First Dessert a.k.a Pehla Meetha
When I got married at the age of 25; almost a decade ago, I was working as a researcher at a multinational company and marriage was a huge milestone for me to achieve at such an early age.
I was proud of myself, yet I was anxious. Cooking was one daunting nightmare. Contrary to what a good Bahu thinks, right? It was because unlike other young girls, kitchen had never been a no-go place for me. Ever since I turned 13 I had been paying regular visits to the kitchen on a daily basis. Yes, exceptions did come along with the responsibility especially when I had exams, but preparing meals or doing the dishes was a routine at my house. My mother always said, “Larkion ko kaam nahi aye ga to Susral jaa ke kya karain gi? Ghar kaisay sambhalain gi. Maa ki naak katwaein gi.” Slowly and gradually, cooking felt like a burden – cumbersome, tiring and boring. Probably not because cooking was difficult, it was because I was too ambitious to make a mark in the research industry and becoming a master chef was definitely not my cup of tea. I never had time for it.
So, without impressing my to-be-in-laws with my cooking skills, I finally got married. I wonder what had happened. They didn’t test me on my cooking skills at the time of rishta. Thanks to my Mom who had baked an excellent chocolate cake and prepared snacks for them whenever they visited us. Probably my to-be-mother-in-law thought I was trying to impress them with my baking skills. But I was far from that.
So after my marriage when I noticed that no one asked me to take up any responsibility to feed the family, I thanked God. My problems were solved. From the very first day, I found out that my in-laws had an army of maids. A maid for cooking who would visit at around 1:00 pm and cook meals for lunch and dinner and leave by 4:00. She was the kitchen queen and no one had the audacity to ask her to keep the curries less spicy. She cooked as she wished. I, on the other had found it a bliss, no cooking – no problems whatsoever.
Then came a time when the entire family had to judge me on my “Sugharpan”, my cooking skills and what better option could there be than to have your Bahu make the first Meetha at Susral?
The day came and I had decided that I would not prepare anything fancy and would just go for Sheer Khurma as that was the easiest meetha I could boldly prepare and present with pride.
With my heart racing, when I stepped into the kitchen, my sister-in-law asked, “Bhabhi, aapko Sheer Khurma banana ata hai na? Main aajaoon help kay liye?”
I smiled back and replied, “Nahi, nahi – mujhe aata hai Sheer Khurma banana. Ammi ki taraf banati rahi hoon.”
Noticing the confidence in the newly-wed Bahu, my mother-in-law jumped in and inquired, “Acha batao kaisay banatay hain? Pehle kya daaltay hain Degchi main?”
To this I calmly explained in one go, “Pehle degchi mein oil ya ghee daalain, Ilaichi ‘karkarain’, phir Siwaiyyan bhoonain. Saath he alehda degchi mein doodh ubalain, cheeni shamil karain. Phir bhooni siwaiyyan doodh wali degchi mein shamil kar dein. Chamcha chalatay rahain. Aakhir mein Badam Pista se garnish karain.”
Noticing the word “karkarain” my mother-in-law announced, “Aaj to bohat zabardast Sheer Khurma tayyar hoga.”
To this my father-in-law asked, “Sheer Khurma ka matlab pata hai? Alfaz ka kya matlab hai?”
Now this is when I actually thanked God that I was raised speaking Farsi with my mother. So, without a pause I replied, “Sheer matlab doodh aur Khurma matlab Khajoor or Chhuaray.”
Smiling, he asked, “Aap ki recipe mein to chhuaray thay he nahi?”
I smiled back and said, “Jee, main wo aakhir mein daaloon gi na.”
Everyone smiled and I, knowing deep down inside that I had to prepare the best Sheer Khurma, I stepped in to the kitchen. To make the matters worse, our maid aka Kitchen Queen welcomed me with a smile on her face. She had set up the counter with all the ingredients that I might need. Staring at her, I said, “Thank you, mujhe khuch aur chahye hoga main bata doon gi.” This was a dreadful time and I had butterflies in my stomach.
I started out by frying Ilaichi, then Siwaiyyan, boiling milk and then following the recipe I had revised a thousand times in my head the night before. This whole time all I thought about was me standing next to my mother in the kitchen and watch her prepare Sheer Khurma for the Meethi Eid.
To be honest, my mom never formally taught me how to make Sheer Khurma. It was just the observation that was still fresh in my mind. But who can rely on one’s memory and that too at such a crucial time?
So the moment I saw the maid leave the kitchen and sit next to my mother-in-law who was sitting on the couch, I grabbed my phone and dialed my mom’s number and confirmed the recipe. She tried to explain each and every step to me. To which I responded with, “Mama, abhi itna time nahi hai. Meri Saas samnay he hain. Mujhe batain meri recipe theek hai na?”
She replied, “Haan bilkul theek hai.”
The distressing time was over. The Sheer Khurma was ready. I quickly readied the serving bowl, set up the tray and served everyone.
To my surprise everyone loved it. No one made any faces. My Saas called me to sit next to her and then gave me a hug for preparing such a “Mazedaar Sheer Khurma”. With a smile, I thanked her and in my heart, thanked Allah Taala.