A Forgotten Food, Seera
Last week, one of the chefs over at Junoon shocked me into taste memory. He cooked up a batch of seera (also called sheera or seero), which is a sweet, crumbly, buttery, cake-like dessert usually made with semolina or cream of wheat. My mom used to make it for me growing up, and I hadn’t thought about it in years! One bite…it’s amazing how the smell and taste of something can just transport you back. That night, I went right home and made my own, comforting batch that I thought I’d share with you.
Seera belongs to a dessert family called halvas – these are desserts served throughout South, Central and West Asia, parts of Europe, the Middle East and North Africa. Oftentimes, they are flour-based as you see here, but they can also be made from dense nut pastes and be more of a confection.
I had a full-on debate with my mom about the pros and cons of using semolina vs. cream of wheat, when’s the right time to add the cardamom, what the resulting color should be, and how no one should feel guilty if they want to eat this for breakfast (it’s cream of wheat after all!). She even whipped out my grandmother’s old recipe written out in mugs! I love that….Well, this is what I came up with. And the reality is farina or cream of wheat will result in a slightly softer, more crumbly halva and the semolina, depending on the grind, will be a bit more dense and cake-like with a brighter yellow color. Buttery, with the aromatics of saffron and cardamom, pure comfort, and whips up in less than 10 minutes…enjoy!
Serves 4 to 6
1 cup milk
½ tsp vanilla extract
¾ cup palm sugar*
1 stick + 2 tbsps unsalted butter
2 cardamom pods, cracked
1 cup farina, cream of wheat or semolina flour
Sliced almonds, toasted
A few dashes of rosewater
In a small, nonstick saucepan, bring milk up to a boil. Lower to a simmer and add vanilla extract, saffron, salt and palm sugar, whisking to dissolve. Keep over a low flame.
In another nonstick saucepan over medium heat, add butter and cardamom pods. When the butter has melted and the foam subsides, add the farina and toast in the butter until golden brown, about 3 to 4 minutes. Lower the flame, add the sweetened milk mixture and stir until texture dries a bit, another 2 to 3 minutes or so.
Serve warm or room temperature.
*You can substitute white or brown sugars here, but I would adjust down the amount as palm sugar is a bit less sweet than those two (so closer to ½ cup).
**For the optional garnishes, you can add as much as you like right on top. For the sultanas, I like to throw them in with the simmering milk, so they plump up a bit.