Mama’s Punjabi Recipes: Sabudana di Kheer (Tapioca Pudding)

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Whereas chawal di kheer (rice pudding), along with ras malai (cheese in sweetened cream) and gulab jamun (syrup rose dumplings) have become some of the main desserts in many Indian restaurants, the sabudana kheer (tapioca pudding) has not. It is equally as easy, simple and inexpensive to make as kheer. I think the main reason is most restaurants don’t make it in the tasty way that it can be appreciated by the public. And just like chawal di kheer, the sabudana kheer must not come in a thin milky syrup, but must be made properly: thick and sprinkled with iliachi for taste.

Sabudana is a starchy substance extracted from the stems of ago palm trees, and then processed into small, circular pellets, which are sometimes called pearls. It is not a low-calorie food but is used to an energy-boosting ingredient in soups, puddings, side dishes and main entrees. Sabudana is high in carbohydrates, with 86 grams of carbs in each 100 gm serving.

Sabudana kheer is easily made with sugar and cardamom in thickened milk. It is prepared for festivals and many special Hindu occasions though it is especially popular during the navratri time (nine days prior to Dusserah or Ramanavami) because it is made with sago and not grains like rice or wheat, which are avoided by devout people during those days.

Sabudana kheer has become popular as a chic dessert at weddings where the thickened variety is presented in small earthen dishes and even with a small piece of sona ka varak (gold film).

The secret to a tasty dish, prepared much faster, is to soak the sabudana much longer in the water, and to make sure the milk is thicker when you mix it in. If you use the large pellet sabudana, then you should soak the pellets in longer.

4 cup doodh (milk) – whole is best, but low-fat will do too
1 cup sabudana (sago or tapioca)
¼ cup chinni (sugar)
¼ tsp iliachi powder (cardamom powder)

1.   Pour the sabudana in a bowl full of water, cover and let it soak for two hours so that it swells up.

2.  Pour the milk in a saucepan or small pot and bring to a boil over medium heat. Stir occasionally to make sure the milk does not stick to the pot, and let it thicken up a little.

3.  Pour the sabudana through a strainer to drain the water, then pour it into the milk and stir continuously for 10 minutes but not more so that the kheer does not get too thick.

4.  Now, add the sugar and mix thoroughly. Sprinkle with the crushed cardamom powder.

5.  Thicker sabudana kheer tastes best. It can be served hot, but most people prefer to eat it cold, so refrigerate for an hour or two before serving.


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Shakuntla Malhotra is a skilled cook of Punjabi dishes made in the old-fashioned style that she learnt as a young woman in her ancestral home in Lyallpur, India before it became part of Pakistan after the Partition in 1947. People have often admired her cooking for its simplicity and taste that comes with each mouthful. Even in her mid-eighties, she continues to cook daily and agreed to share some of her delectable Punjabi recipes.