An Emirati style dessert, made with sago or tapioca pearls, and delicately flavored with saffron, rose water and cardamom…
It always feels nice to come back to this little space and write about the country that is our bread and butter. Having lived here since I was born, I have seen the country go through a lot of changes, improvements and diversions. This year has been the most challenging thanks to Covid, but it was a worldwide phenomena and many will agree that UAE has managed this epidemic well. In between, the country had its first Mars mission, which was a first of many kinds. The Expo 2020 may be delayed, but it is a hope of having a better event in place. I sincerely hope that the coming years will be a much better and productive year for this country, which is entering its 50th year of existence. It is an immense pride of how much this country has achieved in such a short span of time!
I have been trying to have a collection of Emirati recipes on the blog, however though the process has been really slow, I am glad that I have been able to do it. While trying to figure out what to cook as the National Day special, my mind wanted to make the Ferni, which is the local style rice pudding, but then as soon as I saw the pack of sago aka tapioca pearls in my pantry, I just wanted to make the Sago that I have been eyeing forever. The way sago is cooked here is like a sweet – or as they call it, halwa. The sago is cooked in a liquid made with caramelized sugar and heavily scented by saffron, with undertones of rose water and cardamom, till the whole mixture becomes a gloopy mess. It is surely a little bit of work and patience to get the whole thing done, but the end result is absolutely amazing. I have had Sago at the local cultural shows here, but somehow at the end, I pick up the Omani halwa to take home. 😉 Both tastes very similar, just that the sago has a more sticky texture.
The recipe has very limited ingredients. The sugar is first caramelized and then once the water is added and boiled, the sago is added, and then left on low flame to cook till done. Of course, you can’t leave it alone, you need to get your power in to stir the whole mixture to get them together. There are a few notes in there, especially the amount of the water and the type of sago to use. Usually, I get the big sago that really pops up when you make payasam and gives a pretty look, but takes some time to cook. However in this recipe, the small sago is supposed to be used. It would ultimately powder out and get mashed into the mixture completely once cooked. I used the large sago and it took really a lot of time to cook and tested my patience. That is when I checked the videos again and noticed that all are using the small sago, so it would ultimately look like a proper halwa. So please use the small sago and not the big one, like I did. Other than this, it is a uncomplicated recipe, and if you love saffron, this will surely become your favorite to make!
Before moving to the the recipe, I am linking this post to the AtoZ Challenge hosted by Vidya and Jolly. This month, the alphabet is “S” and I have chose saffron as my ingredient. What better way to highlight the world’s most expensive spice in a dish that belongs to the country that I have lived in forever! I understand that not everyone likes saffron – same was the case with me too, it has grown on me with age, I must say! But I truly love it in my chai or just plainly in milk, so delicious for the chilled nights we have at the moment! Of late with milk cakes being a rage here, my favorite always remains the saffron milk cake. I was also thinking that “sago” could have also qualified for this month’s ingredient, but my favor tilts towards the saffron, so let it be. 😀 I guess I will leave my saffron craze for now and quickly hope on to the recipe… 😉
Sago | Emirati Tapioca Pearl Pudding with Saffron
- 1/2 cup sago or tapioca pearls refer notes
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 2 cups water refer notes
- 1/4 tsp cardamom powder
- 1/2 tsp saffron threads soaked in 2 tbsp rose water
- 1 tbsp ghee
- 2-3 tbsp crushed nuts
- Soak the sago pearls in water for 30 minutes. Wash and drain.
- In a thick bottomed saucepan, add the sugar. Sprinkle in around 2 tbsp water.
- Cook on low-medium flame, swirling the pan, till the sugar starts to caramelize. Allow it to reach an amber color. Do not stir.
- Now add the water. Make sure to pour it from a distance since it will start to splutter. The caramel may become hard as well. Don't worry abut it. Once the spluttering stops, stir and allow it to come to a boil. The caramel will start melting into it.
- Now add the drained sago and the cardamom. Cook, stirring and mixing well occasionally, till the sago is all done and gets transparent. Add the saffron and rosewater midway.
- It gets done until you will no longer see any whitish tinge. Add the ghee and mix well. Switch off.
- Transfer to a serving dish and sprinkle in the nuts (I used cashews). Enjoy warm or cold!
The amount of water is totally dependent on the cooking time of sago. If the mixture sticks to the pan and the sago is still not cooked, add water in increments of 1/4 cup till the sago is completely cooked and transparent.
You can sprinkle in pistachios or even sesame seeds for a final touch.
Personally I like this dessert warm. But you can have it cold as well.