My mother has Sawine Rules. They are not very many, but she is very firm about them. Other people don’t follow these rules and their sawine is doomed. Doomed? you ask. Yes, doomed. Destined to spoil quickly, for the milk to “split” or sour, for it to be too gloopy to be Trini sawine, but not set enough for Guyanese vermicelli (sawine cake)*. Or worse…condemned to the bin at the masjid by discerning Eid celebrants! The horror!!
Of course, as with any food, people have their preferences, and the Rules result in sawine made the way Mom (and her family) enjoy it. Following your own rules gives you sawine the way you want it. Just don’t hold me responsible for the consequences. Now, no angry emails or comments, please. You know this is not really meant to consign all other sawine recipes to the bin or somehow malign your Naanee or Chachee or whoever taught you how to make your sawine. It’s just that any dish steeped in tradition comes with rules held over your head by a matriarch (or patriarch) as she (or he) forces you to adhere to the rigorous standards and elaborate methods to achieve the same results that generations before you enjoyed. To do anything less would be unthinkable. Part of that tradition is muttering about how the people down the road does use ghee instead of butter or them next door leave it on de stove too long or how your Aunt (by marriage of course) too own-way and look, you eh see how nobody eat she food last year?
The rules are also especially important when it’s a dish like sawine, where your version is going to have to compete with a dozen others on the same day, many many more during an Eid “season”. Sawine is traditionally made in huge quantities on Eid day so that you can share to everyone in the village or in the office and every single visitor – if it is one thing you have at a Muslim household on Eid day, even if you made some yourself at home, or if you have 20 other houses to visit later, you MUST try their sawine. It is very much a Trini tradition. Growing up the Eid schedule was: Mom wakes up earlier than anyone else and starts the sawine; then we go to masjid for salaah (prayer); come back change nto cooler clothes; pack up sawine in jugs and containers; join the other neighbourhood children to start delivering the sawine to each non-Muslim household while it’s still relatively cool in the morning. Special households would get some other sweets, but everyone would at least get sawine. And so, all our neighbours would get sawine from quite a few houses. And you want to know that yours can compete! The same way we wait for just the right parsad on Divali night, or sweet rice from the neighbour up the road. You don’t want to hear how anybody throw out your sawine or leave it for the least favoured family member to eat! (And in a village, somehow you hear these things…). Heck, for years, I’d always go across the road for their sweet bread (sorry Mom, but the recipe you gave me now is just the way I like it, so it won’t happen again).
Making sawine, with all that pressure, always seemed like a big, involved process. It is surprisingly a lot easier than you would think, especially if you are making for 10 people, instead of 200. No need to pull out the big gas ring stove, and huge masjid iron pots to patch (parch) humungous amounts of vermicelli days in advance etc. It is relatively straightforward and can be done fairly quickly in your own kitchen on a regular, or even small stove-top.
First, the RULES:
1. Never patch with butter (oil, ghee or any other fat) - this will make the sawine greasy and gloopy and it will spoil quicker.
2. Boil the sawine separately from the milk – or else the sawine will be gloopier and and it will spoil quicker.
3. Don’t boil the sawine or milk with raisins or cherries or any fruit – only with nuts – add those other things after it’s cooked, or else the milk will split or sour faster
4. Only mix milk into sawine in batches as required. – or else…well you get the idea!**
Recipe after the jump
You probably gather by now, and certainly from the photos, that we like our sawine to be not-gloopy… the vermicelli should be free flowing in the milk, which should be thicker than regular milk, sure, but nothing approaching a pudding texture. We even add a little regular milk on top when we take it from the fridge to keep it loose. It is just our way.
Now, some of you might not know what “patching” is. I write it that way because that is how I hear it pronounced. We patch vermicelli noodles for sawine, flour for halwa etc. It means brown in a heavy pot (with or without butter) and perhaps comes from “parch”? I do not know.
But now, the RECIPE
(this makes a decent pot for a small dinner event, or for the family with leftovers in the fridge – it all depends on whether you are a big bowl sawine-eater or a little serving…it should make about 2 – 2.5 litres)
* 1 cup vermicelli
* cinnamon stick, cardamom (elaichi) pods, cloves
* 4 cups water
* 1/2 cup sugar (preferably white, granulated)
* 175 ml (1/2 tin approx) tin evaporated milk plus equivalent water
* 195 ml (1/ tin approx) tin condensed milk plus equivalent water
* 1 tsp almond essence
* 1/2 cup ground blanched almonds (if desired)
* raisins, cherries etc (if desired)
1. Heat a heavy-bottomed pot. Add vermicelli (breaking up into small pieces before or in the pot) and whole spices.
2. Stir frequently until all noodles are brown, but not burnt. There will be some unevenness in the colours, some being beige to dark brown, that is normal.
3. Empty out into a metal bowl or tray and let cool.
Note: You can store parched sawine for a long time, just keep (with spices) in a sealed bag or container. If you might need to hang on it to it forever, keep it in the fridge but you might want to reparch it before making the sawine.
1. In a pot big enough to fit 2.5-3 litres, put parched sawine, sugar and the 4 cups of water to boil. You may add ground almonds to this.
2. Boil until just cooked (try not to overcook as it will just continue to cook in the hot water and then over time will soak in all the liquid anyway).
3. Meanwhile, mix the evaporated milk, condensed milk and almond essence (mix VERY well) and heat gently. (Mom sometimes adds almonds to this as well). Don’t let it come to a boil. On Saturday, Mom heated the milk in my microwave!
4. Add milk to sawine when ready to serve.
5. Just before serving, you may add raisins and cherries etc. Or you can keep these in bowls for guests to add as they like. If nut allergies are a problem, then keep the almonds out of the cooking and put on the side as well.
1. As this is a small batch, which will not stick around for long, I am going to condone breaking one of the rules and say that you could just boil everything together if you wanted. I would insist, however, that if you were making a larger batch, or were making this in advance, that you boil them separately to achieve the consistency the Rules advocate.
2. If you are going to refrigerate, then wait till both liquids are cool, then mix and store in fridge. You will need to add some more milk before reheating, although I wouldn’t reheat – just top up with a little plain milk and stir.
3. Some people do not like biting into whole cardamom. I hate biting into whole cloves. When the sawine has boiled, most of the cloves and cardamom will have floated up to the top – retrieve them as much as possible and discard.
4. Experiment with spices – a dear friend of mine, from Jamaica,*** the first time I ever made this by myself, decided when she tried it, that anything with milk and cinnamon could benefit from nutmeg, and thereafter we had it with nutmeg!
* People have asked me for a sawine cake recipe – I think this one by Guyana Gyal seems a good one to try.
**Mom also has a horror of things spoiling and many foods have certain rules or steps to follow to ensure that they don’t go bad – she is a pro at cooking large amounts of food, and it is on these occasions, particularly for events where food tends to stay out in uncertain conditions, that one has to be very careful.
*** Rone was a frequent visitor and commenter on this blog, and passed away completely unexpectedly a year ago. I’ve had her in mind all throughout this post, and I guess this one’s for her.
I have decided, that although Eid ul Fitr has passed for this year, that I shall attempt to post recipes for all the things we made for this Eid. After all, people will still be looking for them next year, or indeed for Eid ul Adha (which is just a couple months away). And it should help with the number of posts…always a concern for a blogger…
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