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Diwali tayyari, Madhya Pradesh-style!
Zelda Pande |
November 10, 2004
elebrating Diwali when I was growing up in America was like trying to bring in Christmas in Haridwar. There was no real shine to it. Or excitement.
They were half-hearted attempts that could not match the real biggest day of the year over there: Christmas. Which child, be they Indian or Chinese, can ignore the lure of an American White Christmas -- pudgy, on-cloud-nine Santas, twinkling evergreens and gaudily wrapped gifts galore?
Till I was 12 or 13, I had no tender recollections of Diwali.
Our Diwalis in the US were gunshot in nature: Mere observances of a day. A token puja that really did not make much sense was conducted. Since firecrackers were not sold in the state of Maryland, where we lived, we would hot-foot it to Delaware -- or was it Pennsylvania? -- to buy them from firework stalls on the border.
Sometimes we would light them right there. Or, we would bring them back home and light them furtively in our backyard while our Irish setter went berserk.
When we moved to Ranchi in Jharkhand -- I was a teenager by then -- Diwalis acquired a whole new meaning. I had never seen such grand Diwalis before.
Here was a festival as magnificent as Christmas: The soft beauty of the flickering oil lamps, the dazzling fireworks that painted the sky all night long, the rich feasts of homemade sweets and the anticipation of the huge gatherings of friends and relatives on Diwali night.
Our Diwalis in India would begin nearly 20 days earlier. My grandparents would arrive from Bhopal and the Diwali juggernaut would begin to roll.
We would make trips to the picturesque open-air bazaar in the tiny village suburb of Ranchi called Kanke. Villagers who had traipsed in from numerous bastis (hamlets) around would display their wares on plastic sheets spread over mud mounds.
Our first Diwali purchases at the bazaar would be karonji oil and crude cotton that would be rolled into hundreds of cotton wicks for the diyas. The rolling began weeks before, and kids and servants all participated.
We lived in a rambling two-storied government bungalow of the British era. It needed no less than 300 diyas to illuminate it. And, therefore, a good 400 wicks had to be rolled.
Closer to Diwali, Banku, the local Chinese electrician, would come zipping by on his blue scooter wreathed in chains of 500 lights, which he and his assistant would nail to the contours of the bungalow.
For Rs 300 to Rs 400, we would buy a whole trunk-full of fireworks from the Marwari-run firecracker shops in town. The fulminating snakes, the whistling trains, the atom bombs, the laddis... we had enough firecrackers to keep us busy for days.
Hours would be spent decorating the house and the puja room with the malas we strung together, the gheru (rangoli made with rice flour on a red patch made of brick paste) and the diyas.
The most important effort of the Diwali tayyari was, of course, the sweets.
In India, I Iearnt that warmth and affection are shown in the manner in which you feed your guests. Our homegrown sweet workshop opened a good 10 days before Diwali.
Preparations were done on the large cool stone verandah outside the kitchen. Humungous quantities of maida atta (white flour dough), kneaded with ghee and water would rolled into circle after circle for the Lavang Latas (see recipe below). They would be carefully folded and anchored with a clove.
The folded circles, powdered with flour, would be laid out on a series of wooden pattas, waiting to be fried.
On the large mud choolah inside the kitchen, giant quantities of chasni (sugar syrup) and hot oil bubbled.
Each Lavang Lata was deep fried till it was a delicate pink. Then, it was dipped into the sugar syrup.
As the days progressed, the preparations and repertoire got more intricate.
Warm, ghee-laden Balushais, snowy sugar-coated Khurmas (see recipe below), fruit-packed Kuslis (see recipe below), tins and tins of Chewda and crispy Sev.
The house was fragrant with the buttery smell of frying Poha, roasting peanuts, ghee and kajus (cashews). By Dhanteras, the storeroom was crammed with giant tins of sweetmeats and salties.
Here are a few typical Madhya Pradesh recipes from the days of my childhood:
~ ~ For the covering
1 large katori (about 1 cup) maida (white flour)
2 tbsp ghee
~ ~ For the stuffing
½ large katori (½ cup) sooji (semolina)
½ large katori (½ cup) badam (almonds), ground
1 large katori (about 1 cup) powdered sugar
½ large katori (about ½ cup) khismish (raisins)
3 tbsp dried coconut, grated
½ tsp elaichi powder
3-4 tbsp ghee
Make a stiff-ish dough from the flour, ghee and water. Roll out small circles.
Separately fry the sooji in the ghee. Add the raisins, badam and elaichi powder. Allow it to cool.
Place a small quantity of the stuffing -- about 3 tsp -- in the centre of each circle. Fold in half and edge with a fork.
Deep fry on medium heat till pink not red.
2 cups white flour
4 tbsp ghee
1 cup sugar
2 cups water
Dry coconut, grated
Almonds or cashews or pistas, chopped
Oil for frying
In a saucepan, boil the sugar with the water till you have a two-string sugar syrup. Keep warm on the stove.
Make a hard dough with ghee and water. Roll the dough in circles.
Fold the three edges in to make a pocket and fill with a random mix of coconut, raisins and nuts and tiny pinches of nutmeg and elaichi.
Close the fourth flap and anchor with a clove.
Deep fry in oil on low flame.
Dip in chasni. And drain.
These are some more Diwali recipes I have gathered from various sources over the years.
1 cup cashews
1 cup powdered sugar
4 tbsp milk powder
A little milk
½ tsp powdered elaichi
1 tbsp ghee
Grind the cashews in a blender till you have a fine powder.
Knead the ground cashew with the powdered sugar, milk powder, cardamom, ghee and a little milk. Knead till you get a thick buttery dough.
Roll out and cut into diamonds and bake in the oven till a light golden brown.
½ cup white flour or maida
2 tbsp yoghurt or dahi
A pinch of salt
A little oil
½ tsp yeast
A few strands of saffron
Oil for frying
1 cup water
½ cup sugar
Make a batter of the dahi, maida, saffron and yeast with a little oil. Let it rise for several hours.
In a saucepan, boil the sugar and water till you have a thick two-strand chasni. Keep it warm on the stove.
Fill the batter into a squeeze bottle (like that used for ketchup)> Squeeze shapes into the hot oil and drain quickly.
Dip in chasni for 1-2 minutes and drain.
1 cup white flour or maida
2 cups whole wheat flour or atta
A pinch of salt
4 tbsp ghee
1 cup sugar
2 cups sugar
Make a stiff dough of the flours, ghee and salt.
Roll 1½ inch thick. Cut squares.
Deep fry till golden. Drain.
In a saucepan boil the sugar and water till you have a thick two-strand chasni. Keep it warm on the stove.
Dip in the squares in the chasni and drain quickly.
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