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Ras malai is a rich Indian dessert made with small balls of paneer that are soaked in flavored, thickened milk. The word is a combination of the Urdu word ras, which stands for juice or nectar, and malai, which translates as cream. Thought to have originated in Orissa in India, this dish is very popular in India, Bangladesh, and Pakistan. It has an interesting combination of flavors and textures, from the spongy soft paneer to the delicately flavored milk. Very similar to the Bengali sweet called rasgulla, it is served as a dessert at the end of a meal.
It's also served during many festive occasions such as engagements and weddings. Ras malai is not too sweet and is typically yellow or white in color. The yellow tinge comes from the saffron used in the cooking process. Normally served chilled, it may be garnished with slivers of almonds, pistachios, and dried fruits. A little crushed cardamom or cardamom powder may also be sprinkled on top for added fragrance and taste. Some consider it to be quite similar to another dessert called kheersagar.
There are subtle differences, though, the most notable being kheersagar having a milk base with a much thicker consistency. Mostly, ras malai is very soft in texture, and it melts easily in a person's mouth due to the creamy milk. The dessert has quite a high calorie and fat content but is considered to be healthier in comparison to some other sweets because it is not deep-fried. The balls of paneer may be stuffed with almonds or blanched pistachios for a more exotic taste.
The major ingredients used to make ras malai are whole milk and sugar. Slivered nuts and dry fruits may be used as garnishes. The balls of paneer can be made at home by curdling milk with a little lemon juice. The cheese is then separated from the whey and allowed to drain in a muslin cloth for a few hours before it is shaped into little balls. The sugar is boiled in water until it dissolves and becomes syrup. The balls of cheese are dropped into the simmering syrup and cooked for around ten minutes.
Alternatively, the cheese can be pressure cooked in the sugar syrup for a few minutes. The paneer expands, and the cheese balls become bigger. They are removed from the syrup and allowed to cool, and any excess syrup is removed by pressing the balls lightly. The whole milk is heated in a pan with sugar until the solution reduces to three-fourths of it's original volume. The malai is taken off the stove, and cardamom powder and a little saffron are added.
The syrup-soaked paneer balls are dropped into the sweetened malai and are chilled in the refrigerator for a few hours. They are garnished with the slivers of nuts and dry fruit and served immediately. While the recipe to make ras malai sounds quite easy, it's not made at home very often. This is because the whole process is time-consuming, from making the paneer balls to thickening the milk. It's possible to even find canned ras malai in supermarkets.
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