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Onam Recipe: Semiya Payasam

Last updated on: September 12, 2022 10:51 IST
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Payasam may be the last item to be served at a meal, but it's the centrepiece of the Onasadhya. It ties the meal together and gives it the perfect dessert ending.

Gone are the days, when the simple milk-based Semiya Payasam, also known as Vermicelli Payasam, was A sure winner during festive occasions.

Today, the younger generation prefers Ada Pradhaman, Parippu Payasam and Palada Payasam.

The Gothambu Pradhaman is also much loved.

At Jolly Aikara's north west Mumbai home, Onam is as big a day as Christmas and Semiya Payasam is still a hot favourite. She makes it early on Onam morning, before her grown up children congregate for a special family Onam lunch, for which the women are attired in Kasavu saris, although the men cannot be persuaded to don their veshtis, and the home is adorned with a beautiful floral pookalam on the floor.

This payasam is a sweet treat made from three basic ingredients, milk, seviya and sugar -- it's jazzed up for special occasions with chopped raisins and nuts, a pinch of green elaichi or cardamom powder and ghee.

Jolly's payasam is loved for its thickness, which she achieves by letting the milk simmer and simmer and simmer, over low heat, to reduce it.

She plans this year to masterfully make at least eight to 10 of the sadhya dishes including red rice, sambar, avial, olan, kalan, thoran (usually cabbage or beetroot), cucumber pachadi and payasam at home. The banana chips, sarkara upperi (jaggery coated banana chips), mango pickle, inji puli and papadam are sourced from her favourite nearby Kerala store.

IMAGE: The Onasadhya at Jolly Aikara's house this year included (clockwise from bottom right) sambar, papadam, cucumber pachadi, elaichi banana, cabbage thoran, payar (long beans) mezhukkupuratti, banana chips, ada pradhaman, choru or cooked Kerala red rice, inji puli, naranga achar or lemon pickle, semiya payasam, koothu curry, sharkara upperi or jaggery coated banana chips, aviyal and beetroot pachadi.
Photographs: Abhijit Aikara

Jolly hails from North Parur in Ernakulam district, and loves putting together, for family meals, a coconut-based pomfret curry, particular to that part of Kerala for her two daughters, their spouses, her son and little grandson, Noah.

Her late husband Philip was from Kuttanad, Alappuzha, and she enjoyed preparing his favourite Kudampuli Fish Curry for him, that he'd relish with steamed rice and fish fry dipped in a bowl of vinegar.

Her mutton curry with appam is reserved for special occasions and Christmas, Her chemmeen or prawns curry/masala is a staple dish for her children's birthdays.

Celebrate Onam with Jolly's Semiya Payasam.

Onam greetings, folks!

Semiya Payasam

Serves: 4-5

  • 100 gm seviya or vermicelli, preferably the the roasted variety
  • 1 l buffalo milk, preferably, or full-cream cow's milk (if using cow's milk, ideally opt for the store-bought full-cream Amul tetra pack)
  • Handful cashews, almonds (soaked over night) and raisins
  • 2 tbsp pure ghee
  • ½ tsp freshly ground green elaichi or cardamom powder
  • 100 gm condensed milk, like Milkmaid, optional
  • ¼ cup sugar or to taste
  • 2 cups boiling water
  • Boiled milk to dilute, if required


  • In a saucepan, boil the milk.
    Cover and keep aside.
  • Heat 1 tbsp of the ghee in a flat, large heavy-bottomed saucepan over low heat.
    Add the cashews and roast lightly till aromatic.
    Drain from the ghee and keep aside.
    Peel the skin of the almonds, cut it into thin slivers and roast lightly in the ghee in the same pan.
    Drain from the ghee and keep aside.
    Add the raisins in the same pan, keep the heat low, and fry till they swell up.
    Drain from the ghee and keep aside.
  • Remove any burnt residue from the pan.
    Add the remaining tbsp ghee and lightly roast the vermicelli.
    Be careful to not over-fry, especially if using the roasted variety; it can burn easily.
    Add 2 cups boiling water and add sugar according to taste.
    Mix well.
    Cover and let simmer 5-10 minutes.
    Add the milk and mix.
    Let it simmer till it thickens, stirring all the time.
    Check the consistency.
    If too thin, add the condensed milk; it improves the taste and consistency of the payasam.
    Milkmaid is rather sweet, so reduce the sugar.
    Stir well.
    Add the cardamom powder.
    Garnish with the nuts, raisins.
    Check the payasam's consistency once more.
    It should not be too thick -- it thickens as it cools.
    Take off heat.
  • Payasam is ideally served warm.
    It also tastes lovely when chilled in the fridge.
    If it thickens too much after refrigeration, add some milk to dilute.

Edior's Note: Those on a diabetic diet should opt for low-fat milk and less seviya and substitute the ghee with oil and sugar with stevia powder. Each brand of stevia has its own stevia for sugar substitution ratio provided on its packing.

Those on a vegan diet may opt to replace the milk with almond milk and use oil instead of ghee.

Photograph: Kind courtesy Jolly Aikara

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