Sheermal or Shirmal (Persian-Urdu: شیرمال, Hindi: शीरमल), is a saffron-flavored traditional flatbread from Greater Iran. The word sheermal is derived from the Persian words شیر (translit. sheer) meaning milk, and مالیدن (translit. malidan) meaning to rub. In a literal translation, sheermal means milk rubbed. After being introduced to North India by the Persianate Mughal emperors. It became a delicacy of Lucknow and Hyderabad. It is also part of the Awadhi cuisine and is enjoyed in Old Bhopal.
Sheermal is a mildly sweet naan made out of maida, leavened with yeast, baked in a tandoor or oven. Sheermal was traditionally made like roti. Today, sheermal is prepared like naan. The warm water in the recipe for naan roti was replaced with warm milk sweetened with sugar and flavored with saffron and cardamom. The final product resembles Danish pastry.
In Iran, there are slight regional variations in the preparation of sheermal. As such, sheermal is sometimes used as a souvenir when travelling between the regions.
Sheermal is sometimes served with Lucknow kababs or alongside nihari.
Sheermal is a milky, mildly sweet, soft and rich bread from the Persian cuisine. The word ‘sheer’ means ‘milk’ and clearly the name ‘sheermal’ is derived from the fact that the dough is kneaded with warm milk instead of water.
South Asian food is greatly influenced by the Central Asian and Persian cuisines. Many roadside eateries and small restaurants still bake Sheermal, Taftan, naan and other such Persian inspired flatbreads in clay ovens in Pakistan and India.
The bread has a light, buttery texture and taste but very rich aroma from Kewra or Rosewater and colour from saffron. It is a simple recipe that is easy to make and doesn’t require a long resting time but is quite versatile as you eat it with Kebabs and curries, vegetarian dishes, as a dessert with fresh cream or yogurt on top or simply with a cup of tea or coffee for breakfast or evening snack.
Unlike naan, roti or paratha, Sheermal isn’t meant to scoop up gravies and curries. Though it compliments a lot of sweet and savoury dishes but it has such a distinct and delicious taste that I always prefer to eat it on it’s own with a cup of tea or Persian coffee.
Some versions sprinkle sesame seeds on sheermal but I like mine with raisins and roughly chopped almonds and pistachios. For me it’s a complete treat, a bread that tells stories of its rich royal heritage with each indulgent bite.
The best thing is you can bake these ahead and store them wrapped up in fridge till you need them. Before serving, brush them a little with melted butter or ghee and warm them on a skillet on stove top or in microwave for a few seconds.
If you can’t find Kewra or Rosewater where you live, you can also use cardamom or almond essence for that touch royal and exotic.