Kesari Bath/Sooji Halwa

Kesari bath/sooji halwa is one of my favorite sweets. It is a common neivedyam (food offering made to God) and a sweet served along with breakfast at Palakkad Iyer weddings. It is made even when there is no special occasion but just to satisfy sweet craving or when you have unexpected guests. It can be made easily, does not consume time, and most people love it. The best kesari bath that I have had is at Iyer weddings and at the Juhu ISCKON temple. Mani’s Cafe (next to Palakkad Jn railway station) serves melt in the mouth kesari bath. Palakkad Iyers add a little bit of pacha karpooram (Borneo-Camphor/Kacha Karpoor) and this gives a nice smell and taste to the kesari bath. Yellow or red food color is also added to this recipe but I do not prefer this.

The traditional kesari is warm, greasy, soft, and has a melt in the mouth texture. It has oodles of ghee that adds to its taste yet it doesnt drip ghee. Many a times the amount of ghee is cut down in homemade variations of kesari bath. Water, ghee, and sugar proportions are critical to make the perfect kesari. Too much water, sugar, or ghee can spoil the taste and consistency of the kesari. Although I have seen my mother make this dish very often, I always get confused about the quantity of water to be used for this dish and for upma. I referred to this blog to make this recipe and my kesari came out just right.

Ingredients:
Rava (sooji/semolina) – 1 cup
Sugar – 1 cup (depending on your taste)
Ghee – 3/4 cup
Water – 2-1/2 cups (you can opt to add milk to this)
Saffron (Kesar) – 3-4 strands
Cashew/raisins/almond pieces – A few
Cardamom powder (elaichi) – 1/4 tsp
Pacha karpooram (borneo-camphor/kacha karpoor) – very little (optional)
Food color – optional

Method:
Add the saffron strands to a small cup of warm milk/water and keep aside. Add half a cup of ghee to a thick bottomed wok and let it melt in medium heat. Turn down the heat to minimum and add the cashews/raisins/almond pieces and roast until golden brown. Remove them from the ghee and keep it aside.

To this ghee, add rawa and keep stirring until the rawa turns color to golden brown. This will take about 5-7 minutes. I like to roast the rawa to golden brown although it is sufficient to roast just until the rawa starts to change color. While roasting the rawa, boil water in a pan. If you are adding milk, ensure that you use 1 cup milk and 1-1/2 cups of water. Ensure that that amount of water and milk put together is not more than 3 cups. Turn down the heat and add this boiling water/milk to the rawa cautiously. Make sure that you stand a little away from the stove while doing this as it might splutter. Stir this and make sure there are no lumps. Cook this for about 2-3 minutes. When the rawa is cooked and the water/milk content reduced, add sugar and mix well. The sugar starts to melt and the mixture once again becomes a little watery. Cook until the mixture thickens and water content reduces. Add the remaining ghee and stir. Add cardamom powder, cashew/raisins/almond pieces, and saffron dissolved in milk/water.

I prefer to have kesari bath warm although you can refrigerate this and serve it cold also.

P.S. (added July 14th) – I tried making kesari bath with jaggery instead of sugar and it turned out to be really nice. So had to share it with all of you. The method remains almost the same. Measuring jaggery can be slightly tricky and if you use blocks of jaggery, you will need to make a wild guess. One thing you can do is pound the jaggery blocks and measure it using the same cup you used to measure the rava. Water should be three times the quantity of rava used.

Ingredients:
Rava – 1 cup
Ghee – 3/4 cup
Jaggery – 1 cup
Water – 3 cups
Saffron (Kesar) – 3-4 strands
Cashew/raisins/almond pieces – A fistful
Cardamom powder (elaichi) – 1/4 tsp

Method:
Soak saffron in a tablespoon of warm water. Keep aside. Dissolve jaggery in three cups of water. Using a strainer, strain this mixture to remove any dirt. Keep this water-jaggery mixture on the stove on low fire. Meanwhile, pour ghee into a thick bottomed pan. Keep fire on low. Put the cashew, rasins and almond pieces into ghee and roast the dry fruits. Remove the dry fruits from ghee when they turn golden brown and keep aside. Note that if you are using almonds, you will need to either soak them in water for 3-4 hours or blanch them and then peel and cut into smaller pieces.

In the same thick bottomed pan, to the melted ghee, add rava and roast on low fire for 4-5 minutes until rava changes color to light brown. When the rava has lost its raw smell and you start getting a finely roasted smell, add the jaggery water mixture which is kept on low fire in the next stove. Stir and add the hot jaggery-water mixture. The mixture starts to bubble and thicken. Add the soaked saffron. Keep stirring until moisture content reduces and the mixture starts to leave the sides. At this stage, you could add one more tablespoon of ghee. This is entirely optional and adds more sin, glaze, and taste to the kesari bath. Add cardamom powder and roasted dry fruits. Mix well. Jaggery kesari bath is ready. This is slightly more healthier as compared to the sugar version.

4 Comments

    1. Mine too Bina! My favorite sweet @ a South Indian restaurant. Most TN and Karnataka restaurants make mouthwatering Kesari bath!

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  1. Manju I tried making it. It turned out d.e.l.i.c.i.o.u.s! Thank you for the recipe. I live in California and there is a Sarvana bhavan here that makes it well but its a drive to get to it. Now I can make it at home anytime. Yay!!!

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