Many of us who harbour a taste and love for Indian food will be familiar with the classic Indian desserts on offer. The usual suspects generally include a rainbow of creamy, kulfi flavours that represent India’s answer to ice-cream, as well as crumbling cubes of melt-in-the-mouth barfi – a milk-based fudge usually created for times of celebration and festivals. There is also the renowned Indian lassi, a refreshing yoghurt drink often flavoured with fresh fruit such as mango.
However, Indian cuisine also caters for the more adventurous dessert aficionado with the warming spices of kheer rice pudding and the sweet, dairy patties of rasgulla – offerings you may well find on the evolving menus of London’s best Indian brasseries. Yet there is one particular taste sensation that, despite experiencing a high degree of popularity in Asia, is still relatively unknown here in the West due to its unusual combination of ingredients – the sweet and tasty falooda.
What is falooda?
The traditional recipe for falooda involves the combination of thin strands of vermicelli noodles mixed into milk or water along with rose syrup, basil seeds and tapioca pearls or bubbles of gelatin. This combination creates an eye-catching drink that doubles as a dessert, ideal to finish off a dinner. In North India it is often served as a form of ice-cream sundae whilst in the southern region of Bangladesh, pistachios, creamed coconut and black tea are traditional additions.
Generally, the chosen ingredients are layered into a tall glass and consumed by sipping or scooping with a spoon. Nuts may be sprinkled on top as a garnish.
Where did falooda come from?
It is believed that falooda originated from Persia and was brought to India by the inventive Mughals who were famous for mixing their Middle Eastern culinary heritage with Indian ingredients and cooking techniques. It is said that Jahangir, the fourth of the Mughal emperors, was partial to falooda noodles combined with ice-cream and fresh fruit, but the alternative theory is that it was a favourite dish of the Persian conqueror, Nader Shah, who defeated the Mughals in 1738.
The intense heat of an Indian summer certainly calls for an ice-cold treat. Those that spent their childhood years in India may well recall the delightful sight of a falooda kulfi stall – vendors will often set up shop on roadsides to sell their delicious wares.
Traditionally, Indian kulfi is prepared by the evaporation of sweetened, whole milk. The milk is heated slowly for a period of time, with continuous stirring to prevent the formula burning. Gradually, the mixture reduces and thickens, the sugar and lactose cooking to produce a caramelised taste – the taste that kulfi is famous for. To complete the process, this thickened milk is poured into moulds and submerged in a large pot filled with ice and salt, a method which allows the mixture to freeze slowly.
Once the kulfi was prepared, it was mixed with boiled vermicelli, flavoured with rose water and other selected ingredients to form falooda kulfi.
You may find the unusual falooda dessert on offer on the seasonal menus of Masala Zone along with a selection of many other fine Indian and Western desserts.