Hyderabadi apricot pudding (Khubani ka meetha)
The history of apricots is ancient. The fruit was thought to have originated in China in 2000 BC and the Roman emperor Julius Ceasar loved them. The fruit was brought to him, dried via the Silk Route and it established itself along the way in various regions including the slopes of the lower Himalayas in Northern India. When the Uzbek king Babur invaded India he was very pleasantly surprised to discover the fruit was already established in India so he could enjoy them.
I had the pleasure to gorge on fresh fruit in Manali a few years ago, the Indian fruit is smaller, very sweet and has an intense flavour, it is quite different from the Turkish bright yellow apricots. These little beauties are abundant and sold along the roadsides and in small grocery stores around every corner. The region is also important in drying this fruit for use in Indian cuisine including this dessert.
This recipe is a family recipe, it was taught to me by my mother who in turn learned it from the kitchens on my paternal Hyderabadi side. This is an iconic dessert in Hyderabad, a city known for its food, biryanis, dum cooking and unique desserts.
Commercial Khubani ka meetha is usually a disaster. The kitchens add fillers, thickeners, and colouring agents, and it is usually loaded with tonnes of sugar making it sickeningly sweet.
Here is a simple recipe, with three ingredients, but cooked to perfection and so delicate. The magic happens in the slow cooking and light caramelization of the apricots over time. I also reduced the sugar dramatically, even less than what my mother usually uses, I wanted to highlight the flavour of the fruit and not drown it out. Finally, I roasted and added the nut of the apricots, it is a massive pain to remove these small apricot almonds, see tricks in the recipe, rather than use slivered almonds that are usually substituted. Also, the stewed apricots are mashed gently with an egg beater rather than an electric blender, the apricots need to be slightly mashed leaving a lot of texture.
The dessert is delicate, the tart sweetness of the fruit shines with a touch of sugar and a drizzle of cream adds a lovely texture. This dessert is perfect for those hot months, it refreshes the palate and soul and is fresh, compared to the heavier Hyderabadi desserts.
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3/4 lb dried Indian apricots
1/2-3/4 cup sugar
Fresh cream, to garnish
8 cups water
Soak the dried apricots in the water overnight.
Next morning, remove the pits by squeezing each apricot gently, retain the pits and put the apricot flesh back into the soaking liquids.
Add the sugar, starting with 1/2 cup, to the apricots and water and bring to a boil. Simmer gently for 45-55 minutes, till the apricots are very mushy and the liquids have reduced to a lovely syrupy texture.
While the apricots are simmering, pit the nuts trying to keep them whole. To do this, layer 10 or so nuts between two sheets of pa[er towels and lightly pound them with a pestle to crack them open. Collect the nuts and set them aside. You can also gently roast them for a couple of minutes on a dry frying pan for 2-3 minutes till aromatic and toasted.
When the apricots are cooked, taste the mix for sugar, the sweetness should be light and highlight the flavour of the apricots rather than drown it out.
Beat the apricot mix with a hand- or electric egg beater on low speed to slight mush the apricots. You are looking for a light mash where about half the apricots are still in large chunks for texture.
Serve at room temperature or chilled with a drizzle of cream and a sprinkling of the apricot nuts.