just about everyone.
I’m a serious dairy fan and I love the fact that there are many milk-based desserts and drinks intrinsic to South Asian cuisine. I’ve been known to wax poetic over lassi, that tangy yogurt milkshake flavoured with either mango, cardamom, or rosewater/rose syrup. I can gobble down scads of gulab jamun half-drowned in either orange-blossom or rosewater syrup. There’s kulfi, of course, the almond-infused ice cream of the Indian Subcontinent that goes down a treat on its own or as part of a selection of mithai (Indian sweets) for a celebration. I’ve not sampled faluda or barfi, but I find the notion of both intriguing and worth sampling someday.
Most recently, though, I’ve been intrigued by the concept of shrikhand.
I first encountered the term in an article/recipe feature in Food Network Magazine about recipes several celebrity chefs learned from their mothers. Aarti Sequeira (Aarti Party!, Taste in Translation) contributed her mother’s recipe for shrikhand and pooris for the section: the former a rich, sweet, creamy yogurt and the latter a puffy doughnut-like fried dumpling for dipping into the aforementioned yogurt.
Further research on the matter led to me discovering that shrikhand is a dessert intrinsic to the culinary culture of Maharashtra and Gujarat in Western India. It basically consists of chakka, yogurt strained through layers of muslin/cheesecloth until it is the texture of very thick clotted cream, and sweetened with sugar and such sweet spices as cardamom and cinnamon. Pistachios are added to more festive versions along with saffron. Those craving a bit of tangy fruit to balance the richness of the sweet yogurt will be pleased to know that the people of Maharashtra add their native mangoes to shrikhand to produce a dessert they call amarkhand.
To be perfectly honest, much as I would love to make authentic shrikhand and amarkhand (we’re still in the thick of mango season here in the Philippines), I know too well that I have neither the patience nor all those layers of cheesecloth required for straining the stuff over a 24 – 48-hour period. Not to worry, though; where there’s a craving, there is always a way.
I decided to add the classic flavours of shrikhand and amarkhand to one of my favourite DIY breakfasts, overnight oats. In this particular case, however, the diet-friendly restraint of standard-issue overnight oats just won’t do. An amarkhand-inspired bowl of creamy oats demands lushness, a certainly level of self-indulgent decadence: rich cream instead of plain milk, sweet and ripe chunks of fresh fruit, and plenty of crunchy nuts for a textural contrast. Likewise, I didn’t have whole spices in the larder (you need whole cardamom pods or saffron strands to soak overnight in the yogurt); not to worry: I decided to amp up the spice factor with a spoonful of cookie butter with its nuances of cinnamon and ginger to do for the whole spices.
I am pleased to say that the experimentation paid off and I thoroughly enjoyed my rich, creamy, nutty breakfast with chunks of sweet mango and the subtlest hint of spice.
- 1/3 cup rolled oats
- 1/3 cup heavy cream
- 250mL mango or peach/apricot yogurt
- 2 tablespoons unsalted pistachios, coarsely chopped
- 1 tablespoon cookie butter or almond butter
- 1/4 cup cubed ripe mango
- 1 ripe banana, sliced
- 1/8 teaspoon almond extract or 1 teaspoon rosewater
In a small bowl, stir together the cream, yogurt, cookie butter, and almond extract until well-combined. Carefully fold in the pistachios, oats, mango, and banana slices until well incorporated. Cover the bowl and chill overnight; mixture will thicken considerably in the process.