Sweet South Indian Soul Food: Kesari Bath
It’s flowery, creamy, yellow, studded with pineapple and flecked with aromatic cardamom. Have you ever had the South Indian breakfast, Kesari Bath?
spices for Kesari Bath include saffron, cardamom and vanilla
Kesari Bath is a traditional sweet creamed wheat dish served in many South Indian States. I had the best versions of this perfumey grain in Karnataka, India. It was served to me, as well as hundreds of other guests before a grand Indian wedding–a celebrated “love marriage.” Karnataka is a large Southwestern State home to bustling cities such as Bangalore as well as ancient temple towns: Hampi, Halibeedu and Belur. Each town and chef has a slightly different take on Kesari Bath, pronounced ‘Kee-see-ri Bath.’ “Kesari” means saffron and “Bath” means semolina or rice mixture. The principle ingredient is Rava flour, the hulled kernel of a wheat grain. In the US, we know Rava as “Cream of Wheat” hot cereal or “Wheat Farina Cereal.” Rava is available at local Indian groceries, but feel free to substitute the US equivalents I mentioned. The rava is then cooked with a myriad of spices, milk and sugar.
the Karnataka wedding I attended last year, where I was served Kesari Bath
Kesari Bath is usually served for breakfast or during snack times — it’s toasty sweet flavor is complimented perfectly by a tangy mango lassi , sweet lassi or chai– a combination of any of these beverages and Kesari Bath comprise a typical breakfast in this state. Kesari Bath is most often served on a banana leaf, sometimes accompanied by a savory version of the grain called, “Khara Bath” (more on Khara bath later this week). When served together, a lovely combination of sweet and savory, the dish is known as “Chow Chow Bath.”
I altered the recipe to be slightly less sweet and lower in fat than the traditional Inidian version — I wanted to feel good about it, as I found myself eating the grain-based breakfast every other day. This simple dish can be adjusted to include local fruits you have on hand — a diced peach, fresh figs, sliced bananas or poached pears are all lovely additions. Also, the garnish of almonds can be altered to suit your own tastes and preferences — crushed hazelnuts, cashews, toasted coconut, ground flaxseeds would all be great toppings. So next time you’re thinking of a warm bowl or oatmeal or hot cereal, try this similar Indian comfort food.
a typical kitchen in South India, this was mine in Panaji, Goa
1 cup Rava (Cream of Wheat or Bob’s Red Mill Whole Wheat Farina will work perfectly fine as well)
3 tablespoons butter (I used Earth Balance to keep mine Vegan)
1 heaping tablespoon sugar
1 1/2 cup milk (dairy, soy, almond — whatever you like)
1 cup water
1 tsp ground cardamom
1 pinch saffron
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/2 cup pineapple, roughly chopped
1/3 cup mango juice (orange, apricot, or pineapple juice would work too)
4 dried mango slices (or dried apricot), slivered
2 tablespoons almonds, roughly chopped (or cashews, a more traditional option)
First, chop the pineapple, dice the mango slices and gather your spices. Heat butter in a medium-sized sauté pan, add rava, stir and roast on low until you can smell a nice, nutty aroma and some of the Rava is turning golden. Set aside when golden brown.
Meanwhile mix the sugar, cardamon, saffron, salt, vanilla, pineapple, mango juice and mango slices. Heat this fruit mixture on medium for 3-5 minutes until the pineapple turns bright yellow from the saffron and starts to cook down a bit.
Add water and milk to pineapple mixture then add all of the liquids/pineapple mixture to toasted Rava. Cook on medium heat until Rava has absorbed all the liquids, it only takes about 1 or 2 minutes. Serve about 3/4 cup Kesari Bath along with chopped nuts.
Serve hot or room temperature as breakfast or a snack. On a banana leaf for pure Karnataka flavor!
(Images: Leela Cyd Ross)