There was a time in Kerala, when payasams were inseparable from celebrations, much before the popularisation of cakes and pastries. Be it a birthday or a festival, the payasam was the main dessert with the fragrant smell of cardamom filling the house.
There are mainly 2 types of payasams - the brown one (or the "sharkara" payasam) and the white one (or "paal" payasam).
The sharkara payasam is sweetened with sharkara ie jaggery (hence the brown colour), thickened with coconut milk and is more time-consuming to prepare due to the need for scraping many coconuts, taking out its milk, melting and cleaning the jaggery etc, like this parippu payasam I had made before.
The paal payasam, on the other hand, is sweetened with sugar, thickened with cow's milk and is a quickie.
My favourite payasam has always been the semiya payasam which is a type of paal payasam made with semiya (vermicelli), milk and sugar.
This Onam I decided to make the semiya payasam as I wanted to finish making it before my 1 year old woke up :) The end result was warm, creamy mouthfuls that were perfectly sweetened. We dislike coyingly sweet desserts. In fact most store-bought desserts are too sweet for us.
SEMIYA PAYASAM / VERMICELLI PUDDING
Recipe Source: Has to be mom. This is one of those dishes that you see your mom cooking often through your growing years.
(makes 7-8 servings)
Semiya / Vermicelli - 1 and 1/2 cups
Full fat milk - 2 Litres
Ghee - 2 Tbsp
Condensed milk - 3/4 cup
Sugar - 1/2 cup (or as per personal preference)
Cashew nuts and raisins - 1 -2 Tbsp
Cardamom - 5 powdered and outer covering discarded
Melt the ghee in a big thick bottomed wok or frying pan.
Fry the raisins and cashews nuts in the ghee till light brown and keep aside.
Put the Vermicelli / semiya in the ghee and fry till golden brown stirring always while on a medium flame and keep aside.
Boil the milk with the sugar, cardamom powder and condensed milk in a vessel that can hold more than twice the amount of milk. Once it starts boiling, put in the fried semiya / vermicelli and cook for 8-10 minutes on a medium flame and stirring occasionally. The vermicelli/ semiya will grow in size and hence you need a really big vessel to boil the milk.
Adjust the sweetness, if required. Top with fried raisins and cashew nuts.
Serve at the end of an extravagant sadya (kerala vegetarian meal) or even as an evening snack! Though I would love it for breakfast too.