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Betsy Block

Make Mama Look Good

Glass Half Full

Glass Half Full
The set-up: Mama gets a little overwhelmed sometimes, especially at this time of year when the impending and odious "holiday season" threatens to throw an already crazy and only tenuously balanced life completely out of whack.

So while I knew the Hindu festival of lights called Diwali was coming soon, I didn't actually have time to seek out a recipe until late last week - when the holiday was just about over. That's typical for me these days: great intentions, a little slow on the follow-through. But I took heart when I learned that Diwali is the Hindu festival of lights, and, like most cultures' post-harvest rituals, signifies the renewal of life and spirit. I figured that if someone were in the midst of a festival celebrating spiritual renewal, they'd basically be required to cut me some slack on my timing, so I moved forward with my plan to find a Diwali recipe that I could manage even if the kids were home.

The recipe: For guidance, I contacted Tara Deshpande Tannebaum, owner of Azalea Catering in Boston. Not only is she a caterer and cooking instructor, but she is also - I kid you not - a former Bollywood star. I knew that if anyone could cook me up something simple yet glamorous, it would be Tara. She sent me an intriguing recipe for Mango Shrikhand, or yogurt with saffron and mangoes. It's considered a Diwali dessert, but would also be fantastic as a breakfast or brunch dish (or, Tara adds, as a topping on warm gingerbread or apple tart).

Time management: If you're the glass half-empty type, then you'll probably focus on the fact that Diwali just ended, in which case I'll have to admit that my time management on this task is pretty much in the toilet.  But if you're a little more flexible, and let's remember that flexibility is a tremendous asset for 21st century Mamas (and Papas), then maybe you'll agree that this recipe would be great any time of year. If you're with me on this, then we're all in luck, because making Mango Shrikhand is a cinch. (And if you're not with me, then you're obviously against me, and I don't think any of us want that.) The only trick here is leaving enough time to drain the yogurt (see Note below for more on this).

The bottom line: total active prep time logged in at a mere 10 minutes. I did most of it while the kids were having a snack. I may not always have time to shower or change out of my sweats, but I will always be able to handle Mango Shrikhand.

The outcome: When four-year-old P had tasted her first mouthful of Shrikhand, she nodded, licked her lips and rubbed her belly in the ultimate show of approval. And the neighbors, who were already in the middle of brunch when nine-year-old E dropped off a bowl, "absolutely loved it," he reported. So did I. The combination of cardamom and saffron turns the outrageously creamy but plain yogurt into something unusually delicious. The crunchy toasted nuts and soft, sweet mango elevate it to greatness.

Mango Shrikhand (Indian strained yogurt with saffron and mangoes)
Makes 2  cups (recipe can be doubled)
Serves 2-4 (it's rich)

32 oz. plain whole milk yogurt
1 ripe mango, peeled
6 strands saffron soaked in 1-2 tablespoons lukewarm water
1/4 cup toasted and silvered almonds
1/4 cup toasted unsalted pistachios
1 teaspoon freshly ground green cardamom seeds (or not freshly ground at all but rather from a jar as I used)
1 cup granulated sugar (Tara says to use more if you want it on the sweet side - I used one and a quarter cups and it tasted as sweet as sweetened yogurt you'd buy at the store)

1. Empty yogurt into a cheesecloth-lined strainer and suspend it over a bowl. Let drip 12 hours, or overnight. (Tara says you only have to refrigerate this if it's summer, but erring on the side of caution, I'll say go ahead and throw it in the fridge even if there's a record-breaking blizzard outside.)You'll want to discard the liquid a couple of times, because an unbelievable amount drains out. By the end, the yogurt had reduced by half.
2. Remove from the cheesecloth when all the water has drained out and refrigerate for at least two hours (unless you've been draining it in the fridge.)
3. Slice mango into long pieces. Place in a covered bowl and chill.
4. In a mixer, whip yogurt and sugar together on slow until yogurt gets fluffy, about 3-5 minutes. Do not over-whip, as yogurt will split. Add saffron (with its soaking liquid) and cardamom and whip 30 seconds longer.

  1. Top with mangoes, roasted almonds and pistachios.

Note: When you see a recipe with instructions to, say, drain yogurt overnight, or buy cheesecloth, for God's sake, you might find yourself feeling a bit annoyed. Who wants to deal with that, right? But sometimes, Looking Good requires just a little bit of advance planning.

The upside? Once you've lined the strainer with cheesecloth and then poured in the yogurt (a total time expenditure of approximately one minute), you are then more than justified in sitting on the couch and reading a book. After all, you're right in the middle of preparing something delicious.

See what I'm saying?