AWADHI CUISINE, SAFDURJUNG, NEW DELHI, INDIA.
The Persian sweet bread.
Sweetened by kneading leavened dough with milk and sugar, flavoured with generous amounts of clarified butter and saffron, perforated to allow even heating and sprinkled with fresh raisins, then baked to a rich brown complexion in an Indian clay oven and finally brushed with a gentle coating of milk with soaked saffron, the Sheermal is a versatile dish that can be eaten stand alone, with spicy Kebabs and curries, vegetarian preparations, as a dessert with scoops of vanilla ice cream on top or in more imaginative ways.
“Bread Huzoor?!” The Sheermal on the greased stained paper plate appeared to retort in a polite and unmistakable Awadhi tone. “Mamdoo the Bawarchi would have flipped his tawa if he was around to hear you speak such”, it continued, referring to the Awadhi chef who according to some sources is said have introduced the dish as a breakfast item in the sub continent, some one hundred and fifty year back.
“Why, what bread is made with such loving care? Dough sweetened with milk and sugar, flavoured with the finest clarified butter and handpicked saffron threads, sprinkled with raisins, then baked in a cosy clay oven for a rich brown complexion and finally brushed with a gentle coating of milk with soaked saffron, before serving hot and moist”.
“No Huzoor, I am no bread! English dictionaries need to think up some other way to explain what I am”.
Although no self respecting Sheermal will ever engage in a conversation with someone who is about to eat it, let alone defy all laws of sanity and talk, there is a point here. Conventional culinary wisdom categorizes the Awadi Sheermal as a Persian flatbread. Other explanatory names include the Traditional Saffron Flavoured Flatbread, and the literal Persian translation: Milk Bread.
“Even if appearance and taste wise, it more closely resembles a sweet pancake or a pastry, a Sheermal is best described as a Sheermal. A sweet and filling Awadhi delicacy that can be relished stand alone, with a complimentary choice in kebab platter, spicy curries and even as a dessert”.
The people of Awadh, a province of the Mughal Empire, and later a princely state during the British Raj, were famed for their refined manners, poetry and culinary cuisines. The Nawabs of the region influenced by Persian, Arabian, Mughal recipes encouraged chefs to create delectable large course meals with local styles and variations that ultimately culminated into the unique Awadhi cuisine. And it is by no mere coincidence the Awadhi Sheermal emerged from that kitchen or is as unique a food item as the cuisine it belongs to.
The earliest version of the Sheermal was very different from what is served today. It was prepared like one does an Indian Roti in modern times but by kneading the dough with milk instead of water. In present times, the finished dough is baked in clay ovens called Tandoors. Raisins are a common ingredient while modern recipes have evolved to even include eggs and dry fruits.
Sheermal is common in Muslim households across Pakistan and India including the present day region of Hyderabad and Lucknow.The delicacy can be found in Awadhi and Mughlai eateries and restaurants of all sizes. Though they are quite the heavy fillers and one usually will suffice the gastronomic juices of a modern day desk locked worker, a compliment of kebabs alongside is the traditional way of relishing them, just like an Awadhi would have loved to.
Prepared a night before or earlier in the day, a stack of Sheermal on a container makes for a delectable way of advertising the dish and bringing in customers – a sales tactic employed by roadside eateries, stalls and to some extent small restaurants.
Introduced a little over one hundred and fifty years back and originally prepared like a modern day Indian Roti but with the flour kneaded with milk instead of warm water, the Awadhi delicacy, is a popular item in many Muslim households across present day Pakistan and India. Specially in the Indian states of Hyderabad and Lucknow – a city famed for its refined manners and authentic Awadhi cuisine.
Where does it come from.
The mildly sweet Sheermal is a key delicacy in Awadhi cuisine and an indispensable part of the Awadhi Dastarkhwan. Small family managed roadside eateries and restaurants that use the Indian clay oven for baking and rely on handed down culinary skills and family recipes offer a more authentic culinary experience than dinners with sophisticated ovens.
What does it taste like.
Sheermal is a Persian name meaning sweet milk bread. Sometimes it is also referred to as the Traditional Saffron Flavoured Bread. However, the delicacy more closely resembles a sweet pancake with some eateries and restaurants serving it in pre-sliced triangular pieces like in a Pizza.
What goes into it.
Flour. Milk. Sugar. Clarified butter. Saffron. Raisins.
Additional ingredients can be added as per individual preference. Modern recipes are known to include eggs and dried fruits. Strict vegetarians are advised to inquire about ingredients before opting to indulge the taste buds.
How is it prepared.
Flour is kneaded with milk, sugar, saffron and clarified butter. Resulting dough is flattened into a disc, perforated with a fork for even heating and baked in an Indian clay oven. A final brush of milk with soaked saffron is applied before serving. Resins are also sprinkled over to enhance taste.
- Dining tip.