Wednesday, October 27, 2010
Meri Maa's Ras Malai (My Mom's Ras Malai)
By Priya Frank
Our class discussion on condensed milk had me thinking about how it has been used traditionally within my own family. Truthfully, I had to look up what condensed milk actually consisted of in order to understand how it has the ability to be canned and preserved for so long. I found out that sweetened condensed milk is made from pasturized whole milk that has had 60% of the water removed. The removal process contains heating the milk, concentrating it, and then adding sugar. It can be stored in your pantry from 6-12 months unopened.
Condensed Milk in India
The use of condensed milk in Indian recipes began in 1912, when the Nestle Anglo-Swiss Condensed Milk Company (Export) Limited began trading as importing and selling finished products in the Indian market. Nestle was founded in 1867 in Geneva, Switzerland but after India’s independence and the economic policies in place at the time emphasizing local production, Nestle formed a company in India called Nestle India Ltd, and set up its first factory there in 1961. The Indian Government wanted Nestle to develop the milk economy in the area of Moga, Punjab. In Moga, Nestle “educated” and mentored farmers in basic farming and dairy farming methods, irrigation, scientific crop management practices and how to increase the milk yield of the cows. Thus, Nestle transformed Moga into a successful milk district, both for the city of Moga, as well as for Nestle itself. The factory in Moga is considered one of the most prestigious and hi-tech milk plants in the country. The plant receives dairy milk from the local farmers and provides executive, technical and blue collar jobs to the local population.Since 1967 Nestle has opened 6 more factories throughout India under the “Nestle India Ltd” name.
Questioning the "Help"
Although this seems positive, I can’t help but think about the history of Nestle in India, what kind of policies were in place that encouraged the “education” of the Indian people, and I related it to the “West is the Best” ideology. According to cultural studies theorist Stuart Hall, one of the effective concepts behind the “West” was that “It provides a standard or model for comparison. It allows us to compare to what extent different societies resemble, or differ, from one another. Non-western societies can accordingly be said to be ‘close to’ or far away from or ‘catching up with’ the West. It helps to explain difference.” Was it naturally assumed that the Indian people needed to be “helped” and that the Swiss company was the answer to their problems?
Exploitation by Nestle
In thinking along the lines of the kind of “help” being offered by Nestle, in 2005 Nestle was sued by a leading human rights organization for involvement in the trafficking, torture, and forced labor of children who cultivate and harvest cocoa beans which the companies import from Africa. The suit was brought under two federal statutes, the Torture Victims Protection Act and the Alien Tort Claims Act. That same year, Nestle Union leader Diosdado Fortuna was suspiciously and brutally murdered in a chain of politically-motivated in the Philippines. According to several blogs I found online, the Nestle Corporation is notorious for the consistent and international exploitation and repression of its own workers. In fact, for the last 3 years, Filipino workers have been striking against the Nestle Plant in Cabuyao, Laguna, Philippines for human rights violations. There was even a documentary made about it, called There’s Blood in Your Coffee (http://blood-in-your-coffee.blogspot.com/)
My Mom's Dessert
Something I admire most about my mom is her ability to cook anything, Indian or otherwise, and make it taste amazing, and way better than the original recipe. Whether she’s throwing down some ribs for our summer bbq’s, cooking up 20 pound pots of chicken curry for work parties, or even baking good old American muffins, she can do it all. After chatting with her, I learned that one of her most popular Indian dessert recipes is Ras Malai, which uses condensed milk. Ras Malai is a traditional, northern Indian dessert consisting of ricotta cheese bathed in sugared milk. The milk can be flavored with pistachios, saffron or rosewater. According to my mom, it is usually eaten for special occasions, including weddings and celebrations such as Diwali. It is a very popular dessert throughout India. She says that her recipe is the modern version. “In the old days they used to make it the long way. The clotted cheese would be made from scratch, where as in the modern world we can use readymade ricotta cheese.” Ras Malai originated in the Indian state of Orissa, on the east coast of the continent, near the Bay of Bengal. This shows the migration of peoples across the continent, since my family comes from Gujarat, which lies on the opposite coast of India. Since my mom was actually born in Fiji, not India, the migration pattern of this dessert stretches even further, and the network from which this recipe comes from has traveled many thousands of miles creating a cross cultural and cross generational tradition.
RAS MALAI RECIPE
One can condensed milk
Half gallon 2% milk
One 16oz ricotta cheese
¼ cut almonds or pistachio (sliced) (optional)
Half ricotta container full of sugar (or according to taste)
Half teaspoon saffron
Half teaspoon cardamom seeds (crushed or powder)
Half teaspoon of nutmeg powder
Heat milk on low to medium heat in a thick pot on top of stove for 1-1/2 hours.
Keep stirring. After 1 hour when milk is boiling, add the condensed milk and saffron and nuts. Keep stirring.
Let it boil for another ½ hour and let it cool.
In a mixing bowl add ricotta cheese and sugar and mix with a big spoon (Taste & add sugar according to taste)
Grease a flat Pyrex baking pan with (spray Pam)
Place the mixture of (ricotta cheese & sugar) into the baking pan and flatten the mixture evenly in the pan
Preheat oven 425degF
Bake the pan with the mixture for 50mins
Take out the pan of cooked ricotta cheese from the oven and let it cool for 15 mins. Cut up into 1” square pieces and immediately put them in the cooling milk mixture.
Add nutmeg and cardamom
Put the Ras Malai in fridge for 3-4 hrs
Serve it chilled
Recipe courtesy of Betty-Bharati Frank
Hall, Stuart. "The West and the Rest: Discourse and Power." Formations of Modernity. Oxford: Polity in Association with Open University, 1992. 276-295.