This type of payasam uses fine noodles sauteed in ghee. Indian vermicelli is thinner than ours, so use angel hair (capellini) pasta. The flavor of this dessert improves with time, so make it a day ahead and thin it with a little warm milk before serving, since it thickens as it sits.
In a large frying pan, heat 1 teaspoon ghee and pasta over medium heat until all pieces have lightly brown and give off a toasted aroma. Set aside.
In a 3 quart heavy saucepan, heat milk and water on medium high. As soon as the mixture boils, reduce heat to medium and add fried pasta. Continue to simmer for 6 minutes, or until pasta is well cooked. Add sugar and simmer 15 minutes, stirring frequently to prevent sticking. When the mixture is done, it will have a creamy consistency.
While the milk simmers, in the frying pan used for the pasta, fry the raisins and cashews in 2 teaspoons of ghee until lightly browned.
Add the fried raisins and nuts and the cardamom to the milk, stir, and remove from the heat. Cover and chill for a few hours or more.
Serve warm, reheating if necessary.
In a heavy skillet, over medium to medium low heat, heat the butter until it is completely melted. Watch as the butter boils, first with large bubbles and white milk solids floating on the surface, then with only a fine white foam filling the entire surface. Stir occasionally.
Soon, small patches of golden brown will appear on the surface, and the overall color of the butter will change from yellow to golden. Push aside the foam periodically to check the color of the sediment. When the sediment turns light brown, remove from the heat. (see note)
Decant into a jar with a tight lid. Warm, if desired, for serving over rice.
Note: If you heat until the sediment turns dark brown, the ghee will lose it's flavor and taste like vegetable oil.
Yield: 1 cup
Recipe courtesy of Maya Kaimal, Curried Favors: Family Recipes from South India, Abbeville Press Publishers, 1996