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Rediff.com  » Getahead » Memories And More This Diwali!

Memories And More This Diwali!

By ZELDA PANDE
October 19, 2022 09:11 IST
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Recipe Jalebi

Photograph: Kind courtesy Sarani Tarafder

Celebrating 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 Hindu Indian or Buddhist 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, then Bihar -- I was a teenager -- 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 -- we hailed partly from Madhya Pradesh-- would arrive from Bhopal and the Diwali juggernaut would begin to roll.

We made trips to the biweekly picturesque open-air bazaar or haath in the then tiny village suburb of Ranchi called Kanke. Villagers, who had traipsed in from numerous bastis around, would display their wares on plastic sheets spread over mud mounds, be they flashy pink hair ribbons and liquid bindi dibbis or brass kitchenware for Dhanteras.

Our first Diwali purchases at the bazaar would be karonji oil (I am not sure of the name or type of oil) and crude cotton that would be rolled into hundreds of cotton wicks for the diyas. The rolling began weeks before, and kids and help all participated.

We lived in a beautiful rambling government bungalow of the British era, that had four verandahs and three balconies and was two-storeys high -- it needed no less than 300 diyas to illuminate it. And, therefore, a good 400 wicks had to be rolled laboriously.

Closer to Diwali, Banku, the local Chinese-Indian 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 Upper Bazaar 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 marigold and mango leaf 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 then 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 aata (white flour dough), kneaded with ghee and water would rolled into circle after circle for the Lavang Latas (please 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, run on coal, 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 (please see the recipe below), fruit-packed Kuslis (please see recipe below), tins and tins of Poha Chuda 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 many dabbas of sweetmeats and salties to be served on Diwali day.

On Diwali day, after our not-too-long Lakshmi Puja, conducted decorously by my grandmother, with, of course, Om Jai Jagdish Hare sung lustily at the end, the festivities would begin.

The whole locality, close onto a hundred people -- doctors and their families, psychologists, social workers, students, the clerical staff, our friends; my dad was heading a psychiatric hospital -- would turn up at our bungalow, that glowed almost as brightly as Mysore palace does on Diwali :), to light crackers on the large circular front lawn, listen to the music playing on LP records (Harivansh Rai Bachchan's lovely Madhushala was a peculiar and perhaps not very appropriate family fave for Diwali simply for the iconic line Din ko Holi, raat Diwali roz manati madhushala) and feast on the festival fare.

There was lots of chatter, laughter and joy and Diwali night was a more magical night than any other in the year.

Below are typical Madhya Pradesh recipes from the days of my childhood that I learned from my dadi and my mother, who was not Indian but mastered Indian cooking to perfection.

Reducing the sugar, carbs and richness in Diwali sweets is a feat that's kind of difficult to accomplish since the sugar syrups will not crystallise or harden the way you need them, if you cut back on the sugar and I have tried because often our Indian sweets are too sugary.

An easier solution is to skip the chasni coatings in sweetmeats like Lavang Latas and Khurmas and add sugar equivalents in the dough. Else dust lightly as they come out of the hot oil with grated jaggery or brown sugar powder. For vegans, ghee can easily be substituted with cashew buttter or just oil.

Kuslis

Servings: 10-15

Ingredients

For the covering

  • 1 large katori or about 1 cup maida or all-purpose flour, sifted
  • 1 tbsp ghee
  • Water
  • Oil for deep frying

For the stuffing

  • ½ large katori or ½ cup sooji or semolina
  • ½ large katori or ½ cup badam or almonds, ground
  • 1 large katori or about 1 cup powdered sugar or icing sugar
  • ½ large katori or about ½ cup kishmish or raisins, finely chopped
  • 3 tbsp desiccated coconut, grated
  • ½ tsp elaichi or green cardamom powder
  • 2-3 tbsp ghee

Method

  • In a bowl, make a stiff-ish dough from the flour, ghee and a little water.
    Cover with a kitchen towel and rest half an hour.
    Then portion into 10-15 balls of 1-inch diameter.
    Roll out thin small circles of about 3-inch diameter each.
    Keep aside on a plate or thali for 15 minutes till the stuffing is ready
  • Separately fry the sooji in the ghee till it turns a very light pink.
    Add the raisins, badam powder and the elaichi powder.
    Cool.
  • Place a small quantity of the stuffing -- about 2-3 tsp or more -- in the centre of each circle.
    Fold in half and squeeze the edges of the semi-circle shut and seal making light markings with a fork.
    Heat the oil in a heavy-bottomed kadhai and deep fry the stuffed kuslis over medium heat till pink not red.
    Drain onto a tissue or paper towel-lined plate.
    Cool and store in an air-tight dabba or container for 15 days.

Lavang Latas

Servings: 10-15

Ingredients

For the sugar syrup or chasni

  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup water

For the dough

  • 2 cups maida or all-purpose flour
  • 4 tbsp ghee
  • Water

For assembling the lavang latas

  • 30 raisins, chopped
  • Jaiphal or nutmeg powder
  • Elaichi or green cardamom powder
  • 10-15 laung or cloves
  • 15 tsp grated desiccated coconut
  • Handful badam or almonds or kaju or cashews or pistas, chopped
  • Oil for deep frying

Method

  • In a heavy-bottomed saucepan, boil the sugar with the water till you have a two-string sugar syrup (please see the note below).
    Keep warm over low heat.
  • Make a stiff dough with the ghee, maida and a little water.
    Cover with a kitchen towel and let it rest for half an hour.
    Portion into 10-15 balls of 1-inch diameter.
    Roll the balls out into thin-ish circles of 2½-inch diameter.
  • Fold the three edges of each rolled-out circle in to make a pocket and fill with a random mix of coconut, raisins and nuts and tiny pinches of jaiphal and elaichi.
    Close the fourth flap and anchor with a clove.
    Repeat for each circle
  • Heat the oil in a heavy-bottomed kadhai.
    Deep fry the lavang latas in medium-hot oil in batches of 2-3 till light pink.
    Drain for a minute onto a tissue or paper towel-lined plate and then into the chasni.
    Drain, cool and store in an air-tight dabba or container for upto 15 days.

Zelda's Note: A two-thread syrup is sugar syrup viscous enough to pass the one-thread test.

It is important to keep testing for consistency while the sugar syrup is boiling.
The test for this is: Dip a spatula, preferably wooden, into the boiling sugar syrup and take out.
Some syrup would have coated the spatula.
Let it cool.
Touch the cooled syrup with your forefinger. Some syrup will come onto your finger.
Touch that with your thumb and separate thumb from forefinger.
When two little continuous delicate threads are formed by the syrup, when the coated forefinger is pulled away from your thumb, you have a two-thread consistency sugar syrup.


Jalebis

Ingredients

  • ½ cup maida or all-purpose flour
  • 2 tbsp dahi or yoghurt
  • Water
  • Tiny pinch salt
  • A little oil
  • ½ tsp yeast
  • Few strands kesar or saffron
  • Oil for deep frying

For the chasni or sugar syrup

  • 1 cup water
  • ½ cup sugar

Method

  • In a bowl, make a batter that is a thick dosa-batter-like-consistency of the dahi, maida, saffron, yeast with a little oil and a little water.
    Cover and let it rise for several hours.
  • When the jalebi batter has risen, start making the chasni and in a heavy-bottomed saucepan, boil the sugar and water till you have a thick two-thread chasni (please see the note below).
    Keep it warm over low heat.
  • Fill the batter into a squeeze bottle (like that used for ketchup).
    In a heavy-bottomed kadhai, heat up the oil for deep frying till medium-hot.
    Squeeze, into the hot oil, curls of batter into jalebi shapes/coils and fry for a minute on each side and drain quickly onto a tissue or paper towel-lined plate for a minute.
  • Then dip, while still warm, into chasni for 1-2 minutes and drain.
    Serve hot, plain, or with warm milk if you prefer, or the more richer Rabdi.

Zelda's Note: To make your own Rabdi at home try the rabdi recipe portion of Lopamudra Tripathy's Malpua with Rabri.

A two-thread syrup is sugar syrup viscous enough to pass the one-thread test.

It is important to keep testing for consistency while the sugar syrup is boiling.
The test for this is: Dip a spatula, preferably wooden, into the boiling sugar syrup and take out.
Some syrup would have coated the spatula.
Let it cool.
Touch the cooled syrup with your forefinger. Some syrup will come onto your finger.
Touch that with your thumb and separate thumb from forefinger.
When two little continuous delicate threads are formed by the syrup, when the coated forefinger is pulled away from your thumb, you have a two-thread consistency sugar syrup. 


Khurmas

Ingredients

  • 1 cup maida or all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups aata or whole wheat flour
  • Pinch salt
  • 4 tbsp ghee
  • Water

For the chasni or sugar syrup

  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 cups sugar

Method

  • In a bowl, make a stiff dough of the aata, maida, ghee, salt.
    Cover with a kitchen towel and rest half an hour.
  • On a large wooden board or clean ledge, roll the whole ball of dough in a 1½ inch thick spread.
    With a sharp knife cut into 1 cm by 1 cm squares.
  • Heat the oil for deep frying in a large heavy-bottomed kadhai till medium-hot.
    Add in about 20 squares and deep fry till golden brown and drain on a tissue or paper towel-lined plate and cool a little and repeat for the rest of the squares.
  • In a medium heavy-bottomed saucepan boil the sugar and water till you have a thick two-strand chasni (please see the note below).
    Dip batches of the still warm fried squares in the chasni and drain quickly onto a plate, or better, a large thali and cool till they become snowy and the sugar coating has dried.
    If the chasni falls short make another round of the syrup.
  • Store in an air-tight dabba or container for upto 15 days or longer.

Zelda's Note: A two-thread syrup is sugar syrup viscous enough to pass the one-thread test.

It is important to keep testing for consistency while the sugar syrup is boiling.
The test for this is: Dip a spatula, preferably wooden, into the boiling sugar syrup and take out.
Some syrup would have coated the spatula.
Let it cool.
Touch the cooled syrup with your forefinger. Some syrup will come onto your finger.
Touch that with your thumb and separate thumb from forefinger.
When two little continuous delicate threads are formed by the syrup, when the coated forefinger is pulled away from your thumb, you have a two-thread consistency sugar syrup.

A version of this feature was first posted on Rediff.com on November 10, 2004. Lead image courtesy: Shilpa Shetty/Instagram

Would you like to see your Diwali recipes featured on rediff.com? Write in! Do mention your full name and where you live when you send in the recipe. Tell us if it is a traditional recipe or a recipe created by you and describe any memories you might have about your special Diwalis.

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ZELDA PANDE