A Decadent Treat
'Kharwas' is the marathi name of a sweet steamed pudding made out of milk given by a cow or buffalo within a day after she has calved. Cheek (in Hindi), Junnu (in Telugu), Seem Paal (in Tamil), Geen (in Konkani), Bari (in Gujarati) or anything else you call it, it evokes great nostalgia among those who have had it before but cannot seem to find it now. The same thing sounds very different when referred to as 'bovine colostrum', but that is the name for it nevertheless. Steam cooked in a water bath, it has the consistency of cream caramel or flan without the addition of any external coagulant. There are references to such colustrum puddings and custards being made in Scandinavian countries, Iceland, Ireland, and in the English countryside (where it is sometimes referred to as 'Beestings'), and I wouldn't be surprised if several other cultures have such traditions too.
Kharwas made with sugar
In lieu of using colostrum milk, there are recipes for puddings made out of things like condensed milk and eggs, flavored with cardamom, made to resemble the texture and flavor of the real thing. These were most likely created by resourceful Indian expats who were yearning for it but were unable to find it. I know I went through a phase when I was looking for it everywhere, and even thought of calling some of the dairy farms a few hours away from where I live. Those who have experienced the real thing and know the joy of it would agree that I wasn't being unreasonable.
More than a year ago I heard that Whole Foods carries colostrum milk, but since I prefer to shop at farmers markets or small stores, I don't go to Whole Foods unless I have to get something very specific from there. On one such trip after ages I ambled over to their dairy section, saw the colostrum milk container and bought it right away. When I paid at the checkout, I muttered under my breath how expensive Whole Foods seems to be getting by the day, but it was only when I read the line items at home that I found out that it was only the colostrum milk that cost a bomb and it wasn't the store that was getting pricier. A pint of colostrum milk cost nearly as much as three gallons of regular milk, to put it in perspective, but I hadn't checked the cost when I bought it. That makes it fairly extravagant compared to standard grocery items, but this is an occasional treat. Besides, I hadn't eaten kharwas in so many years that the price wouldn't have stopped me anyway.
Right away, I got a recipe from my mother, which said to add sugar or jaggery to the milk, some cardamom powder, and then steam it like dhoklas. I faintly recalled that as a child I liked the version with sugar and did not like the one with jaggery, but knowing my taste now I was willing to bet which version I would like better this time. So first I had to test out both versions, and I tried half of the milk with sugar and the other half with jaggery. The outcomes were quite different both in taste and texture. In terms of the texture, the jaggery version was a winner because it was firmer, while the sugar melted and created more water, but also made the result slightly lacey, as can be seen from the photos. As for the taste, no prizes for guessing.
Kharwas made with jaggery
The aspect of humane practices towards animals surfaces in relation to using bovine colostrum for human consumption, but since the product I bought comes from an organic dairy farm that cares about their animals, I feel very confident that they are not selling it only for profit, and whatever they sell is what is leftover after the calves are taken care of.
Serves: 3-4 small dessert sized portions
2 cups bovine colostrum milk
1/2 cup (more or less to taste) grated jaggery, brown sugar, or granulated sugar
2 green cardamom
a few strands of saffron, optional
Dissolve the jaggery in the milk. Remove the seeds of the cardamom and finely powder them in a mortar and pestle. Add the cardamom powder and saffron to the milk.
Pour the milk in a container that will fit in a pressure cooker or other large pan, with enough water in the outer pan for steaming. Cover with a lid and steam for 15-20 minutes. If using a pressure cooker do not put the weight (whistle) on. Let cool completely or chill it in the refrigerator for a few hours before eating.
Kharwas: Steamed and Cooled