On a recent shopping trip, I was bemused when my beloved returned home with three 100g bags of basil seed. Pulling the crumpled shopping list from his pocket, he pointed, ‘See, there!’ The line above said fennel seed, so of course I had meant basil seed too, hadn't I?
What to do with all this seed? He had found it at the Indian shop. The owner obviously knew his stock for the packets were labelled as ‘Tukmaria’, with basil seed underneath in small type. After a search on the computer I was totally hysterical in front of an Indian cooking video of a very jolly man who was cooking sweet dishes to attract love. Whoever responded would have had to have had a serious sugar addiction coupled to a very blasé attitude to weight gain!
Back to the seeds... The tiny black teardrop shaped seeds are also known by various names: sabza, subza, takmaria, tukmaria, tukhamaria, falooda, selasih (Malay/Indonesian) or hột é (Vietnamese.) In India it is used in Muslim and Buddhist cuisine and as a medicinal herb. The use of Sacred Basil is restricted by Hindus as it has a sacred association to the god Vishnu. Basil seed also appears in the cuisine of Indonesia, Thailand, Iran and Afghanistan. The two varieties I have found from which the seeds are harvested for culinary use are Sacred Basil, ocimum sanctum and Hairy Basil, ocimum canum. I don’t know if common Sweet Basil works in the same way.
The seeds themselves have little or no flavour. What they do have is the ability to soak up water to create a jelly rather like tapioca. As the little black seeds look like tadpoles hatching, there is also a textural similarity to caviar with a crunchy centre. Reputed to have cooling properties, they are mainly used to thicken drinks and desserts. In Iran they are teamed with lemon juice, in Vietnam with either young coconut milk or water flavoured with palm sugar. The most common use is in the Indian recipe for Falooda.
Depending on what recipe you choose, falooda can be as simple as a milkshake or as elaborate as a Knickerbocker Glory. The Hari Krishna cookbook has a version that contains jelly and custard as well as the more traditional ingredients of milk, ice cream, noodles and rose syrup. All the recipes contained massive amounts of sugar, so I have taken some elements from a few recipes. It is a quick and easy dessert that looks impressive. Feel free to adjust the amount of sweetener to suit your own palate.
FaloodaI tsp basil seed (tukmaria)
1 litre milk
2 pinches of powdered cardamom
1 Tbsp sugar
1½ C rose syrup
1 litre vanilla ice cream
Chopped nuts to garnish( pistachios look nice)
Soak the basil seed in one cup of water for at least half an hour to swell.
Heat the milk until it boils, remove from the heat and add ½ cup rose syrup, the cardamom and the sugar, mix well and chill in the refrigerator.
Strain the water from the basil seeds and add them to the cooled milk.
Whisk in ½ C ice cream until dissolved. At this stage you can store in a covered jug in the refrigerator until needed.
To serve, in a tall glass for each person, place a scoop of vanilla ice cream and one or two teaspoons of rose syrup. Top up with the well stirred milk mixture and garnish with chopped nuts.
Serve with a long spoon and a straw.
You can thicken with a little corn flour when boiling the milk or serve with a spoonful of Falooda sev noodles in the bottom of the glass. Falooda sev is available at Asian stores. This recipe will serve 8-12 people depending on the size of your glasses. You can keep any remaining milk mixture in the refrigerator for a couple of days.
I made my own rose syrup. If you can’t find any, use half a teaspoon of rosewater in half a cup of corn syrup or mild honey with a little red food colour if required.
Children love the pink sweetness of this dessert. I created a little kit for Christmas gifts which included seed, rose syrup and rosewater with the recipe. However, I still have 2 bags of seed in the pantry so more research is needed!