THE SWEETNESS OF TEARS
In terms of recipes, what else could I offer but something sweet to go with a title like The Sweetness of Tears? In the early part of the book, a Pakistani man tells the young woman who is the central character of the novel, Jo, of his childhood, about before and after “life changed forever.” One of the things he recalls is the parade of street hawkers and their wares that is still very much a part of life in the city of Karachi, including the kulfi man, who sold “a heavenly sort of ice cream on a stick,” though kulfi hawkers are hard to find nowadays. Later, when Jo visits Pakistan, she is taken to a sweet shop, Rehmat-e-Shereen (which means “the mercy/grace of sweetness”), a shop that really exists, on Tariq Road, and which is one of my favorite places in Karachi. Like Jo, I’ve never been there in less than a caravan of three or four cars, all packed with relatives. We sit in the car as the waiter comes to take our order and then brings out the sweets, like an old 1950s American drive-in burger joint, minus the window-trays. The only thing I ever order is kulfi (kool-fee), one of the few Indo-Pakistani desserts that I truly enjoy, most of them being a little too sweet for my taste.
One of the main ingredients for kulfi is khoya, an aged, desiccated milk product that is cheese-like and hard to come by in the United States. My mother, who gave me the recipe below, uses ricotta cheese as a substitute, which works just as well. The main difference between making kulfi and ice cream is that there is no churning to be done in the process of preparing kulfi. Instead, you cook the cream for quite a while. While time and vigilance are the most difficult ingredients in the recipe, you can prepare it days, even weeks, ahead of time and the outcome is well worth the effort.
Prep time: 4 hours
Note: Leave out the nuts if anyone has an issue with allergies. You may also substitute blanched, ground almonds, if that’s more to your taste.
4 quarts half and half
1 1/2 cups sugar (a sugar substitute, such as Splenda, may be used instead)
Pinch ground cardamom (optional)
2 ounces ricotta cheese
1/4 cup shelled pistachios (see note)
1. Pour the half and half into a heavy-bottomed or nonstick pot and cook on high heat until nearly, but not quite, boiling, stirring frequently, taking care to scrape the bottom and sides of the pot to prevent the milk from scorching.
2. When the half and half is nearly boiling, lower the heat to a simmer. With frequent stirring sessions, raising the flame to medium when stirring and lowering it to a simmer when you have to step away from the stove, cook for two hours. Each time you step away, you’ll come back to find a rich, cream skin forming on the surface. Just stir it back into the mixture.
3. At the end of two hours, the amount of liquid you started with will have reduced by about half and will now be a deep and rich cream color. Add the sugar (and the pinch of cardamom, if desired), and cook for another 1/2 hour on simmer, allowing the sugar to caramelize in the milk, stirring very frequently.
4. Remove three cups of the liquid and allow it to cool.
5. In the meantime, grind the pistachios into a coarse powder in a coffee grinder or food processor.
6. Blend the ricotta into the cooled cream and return the mixture to the pot, mixing it all up together well. Allow it to cool for about twenty minutes. Add the ground pistachios.
7. Pour the liquid into molds, taking care to keep the serving sizes small because this is a rich dessert. Popsicle molds, serving sized ramekins, or waxed paper cups may all be used as molds. If none of these are available, you can pour the entire mixture into one large, freezer-safe container.
8. Cover the individual molds very well with foil or plastic wrap, especially if you plan to wait a week or more to serve, and put in the freezer for at least 6 hours, until fully frozen.
9. Take the kulfi out of the freezer 10 to 20 minutes before serving in order to thaw slightly and allow for easy removal from the molds. Serve like popsicles if popsicle molds were used. If cups or ramekins were used instead, use a warm knife to partly slice the kulfi, making it easier to eat with a spoon. If frozen in a large container, serve as a whole, but slice the kulfi into squares or triangles.
Yield: 12-18 servings