Kurma is one of my favourite Trinidadian snacks. Fried mouthfuls of spiced dough in a sugary glaze, they can be found and purchased throughout the island at school ‘tuck shops’, pharmacies, supermarkets and corner shops. East Indian in origin they are also a staple treat at many Hindu and Moslem functions. Little did I realize however (until doing some research for this post) that the two main forms of kurma which I have grown up with, relate directly in origin to each of those religious groups!
Kurma in Trinidad can take one of two forms. Hard or thin kurma, which are like large matchsticks and crunchy, and soft or fat kurma which are much richer and pillowy in texture. This Hanukkah I prepared both for my Hanukkah 2010 guide, using recipes from two other Trini food bloggers.
Hard kurma is by far the most popular form of kurma in Trinidad. It is fairly ubiquitous and is no doubt the image that pops into most minds when they hear the word. Some of this may have to do with it having a longer shelf life than ‘soft kurma’, some of it may also have to do with there being a larger Hindu community here (the group that food blooger Chennette attributes this form too, but more on that later!).
For the above I relied on a recipe posted by Simply Trini Cooking. I made no actual changes to the recipe but did treat the frying of the dough in a slightly different manner. For my own preference, I first fried the dough in oil over medium heat until the sticks were cooked through and barely golden. I then removed them from the oil and allowed to cool slightly. I then raised the heat below the oil to medium-high and refried the sticks until they were a rich honey colour. This method mirrors the best way to do french fries, and I believe it really helps to create a result that is light and crunchy rather than hard and dry.
Another note or tip that I’d like to share is regarding the sugary glaze (which is essential to kurma’s appeal). This part was one that took me some trial and error. Trial and error which I’d like to spare you 🙂 For myself I have found the best results come from boiling the glaze until it is -just about- to form a thread when poured from a spoon. That’s the point when I move the pan from the stove, pour it onto the kurma and turn everything with a large spoon to glaze evenly. Just keep turning until the syrup has fully solidified (which doesn’t take long). Delicious clumps of ginger-infused sugar will form at irregular points with the repeated turns for an appeal which food programs have told me is apparently ‘rustic’ *chuckle*. However this will only happen if the syrup was brought to the very beginnings of the thread stage. Boiling the glaze to the point where it does form a thread easily means that the syrup cools and solidifies too quickly upon pouring, not coating the sticks properly. Not boiling it to the thread point just leaves a sticky mess. Don’t stress if you don’t get it right the first time. Just try again 🙂 And, as usual when dealing with hot sugar, stay vigilant – once it burns there’s no turning back!
Soft kurma is hard kurma’s slightly less popular sibling. Unlike hard kurma it also seems to receive a divided response. People either love it or hate it. Why the dissonance? I suspect that it is due to soft kurma often having a more fragrant, sweeter dough due to the inclusion of evaporated and condensed milks as well as elychee (cardamom). I myself have no problems with its sweetness or with anything that involves cardamom so I’ve always loved soft kurma. However, the great thing about making your own recipes is that you can leave out those flavours that rub you the wrong way. That’s why I am so glad that food blogger Chennette shared her mom’s recipe for soft kurma, as well as shed a light on its roots in the smaller Trinidad Moslem community.
I stayed fairly true to her instructions but did make some modifications, mostly due to the fact I was only making enough for two (ended up being enough or 4-6 though when combined with the hard kurma lol) and also because I wanted to see if I could make a soft kurma that would satisfy J, who has repeatedly told me he does not like soft kurma through the years. Because he does not have a strong sweet tooth I suspected that the use of condensed milk would have been overkill for him. In its place I used more evaporated milk in the dough, and also used evaporated milk instead of condensed in the glaze. The final verdict? He loved it! As did I! I really didn’t miss the condensed milk one bit so I think I will make it this way from now on.
Trinidad Soft Kurma
Source: modified from a recipe by Chennette
Serves 4 – 6
2 cups flour
1/2 cup butter (margarine for vegan)
1/2 cup evaporated milk (vanilla mylk of choice for vegan)
1/4 cup water
1 tablespoon ginger powder
1 tablespoon cinnamon powder
seeds of 2 cardamom pods
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup water
1/2 cup evaporated milk (or vanilla mylk)
For directions visit the original recipe here.
Because this kurma is a richer dough, and cut thicker than hard kurma, I fried it once over medium heat. This ensures that it has a chance to cook through – without drying out- before the exterior reaches the rich golden brown that you want.
Another important tip: re the glaze. Because this kurma uses a milk-based glaze (unlike hard), it is important this time to boil the glaze (as Chennette states) to the thread stage. This time thread stage really means thread stage. You want a strong thread to form before you pour it on the kurma. The milk keeps things fluid enough for the pieces of dough to be thoroughly coated before it sets. Anything prior to the stage gets you into sticky mess-ville once more. And, as with hard kurma, keep turning as it cools. You want those delicious clumps!
One last tip! The taste and texture of hard kurma improves the longer it sits. For best enjoyment I recommend making it the day before. Of course it tastes great either way so if you find it being wolfed down before that take it as a compliment (or make two batches, 1 to enjoy right away, and the other to store) 🙂 Soft kurma on the other hand is best enjoyed on the day. It’s not bad on subsequent days but something about that pillowy softness definitely gets lost.
I hope that sharing my experiences will help you to get up the courage to make your own Trinidad Kurma. There’s nothing more satisfying than knowing you can do it yourself, treat your friends and families, and control the spices and flavours to your own particular liking! Enjoy!