Saturday, 9 August 2014

gajjar ka murabba; a pakistani sweet carrot preserve

gajjar ka murabba; pakistani sweet carrot preserve
the long, languid days of the pakistani summer always remind me of vacations in lahore. when our schools would close, mama, m and i would take the coach to lahore to spend time with our extended family. lahore (also known as the cultural capital of pakistan) draws its heritage from the mughal and the raj era. its broad boulevards are bisected by the muddy brown waters of the lahore canal. in summer throngs of boys and young men swim in those muddy waters, their shalwars blooming into mud stained balloons. in winter, it is often shrouded by thick fog, the kind that severely obscures vision. the tresses of weeping willows that brushed the canal have long since disappeared, to make way for larger roads for an ever expanding populace. the city has changed so much since the days of my girlhood.

my trips now are the opposite of those when i was little. short, to the point and planned to visit my dadi. she is in her nineties and although still very active finds travel challenging. the visit earlier this year was special as i drove to lahore with my sibling m and his new wife a. phoopo had hosted a family lunch to welcome and introduce a to the family. a had donned her nikkah outfit; an intricate affair made of vermilion brocade embellished with chatta patti, cut-outs of brocade appliqued and embroidered over; this was especially for dado who was unable to attend the festivities.

lunch was a communal affair with large platters of fragrant yakhni pulao enriched with bone marrow, mutton korma, parathas hot from the griddle and a green salad. sweet conclusions included a rectangular dish of shahi turkas; a decadent mughlai bread pudding with saffron and cardamom. after lunch the family retired to phoopo’s bedroom for cups of tea and conversation. it was here, in the presence of three generations that tales from my cousins weddings and embarrassing details of our childhoods were recounted (the latter mostly for the benefit of a and o). most of these memories are from one seven nine, the house that phoopo still lives in and which was constructed when i was a little girl. it has preserved them much like fruit in sugar syrup or pickling spices that extend their life beyond their season.

phoopo and i share a mutual love of food. this relationship started from when i was little. it is the reason why i loved to accompany her to weddings. lahore is famous for its food, and wedding banquets are one way to showcase this. there would be smoky bite sized chicken boti fresh from the grill. servers dressed in white uniforms would roam around dispensing seekh kebabs from skewer to plate. large rectangular dishes warmed with tea lights would hold sepia tinted pulao, creamy kormas and brick red meat salaan with a layer of marigold coloured oil floating on its surface. there would be a token vegetable dish, usually saag paneer. because of the heat, wedding season was relegated to the cooler months (late autumn and winter) hence dessert was always some manner of halva, fresh jelabis or jotas. the latter is a speciality of lahore and one which we would often drive to gawalmandi for. they are small, shallow earthenware bowls of ground rice pudding anointed with wafer thin silver leaf.

when we were not on the wedding circuit, there were delicious things to be had at home. phoopo would always keep a jarful of rusks in the kitchen. we both preferred the round shaped ones split into half and dipped into tea for a morning snack. this ritual is still observed in the house. on the weekend there would be keema or aloo-stuffed parathas with yoghurt or sometimes just some homemade achar. phoopo’s fastidiousness means that food will always be served piping hot and roti will arrive from the kitchen, still puffed with steam. i am partial to her keema mutter where the beef mince has been browned in a generous pour of oil. her chicken pulao rivals that of n apa (another aunt) that i have written about here. she also made sweet and savoury preserves. her aloo bukharay ki chutney was the perfect accompaniment to a simple meal of lentils and rice; achar paired well with meat curries; and then there was gajjar ka murabba (sweet carrot preserves), made from carrots steeped in sugar syrup subtly fragranced with cardamom, clove and cassia bark. a large glass jar of these sat on the counter in her kitchen. 

gajjar ka murabba with live yoghurt and pistachios
in pakistan murabba is prepared in the winter with laal gajjar (literally red carrots). the vermillion hued carrots deepen in tone and take on a shine from being candied in syrup. murabba is said to have a cooling effect and is supposed to be nutritious. at n phoopo’s house these sticky sweet carrots were consumed by the spoonful alongside a glass of buffalo milk in the mornings. i managed to escape the tyranny of the milk by retrieving my spoonful after my cousins had obliged their mother. 

as usual, i took notes on the process and transformed them into a recipe. mama remembers dado making murabba during her early married years so in all likelihood, it came to be in n phoopo’s repertoire through her mother. in its traditional form the ratio of carrots to sugar is equivalent which leads to a viscous syrup. i chose to halve it as i felt the carrots were sweet enough. the carrots are macerated with sugar to draw their juices. they are then cooked in their liquid until their woodiness transforms to a soft caramel like texture. i think it is at its best when cold from the fridge as a condiment for live yoghurt. it makes a delightful breakfast bowl finished with a scattering of crushed pistachios for texture and colour. 

{gajjar ka murabba} 
pakistani sweet carrot preserves 

six hundred grams carrots 
three hundred grams golden sugar 
four green cardamoms 
a two and a half inch stick of cassia bark
four cloves 
water to cover 

wash the carrots thoroughly, peel and slice into batons roughly two inches long. i would recommend trimming the centre of root if it is particularly woody.

bruise the cardamom pods in a pestle and mortar to release their seeds. the opening should be a slit with the pod maintaining its architecture. 

layer the carrot batons along with the sugar and whole slices in a glass bowl. toss them together gently and leave to macerate overnight. the sugar will draw the moisture from the carrots. 

when you are ready to cook the murabba, place the contents of the bowl in a heavy bottomed pan and add enough water to ensure that carrots are fully submerged. this will depend on how much juice the carrots have given off. i only had to add half a glass. you may need more or less. bring to a boil and then cover and simmer on low heat until the carrots are just tender. (this took me around half an hour). i recommend checking them after the twenty minute mark as you do not want them to overcook. they should retain their shape and not become mushy. 

once the carrots have reached the above stage uncover the pot and bring the syrup to rolling boil. continue to boil it until it thickens to the consistency of a thin honey. the carrots themselves should be shiny. 

jar whilst hot and store in the fridge.

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