Sheermal is a thick and rich bread that is commonly eaten during Ramadan in many parts of India and neighbouring countries.
The Kashmir valley is home to a plethora of breads and beverages. The cold climate in the region makes it necessary to consume food that keeps the body warm and energetic. While several parts of North India, like Punjab and Haryana gorge on stuffed parathas and pooris for breakfast, Kashmiris relish their unique flatbreads too. There’s girda which is filled with nuts, lavasa which is a simple and plain bread, chochwor which is similar to a doughnut and bakarkhani which resembles the famous sheermal. Eid is round the corner and we don’t mention sheermal, that is not happening. This rich sweet bread is a festive treat that you would mostly find during the holy month of Ramadan.
From Muslim households to restaurants and shops, the aroma of freshly-baked sheermal lures one and all when you take a walk down the street during Ramadan. However, this delicious bread was brought to us by Persian travelers through the silk route. Lucknow is often considered to be the birthplace of this royal bread that travelled with the Nawabs of Awadh. Later, it spread to other parts of the Indian sub-continent like Hyderabad as well as Kashmir. As if the picturesque and scenic views of Kashmir were not enough to mesmerize us by their beauty, the drool-worthy sheermal makes its way into our hearts and stomachs too.
Sheermal, for those untouched by the phenomenon, is a sweet bread made from milk. The word sheer refers to milk in Persian whereas the word mal or maal is a reference to the act of rubbing. So sheermal can be understood as milk-rubbed bread. This enticing bread is a breakfast staple in Kashmir and commonly eaten during the morning with tea. Although sheermal is served with nalli nihari and other meaty dishes usually, Kashmir is home to two kinds of sheermal. One is a sweet version that is paired with kahwa. The spiced green tea complements the sweetness of the flatbread. On the other hand, there’s a savoury version too that is often washed down with noon chai, the pink-coloured tea that is often drunk in the afternoon.
While you’ll find sheermal being tossed in a tandoori or oven, all set to be baked, these days, it wasn’t always the case. The earliest forms of sheermal was cooked on a hot tawa or iron griddle. In fact, even the dough of the bread differed. Today, the simple flour, milk and sugar combination is replaced by eggs, spices, ghee and milk. The saffron-scented bread is flavoured with hints of cardamom and served hot.
This festive season, if you want to prepare sheermal at home, begin by mixing butter and saffron in a bowl. Next, start the dough preparation with eggs, milk, yeast, flour, sugar, salt and ghee. Add the saffron-flavoured butter to it and knead it. The dough is then set to rest. Meanwhile, prepare a mixture of almond milk and saffron. Roll out round breads from the dough and slather them with the almond milk. Garnish with raisins and chopped nuts on top. Set them on a tray and bake in a pre-heated oven. Once ready, take them out and wrap in a kitchen towel to retain the warmth. Serve with kahwa for breakfast.
Here’s a detailed recipe if you wish to try.