If there’s one thing that the favourite dish for the ‘Festival of Breaking Fast’ helps reconnoiter, it is the commitment to society – humanity always stands, shoulder-to-shoulder.
One of the most endearing sights of Eid-al-Fitr celebrations is that of watching thousands of people come out for prayers. The sea of people together offering the day’s first namaz after having their first meal of the day not only signifies the end of a month of Ramzan but is also a symbol of a well-known and accepted fact: that in front of Allah, every individual is equal. “There is no caste, no rich or poor, no attributes – much like the Sheer Kurma, a popular dessert and perhaps the posterboy of Eid for everyone else,” says culinary custodian Tasneem Fathima as she sprinkles grated and desiccated coconut followed by handfuls of flakes of almonds, cashew nuts and a personal favourite, munakka.
It has been a long-standing tradition at Fathima’s house to make seviyan or Sheer Kurma – called so because of the full cream and dry fruits in it – for the kids and friends around. “It is the best form of Eidi (blessing) that you can give to them, and it is taken in the same spirit,” says Fathima, who this year too, would be making a batch of meethi seviyan, biryani and korma to celebrate the day that would be marked by “numerous calls to friends and relatives”.
Fathima isn’t the only one missing meeting and greeting family and friends this year, which is one of her favourite rituals of the day. Many such as seasoned writer Heena Khan, rue missing much of the sense of camaraderie that the day of Eid brings. Instead, the ladies have decided to use the all-time favourite Sheer Kurma to reach out to people – not just, says Heena, “our near and dear ones, but friends and their friends with a bowl of sweet goodness.”
What made them choose Sheer Kurma or Meethi Seviyan as the messenger this time? The very essence of this simple dessert, says Chef Vineet Manocha (SVP-Culinary Lite Bite Foods), is that it appeals to all kinds of palates, even the most jaded ones. “How a bowl of a simple Sheer Kurma can transform a person’s mood is almost magical. It is like happiness in a bowl. And to think of it, the sweet is a rather simple affair of seviyan, ghee, little milk, sugar and any dry fruit or date one can afford.”
Sheer Kurma, according to foodlore, evolved somewhere between the Shir Beeranj served in Persian courts and Dum Ki Seviyan in Mughal courts, and it was because of the virtue of frugality. It is, says Fathima, “one of the cheapest desserts to make and thus could invoke the sense of contributing willingly to the community, which isn’t a trait of any other dish on the Eid feast table with perhaps the exception of Biryani, although this is a recent development. But seviyan, on the other hand, has been a simple treat that can be afforded by many. In fact, one wouldn’t think twice before sending the sweet to a neighbour’s place purely as a mark of goodwill and brotherhood.”
Agrees Heena, who often found the joy of sharing a big bowl of Sheer Kurma with friends and neighbours, as one of the most rewarding aspects of Eid. She continues with a smile, “The best part about Sheer Kurma is its versatility. In fact, as a sweet dish, it beautifully mirrors your mood at the time and turns into a delicious medium that can translate your emotions well to those who receive it.”
Says Chef Manocha, “Today Sheer Kurma and Meethi Seviyan are used interchangeably. Not only did it earn its stripes as the dish that is best associated with Eid-al-Fitr, but also its amazing popularity too.”
Fascinatingly, the emotional connect that Sheer Kurma has goes much beyond its unforgettable taste, lovable texture and economics that garnered it that kind of popular, and a must-have status. Seviyan, explains Chef Manocha, “was once a favourite activity during the month of Ramzan when these ladies would get together and roll out thick and thin strands of seviyan that would be sundried and kept for the big day. At least, it was a practice rife in several towns of UP, Haryana and other states as well. Slightly longer than a grain of Dehradun Biryani Rice kernels, these handcrafted seviyan were often part of a friendly exchange. The ritual which was done more for a sense of belongingness that would go a long way into turning neighbours into family, and a neighbourhood into a tight-knit community.”
“But this tradition of sharing seviyan, which often would be more than a family could consume,” says Heena, “would also ensure that even those who couldn’t afford to have a lavish feast were actually stocked well to have a good feast, which also is the essence of Eid-al-Fitr, which is more of a finding joy in helping and renewing ones’ commitment to the community than just a big feast to mark the end of a month long of abstinence.” This perhaps explains how the tradition of sending seviyan to neighbours began, which today is customary in most homes where a bowl of Sheer Kurma is one of the scrumptious ways of renewing friendship. It is as simple as taking a bowl to your neighbours’ door and the dessert literally does the rest of the talking.
But probably the most significant Eid lesson that Sheer Kurma or Meethi Seviyan teaches you is that of simplicity, says Fathima in retrospect. Just look at the dish, she continues, “even in its most basic format, it is still delicious, still feels like a treat and still brings that sense of joy. Build it up with dry fruits, cream, a dash of saffron or even a variety of nuts and yet the basic seviyan still is what you would love the dessert for – much like the lesson of Eid-al-Fitr which though is the end of a month-long Ramzan always leaves us with a sabak (lesson) of who we truly are as a person, the simple life you can choose, and how some of the biggest joys of a good life lies in sharing your good fortune with those that are less fortunate.”
No wonder that one of the decrees of Eid-al-Fitr celebration is fitra or donating, not just to the needy among your family and friends, but also those you don’t know. As a dish, however, say nutritionists, Sheer Kurma, though a richer version of the simple Meethi Kheer in moderation, is exactly what your brain needs to calm down, recalibrate and function – a process that most of us relate to as an instant sense of feeling good and joyful. An emotion we can all use a spoonful or two of, especially in these times.