By Humaira

Today's recipe is an edited excerpt from Helen Saberi's cookbook, Afghan Food and Cookery. When I first started blogging, Helen's book was the guiding light to balanced spicing and naming of dishes. Two years ago, I was very honored when Helen reached out with a generous compliment about my work. Since then, she has kindly contributed several recipes to this blog - Qaymaq Chai, Tea and Hospitably in Afghanistan, Quince and Yogurt Trifle, and Afghan Fish Stew. Today's recipe is a sweet dessert pudding, kajkool-e-fuqara, a perfect addition to your Nowroz celebration.

Excerpt from Afghan Food and Cookery:

The name of this rich milk and almond pudding, which is flavored with rosewater, ironically means "beggar’s bowl". There are many variations of the same dessert found in Iran and the Middle East, usually known as keshkul-e-fuqara.  The recipe below is an Afghan version.

Kajkool, is the word for an oval bowl made either of wood, metal or a coconut.  These bowls were carried suspended by a chain from the shoulder by fuqara or beggars.

Fuqara, who call themselves “the paupers of God”, are like dervishes who devote their lives to seeking God and are not interested in ownership of property or worldly goods. They travel from house to house begging for food. Donations of food (and sometimes money) are placed in the kajkool that is eventually filled with different kinds of food. 

A faqir or beggar is considered to be a holy man with special healing powers and in exchange for the food he prays for the people, often sprinkling them with rosewater from a gul-ab-pash, a type of glass or metal bottle with a sprinkler.

The name of this rich milk dessert is derived from it being sprinkled and decorated with a variety of nuts and coconut, symbolizing the kajkool being filled with a variety of food.



Rich Milk and Almond Pudding  

1 cup plus 1 ounce blanched almonds (135 grams)

1 ounce  blanched pistachio (25 grams)

1/2 fresh coconut or 1/2 cup dry chopped coconut

3 heaped tablespoons cornflour/cornstarch

3 1/2 cups milk (1 liter)

1 1/4 cups sugar (275 grams)

1/4 cup rosewater (55 milliliter)

1/2 teaspoon cardamom 

Pour 8-ounces of boiling water over the one cup of blanched almonds in a bowl and leave to soak for about 15 minutes. Blend the mixture in a blender and puree.  Strain the almond milk through a double layer of cheesecloth or muslin into a bowl, squeezing the cloth to extract as much milk as possible. Set aside.

Meanwhile flake or roughly chop the other almonds and the pistachio and simmer them in a little water for a few minutes to soften. If using coconut, remove the flesh and grate.  Set the almonds, pistachios and coconut aside.

Mix the cornstarch with a little of the cold milk into a smooth paste. Bring the remaining milk to boil with the sugar, adding the paste gradually. Stir constantly with a wooden spoon to avoid sticking. Bring to boil, then turn down the heat and simmer gently until the mixture thickens. It is very important not to have the heat too high and to stir constantly as this mixture easily sticks and burns.  If it does stick, do not scrape the bottom of the pan—this would impart a burnt taste to the dish.

Add the rosewater, milk of almonds and cardamom­–simmer gently for two minutes. Leave to cool a little and then pour on to a large flat serving dish and decorate with the blanched and shredded almonds and pistachios and the grated coconut, if used.