World of Mouth: Sweet Diwali

The column that brings you food festivals from around the world; this week: special treats from the festival of lights.

Coconut Laddu  311 (photo credit: Chacko’s Kitchen)
Coconut Laddu 311
(photo credit: Chacko’s Kitchen)
Johanna Bailey is a blogger, freelance writer and student at the Hofmann Culinary School in Barcelona, Spain.
As I write today’s column, I have visions of Laddus, Gulab Jamuns and Jalebis doing cartwheels through my mind. Phirni and burfis drift down rivers of sweetened milk and Laddus, round and yellow with saffron, are rolling around the inside of my head like so many loose ping pong balls. No, I am not taking any unusual medications, nor have I morphed into Johnny Depp in any of his more recent movie roles. Rather, I have been reading about the traditional sweets of Diwali which takes place this year from November 5-9.
Diwali is a  five day festival which is celebrated throughout India (as well as several other countries including Malaysia, Nepal, Singapore and Sri Lanka), with variations depending on religion and region. For most, it is a time to exchange gifts, wear new clothes, share special prepared foods, watch fireworks and light diwas (small oil lamps) that symbolize the victory of light and good over darkness and evil. For this reason, it is often referred to as “The Festival of Lights.”
Diwali is also celebrated in several other countries throughout the world where there are large Hindu populations, such as  Britain, Australia, New Zealand and the United States. Last year Barack Obama became the first president to attend a White House Diwali celebration (although one suspects that there are far fewer podiums and handshakes involved at more traditional Diwali celebrations).
There’s clearly a lot to get excited about when it comes to Diwali- lights, fireworks, maybe even a new pair of pajamas or a shiny new set of pots and pans. Nevertheless, it’s clear to me (or maybe this just shows where my priorities lie), that what Diwali is really about is the mouthwatering sweets that you exchange and share with all your friends and family. Many of the mithai (sweets) are made from khoya, the substance that is left over after simmering milk for a long time until coagulated solids are left over - a time consuming process which explains why so many choose now to get their sweets from halwais (sweet shops) rather than make them at home as was traditionally done.
There are literally dozens and dozens of different Diwali sweets but a few of the most popular are:
Galub Jamun - a spongy sweet milky balls soaked in a rose water flavored syrup
Balushahi - a sort of donut fried in ghee (clarified butter) and then glazed in a sugary syrup.
Gajar Ka Halwa - a pudding made with shredded carrots, cardamom, nuts and dried fruit.
Ladoo (or laddu) -  balls made from semolina, chick pea or graham flour and ghee and then flavored with ingredients such as coconut, cashews, sesame seeds and saffron.
Karanji - fried dumplings stuffed with coconut
Jalebis - batter that has been deep-fried in a squiggly shape and then soaked in syrup.
Last year, a shadow was cast on Diwali’s sweet horizon when it was found that many of the products (such as khoya and ghee) used to make the store bought sweets were being contaminated by unhealthy (and in some cases, poisonous) substances in order to cut costs. There was talk of “milk adulteration gangs” and alarming headlines such as “Beware! Your Diwali sweet may be adulterated” and “Diwali spoiler: Lid off spurious sweets racket.” Although I cannot understand a word that it being said, It is clear from the ominous music in this news expose, that this is a serious business indeed.
Due to adulteration scandals, some have even gone so far as to recommend that people stay away from Diwali sweets altogether. A better solution might be to just make them at home and perhaps more people will do so this year. If you’re tempted to try your hand at preparing a homemade Diwali sweet, take a look at this recipe for coconut laddu which has been contributed by the Indian food blog “Chacko’s Kitchen.”
Coconut Laddu
Dessicated Coconut (unsweetened) – 2 ½ cups
Nestle Milkmaid (Condensed Milk) – 1 cup
Ghee (Clarified Butter) – 1 tbsp
Raisins – 10 nos.
Cardamom Powder - ½ tsp
Vanilla Essence – 1 tsp
Add ghee to a pan, when it is hot add the raisins and sauté for 2-4 minutes. Set aside.
In a separate heavy bottomed pan add 2 cups of the dessicated coconut and the condensed Milk. Stir continuously until it the mixture leaves the edges of the pan.
Add the raisins with the ghee, cardamom powder and vanilla essence, stir until all ingredients are mixed well
Remove the pan and make golf ball sized balls of this mixture. Roll the balls into the remaining desiccated coconut.
Now your Coconut Laddu is ready to be served!

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