Wednesday, 21 October 2015

Semia Payasam: Indian Dessert with Vermicelli

"   There was once a poor widow who lived in a lonely cottage.
      In front of the cottage was a garden wherein stood two rose-trees, 
      one of which bore white and the other red roses. 
      She had two children who were like the two rose-trees, 
      and one was called Snow-white, and the other Rose- red.  
      They were as good and happy, as busy and cheerful 
      as ever two children in the world were,  
      only Snow-white was more quiet and gentle than Rose-red. 
      Rose-red liked better to run about in the meadows and fields 
      seeking flowers and catching butterflies; 
      but Snow-white sat at home with her mother, and helped her with her housework, 
      or read to her when there was nothing to do.   "

Snow White and Rose Red...

That's who we imagined ourselves to be when we were little children. My sister S was Rose-red and I was Snow-white. How fun it all was! Our dispositions more or less resembled (and still resemble!) them too, though that was not primarily why we chose our respective characters. I was always the quiet, book reading, home bound type (I'm not sure whether everyone will concede with the 'gentle' part ;)). My sister was of course of the chatty, outgoing, catching butterflies (and secretly closing the palms a bit, so that she can feel wings fluttering inside) nature.
You might be wondering what is common with a couple of fairy tale characters and the dessert that obviously is what this post should be about. I was frankly at a loss as to what to write for this post and had been toying with a couple of ideas. That was when I happened to remember our role plays with Snow-white and Rose-red years ago. And it sort of amused me that when it came to 'Payasams' (Indian puddings with a loose consistency), our preferences were reversed as far as the colour and depth in flavour of payasams were concerned. In fact at home, we were neatly divided in two over our tastes.

The comparatively delicate, easier to cook, off white shaded Semia (Vemicelli) Payasam was my Dad's and S's choice. My Mom and I on the other hand, preferred the more evolved flavours of the laborious to make and hard to get right 'Cherupayar Parippu Payasam' (Payasam made with husked green gram, jaggery, coconut milk etc.) That said, I'm more comfortable tasting the Semia Payasams that other people make. My Grandmother and Mom used to make Cherupayar Parippu Payasam so exquisitely that they have spoilt me for life. Most people don't get it right - mostly because they take some short cut or the other - and it stands out in the end. It is so difficult to come across a good one; or rather one that suits my tastes.
However, today is all about my Dad and S's 'White Payasam'. So my woes of imperfectly made 'Black Payasams' can wait. As was mentioned earlier, Semia Payasam is one of the easiest desserts that you can make. It doesn't take many ingredients or too much time and can easily be made ahead. (In fact you should make it ahead if possible to bring out the creaminess. See Notes.) Normally, all payasams are served warm (or worse, piping hot). However, I prefer to have them refrigerated and served slightly cold.

The photos for this post were shot a few months ago, back in May. My cousin A who stays in the same city as ours called me up one day during a power outage (At last, one good thing about the usually annoying power cuts - they connect people!). In the midst of the conversation he mentioned his love for Semia Payasam and that his wife had made it for him on his birthday. Since he reminded me of the dessert and it is a favourite of the Techie's too, I made the payasam that week and shot it. Somehow, the edited photos got pushed into a corner by newer ones and they never got posted. Better late than never though!

Semia Payasam: Indian Dessert with Vermicelli

  1. Broken Vermicelli - 1/2 cup (I use a pre roasted one to save trouble. However, you can start with the roasted option too. It just takes an extra step to roast it.)
  2. Whole Milk - 3 cups
  3. Sweetened Condensed Milk - A scant 1/2 cup (Start with a third cup and then taste and adjust.)
  4. Cardamom Powder - A couple of pinches or to taste. (See Notes.)
  5. Ghee (Clarified Butter) - Generous 1/2 tbsp. or enough to shallow fry the cashews and raisins.
  6. Cashew Nuts, halved or broken - 1/8 cup
  7. Golden Raisins - 1/8 cup

You will have to start with roasting the vermicelli if you have the non roasted kind with you. For that, you have to heat up a heavy bottomed pan and roast the vermicelli with some ghee till it turns a golden shade, stirring frequently. Once done, keep aside.

Now pour the milk into a heavy bottomed vessel and bring it to a boil. I like to reduce the milk just a little bit, especially if I will be serving the payasam right away - but that is optional.

Now while stirring the milk, add the vermicelli, in a slow drizzle. Cook till the vermicelli is almost done. Now add the condensed milk as well as cardamom powder. Bring it back to a gentle boil and then reduce the liquid if needed. Do remember that the payasam will thicken as it sits. (And frankly, it needs to sit for some time.) Taste and see if you need to make it sweeter or if it needs more cardamom flavour. Adjust accordingly.

Finally, heat up just enough ghee to fry the nuts in a pan. (You won't need much ghee.) Fry the nuts to a golden brown and add them to the payasam pot. In the same pan, fry the golden raisins till they turn plump, take off from the heat immediately and pour them along with all or part of the ghee on to the payasam pot.

Stir everything together and rest the payasam for atleast an hour for it to mellow.
I prefer to completely cool it down, refrigerate covered, and then serve cold or gently warmed up. (That way, you will have a creamier consistency and not the 'sweet milky water speckled with vermicelli strands' sort of consistency.) That said, you can serve the dessert right after it rests for a while too.

  1. If your vermicelli is of the long, unbroken type, first break it into small pieces of about 2 cm. Note that the recipe uses normal vermicelli and not rice vermicelli.
  2. If I don't have powdered cardamom stocked, I just smash two or three pods (two if they are not too old.) on a mortar and pestle and add it to the milk while it is boiling. Do remember to take the pods out once the payasam gets ready.
  3. Take care that nothing sticks to the bottom of the pan throughout the cooking time. It is impossible to salvage the payasam if milk gets scorched. 


  1. From Snow White to semiya payasam is a nice transition... :) I just love the way your payasam looks, just like how you see in the semiya packet ads! Love everything about the pics, so pretty! Haven't had semiya payasam for so long... you are tempting me to make some over the weekend...

  2. Love how you have used condensed milk here. The lighting in your pictures is amazing!

    1. Thank you so much, Abida.

      I chase sunlight - I get lucky on some days; on other days, I have to be content with underexposed shots :)


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