Lab-E-Shireen: Food of the Gods

There is neat compartmentalization of cultures when it comes to food; traditional food more specifically. And many people take pride in their culture’s cuisine and look down upon anything fusion. How many times have we heard people say, “Whatever that is, it is not Pasta (or Shephard’s Pie, or Macher Jhol, or Babaganoush).”

Lab-E-Shireen is a gem from the Muslim kitchens of India and Pakistan. Flavorful, multi-textured and deliciously contemporary, this decidedly Indo-Pak dessert also borrows heavily from colonial cuisine.

Smooth, creamy vanilla custard layered alternatingly with sweet vermicelli boiled in milk, only to be covered in fresh fruit, fruit and herb syrup, raisins, and bits of jelly. Sounds heavenly ? Well, here’s a picture for you to dream about it.

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Making it is a simple but lengthy process. Here are the basic steps for a recipe that will serve four. Feel free to do your version when you feel confident.

You will need:

  1. Custard Powder- 2 Tablespoons
  2. Whole Milk- 2 litres
  3. Dry Vermicelli- 250 grams
  4. Sugar- 1.5 cups
  5. Raisins- 1 cup
  6. Jelly Crystals (Flavor of your choice)- 1 packet
  7. Rooh Afza or any fruit concentrate- 0.5 cup
  8. Cut fruits/ Fruit Cocktail of your choice (Fruit Cocktail must be drained. Syrup and this dessert don’t do well together)- 1 cup
  9. A large, even bottomed/flat bottomed transparent bowl

What do I do with all this ?

  1. Boil 1-litre milk in a heavy bottomed pan. As the milk comes to a boil, add the vermicelli to it and let it boil in with the milk. When the milk has reduced some, add half the sugar and keep stirring. Make sure nothing gets stuck to the bottom of the pan. Taste the vermicelli after 10 minutes of constant stirring. If it is soft, sweet and lightly coated in the reduced milk, take it off the heat and let it cool down to room temperature.
  2. Boil the remaining milk in a relatively large wok/frying pan/saucepan. While the milk is boiling, mix the custard powder in half a cup of water. whisk the mixture till there are no lumps. When this mixture is smooth and thin, add it to the boiling milk while stirring constantly. Keep stirring to make sure that no lumps are formed. Slowly, add the remaining sugar and continue stirring. The custard will eventually thicken. Once the custard is smooth, thick and creamy, viscous but not runny, take it off the heat.
  3. While the custard is still hot, pour a ladleful in the transparent bowl. On top of it, add a layer of the vermicelli. On top of this, spread a tablespoon of the fruit concentrate/Rooh Afza. On top of this, add a few bits of the cut fruit/ fruit cocktail. Repeat till all the vermicelli, custard,  Rooh Afza/fruit concentrate and cut fruit/fruit cocktail. have been added to the bowl. Make sure the top layer is that of custard and cut fruit/fruit cocktail and has some of the fruit concentrate/ Rooh Afza on it. Put the bowl into the fridge to cool.
  4. Make the jelly in a small bowl of any shape, by following the instructions on the back of the packet. Put it in the fridge to cool and set.
  5. After about 4 hours, take out the jelly and the Lab-E-Shireen. Tip the jelly out onto a plate/chopping board and roughly chop into small pieces. If possible, dice the jelly. But rough pieces would also work. If you are adventurous, you could use two types of jelly also.
  6. Top the Lab-E-Shireen with the jelly bits and the raisins. Accompanied by the toppings of fruit and fruit concentrate, this dish will look like the starry conclusion to a kingly feast. Go right ahead and make it now. Let me know how it turned out for you.

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