Vermicelli. Milk. Sugar. Dates. Cardamoms. Almonds. Pistachios. I have it all laid out in front of me. My trembling hands reach for the cooking pot. My first attempt at making the most special dessert on Eid. Sheer Khorma – vermicelli pudding.
I pour in some clarified butter. A bunch of cardamoms. I wait to hear the popping sound of cardamoms that tells me I can move on to the next step. I grab a cup of vermicelli and fry it in the pot. “Wait for the color to change”, said mother, mother-in-law and Google. So I stir and I stir. I feel like a novice baseball player, striking the thin vermicelli strands back and forth. The light caramel color of the vermicelli soon transforms into a glistening light brown. The sweet aroma of the butter and cardamoms make my senses tingle.
After frying, I add a liter of milk. Some newer versions call for condensed milk. But I lean towards simple ingredients. The original recipe passed down from decades outshines all other. I wait for the milk to boil and then I turn down the flame. Now the wait begins. Sheer Khorma needs time and patience. The more time, the creamier it becomes – like a mouthful of clouds. Edible white clouds.
I remember peering down at a similar cooking pot, a couple of years ago in Lahore (Pakistan) at my in-laws’ place. Every year on Eid, the entire house would be on its toes. Family members readying clothes for the morning prayer. Talks of henna prints on our hands. Matching bangles. And of course food. The last day of fasting opens doors to unlimited ways of overeating. Ramzaan(Ramadan) is essentially about spiritual reflection, abstaining from sins and a means of improving oneself (physically and mentally). But refraining from food and water is a basic principle. Post-Ramzaan, show us food and we forget everything else. The queen of all foods on Eid is essentially Sheer Khorma. I remember my mum-in-law, stirring the delectable pot of sugary vermicelli. I remember her worried expression as she repeated the long list of things still left for the next day’s celebration. I remember telling her not to worry because everything will turn out perfect. And it always did. Guests poured in the next day, gorging down delicious food, greeting each other with warm hugs and thankful smiles. Laughter, food and gratitude all day long. A perfect celebration is all I remember.
My mind wanders further back. Eid at my parents’ home before I got married. Like many too-busy-for-no-reason children and teenagers, I rarely entered the kitchen. But I knew that my mama would have everything ready in the morning; sheer khorma and other delights laid out for Eid guests. The morning ritual involved greeting parents with “Eid Mubarak!” and collecting hefty amounts of Eidi (money) that eventually made its way into convenient stores carrying junk food. Early morning Army gatherings were the biggest highlight. Families visited each others’ homes carrying sweets. Spending the entire day in glittery made-up clothes was exciting. Even if it meant playing cricket or softball and tripping over uncomfortable sandals. A different lifetime. Another perfect Eid.
Eid is celebrated all over the world, but with varying traditions and cultural intricacies. Its variations are marked by beautiful little nuances within each home, each family. I’ve lived through two different Eids in my life. I’ve tasted two different types of sheer khormas. I cherish each celebration, each bite that is much more than a simple dessert. A sweet dish that symbolizes a lifelong tradition. It represents perfection. It portrays joy. And now, I am in a new country, celebrating Eid in my home for the first time. On the eve of Eid, for a minute there I almost felt lost; Not knowing where to start or what to do. But then all those memories came rolling in. The aroma of sheer khorma gave me comfort. Valuable family traditions gave me a gentle nudge in the right direction. Coaxing me to find my way.
After hours of tasting and wondering if the dish is complete or needs more time to cook, I finally pour out the sheer khorma in the serving dish. I top it with blanched and crushed almonds and pistachios. I take another quick bite. As the slippery vermicelli slides into my mouth, I realize that the taste and texture is close to what I’ve eaten in my homes, but I still have a long way to go.
I miss all those years of celebrating Eid with my family in my homeland. But then as I look at my freshly cooked pot of sheer khorma, I feel blessed and thankful. I feel as if everything is just as it were all those years ago.
My first Eid in my new home with my family. That sounds to me like another perfect Eid.
But one thing is for sure. I have big shoes to fill.