In India no meal starts without a token piece of a sweet served on the plate or banana leaf. On any given occasion—engagements and weddings, birth and birthdays, festivals and religious occasions, house warming and new office opening—the Indian tradition is to exchange platters of sweets and snacks with neighbours, family and friends.
Diwali is a time when sweets reign supreme in the minds of people. Each region has its own speciality like the rasgulla’s of Bengal, the pedas of Maharashtra, the malpoa and phirni of the North but there are certain sweets that are Pan –Indian. They do take on regional flavours but the shape and basic technology for making them remain the same.
Take the Laddoo, a round ball-shaped Indian sweet. The base ingredients is usually gram flour or channa (cottage cheese) based . Laddoos are usually bite-sized delights that can be held in the hand and gobbled up. In the North it is called moti-choor laddu as the drops of fried gram are like little pearls and suspended in a moist, sugar syrup. In the south it is called Kunja laddoo and the drops of fried gram flour are bigger and the sweet is drier with a longer shelf life. The laddoo is also made from just fried gram flour –Besan ka laddoo and garnished with nuts while in the South it is made from powdered Rava-semolina and sugar with nuts added to it. The besan and rava laddus are great conversation stoppers as once you pop it into the mouth—you cannot bite it or nibble bits of it as it will disintegrate in your hand—it will take a while to dissolve and be consumed.
The word Halwa comes from the Arabic root word Hilwa which means sweet. It is used in connection with most sweets, desserts or candy. In India the word Halwa is used to describe sweets that are glutenous or like a thick pudding. Halwas are usually sweet, rich and full of dry fruits and nuts. The South Indian Rava Kesari (because of its colour) becomes Suji Halwa in the North. Tirunelveli is famous for its glutenous halwa just as Bombay Halwa is a great delicacy. This sweet too can shut up mouths as first you fight with its pull and stretch consistency and then in the mouth you really have to chew at it! You can prove your social status by serving Almond Halwa which costs a bomb a bite. The professional sweetmeat maker is also called halwai! A new bride’s cooking talents are judged by the excellence of her halwa! If a mother-in-law wanted to take out her ire on the daughter-in-law she would be asked to make wheat halwa, a truly laborious process that involved soaking, grinding of whole wheat, squeezing out the milk and then stirring it without resting in a wok until it reached the halwa consistency. The smart DIl nowadays buys it from famous sweetmeat establishments.
Another time tested sweet that can literally make or break a cook’s reputation and her family’s/guest’s teeth is the Mysore Pak. It requires great expertise to make this humble looking sweet. If not taken out of the wok and fire at the appropriate juncture, Mysore pak can become the rock of Gibraltar! The smart sweetmeat maker has reinvented this sweet as ‘Mysorepa’ and has popularised it—actually it is nothing but the North Indian besan ka barfi with a softer, melt-in-your-mouth consistency.
Barfi is the eponymous name for any sweet that is cut into squares, diamonds or shaped into rounds. In Tamil Nadu it has become Barbi (not the doll for sure). Barfis can be made from many ingredients but mostly they are milk or khoya based. The barfis are usually arranged in shops into diamond shaped towers attracting customers. The edible silver varq was added on top of barfis as a garnish. It was meant to be a aphrodisiac and to give it a rich look. In recent years, there has been bitter resistance to the silver foil as Vegetarian lobbyists claim that varq is hammered between animal fat or hide and is thus a non-vegetarian product. However, pure vegeterian options of varq are available in markets.
Another popular pan-Indian sweet is the half-moon shaped Gujjia/somasi/karjikka that is filled with various stuffings and then deep fried. In the south the filling is usually a mixture of powdered fried gram, sugar and coconut while in the North it has khoa fillings. The Chandrakala and Suryakala are variations of this sweet fried puff pastry. A savoury version is also made stuffed with potatoes, vegetables and masalas.
Saying it with sweets has never been so easy…pop into a sweet shop and choose traditional, new, modern or unusual sweets. They also get packed in special boxes…designer ones at that! And you can make a sweet splash amongst your social circle. Have a sweet Diwali!
The sweet laddu made out of boondi is also known as kunjaa laadu in Tambram parlance. This would have originated from the word gunjaa laadu as the Sanskrit word gunjaa means a berry. This berry was used as a measure of weight, especially for gold. Since a laddu, a tightly packed sphere of many boondis or droplets of fried gram flour, looked like tiny berries, it became kunja laddu.
The Diabetic Sweet
In India the statistics are saying that 1 in every four people is diabetic…exaggeration or just positive, reported diagnosis—one really doesn’t know. This has created a special niche market and many people are catering to these clients.
Dry fruits mixed, mashed and made crunchy with nuts made without addition of sugar or gur/vellam is commonly available in Sweet shops.
Special sweet makers, chocolate and cake makers are announcing a wide range of diabetic sweets. So if you have a relative, friend or neighbour look out for this range of products! The diabetics need not be deprived of their share of seasonal sweets.
Celebrating Deepavali with Cakes and Confectionary
Diwali need not necessarily be celebrated with Indian sweets and savouries. Bakers and Chocolatiers are now flooding the market with cakes made like diyas, iced with Diwali symbols and eggless too for the orthodox reveller.
So think about a box of goodies that are different to the palate.
The Jalebi is an Arabian sweet that became popular in the Indian Subcontinent has existed in the Indian subcontinent for at least 500 years.It is made by deep-frying fermented, floury batter in a circular shape with decorative whorls and then soaked in sugar syrup. One of the earliest known references to the sweet appears in a Jain work — Priyamkarnapakatha — by Jinasura circa 1450 BCE. This was cited in cookery books including the 17th-century classic Bhojan-kutuhala by Raghunatha. It is served warm or cold.
2 cups Flour/maida
1 ½ tbsp. Fine grained semolina or rice flour
¼ tsp. Baking powder
2 tbsp. Curds (plain yogurt)
1 ¼ Cups warm water
½ tsp. Saffron threads, dry-roasted, powdered
3 cups Sugar
2 2/3 Cups water
½ tsp. Cardamom powder
1 ½ tbsp. Kewra or rose water
2 cups Ghee or vegetable oil for frying
- Mix the flour, semolina or rice flour, baking powder, curd and ¾ cup of the water in a bowl and thoroughly beat it into a batter with a whisk.
- Add remaining water and 1/8 tsp. of saffron powder and whisk until smooth.
- Set aside for about 2 hours to ferment. Whisk thoroughly before use.
- Prepare string syrup by dissolving sugar in the water. Add saffron and cardamom powder just before switching off the flame.
- Make a eyehole in a thin muslin cloth bag.
- Heat oil in a wok or deep saucepan.
- Pour the batter into the clothbag and let it flow in a steady stream into the hot oil forming whorls. Make four or five in batches and deep fry until golden and crisp all over but not brown.
- Remove from the wok and drain on kitchen paper.
- Immerse in the sugar syrup and leave the jalebis in for at least 4-5 minutes so that they soak the syrup.
- Drain and serve hot by heating them up in the micro or in a griddle.
Jaangiri or Emarti is a a variant of the jalebi. It is eaten with curds and served at meals in weddings and festivals. It is made a special variety of urad dhal/ullundu paruppu, called jalebi paruppu, soaked in sugar syrup and saffron is added for colour.
Take 2 cups of sugar and a cup of water and prepare a one-string sugar syrup. Flavour it with cardamom powder and saffron.
A ¼ kilo of urad dhal is soaked in water for four hours, and ground into a fine batter. The batter is poured through an eyehole in a thin muslin cloth into ghee or cooking oil and deep fried. The jalebis is made into two circles and then a lacy whorl is geometrically added all round.
Dip the fried jalebis in the sugar syrup until it expands in size and soaks up a significant amount of the syrup. Serve hot or cold.