Celebrate annual Indian festival with easy sweet treats

  • By Reshma Seetharam Special to the Herald
  • Thursday, November 5, 2015 6:14pm
  • Life

India’s biggest and grandest annual festival, Diwali, is celebrated in October or November, depending on the Hindu calendar. This year it is Nov. 11.

Diwali feels similar to Christmas, with family gatherings, mouthwatering sweets, extravagant feasts, tons of gifts — and did I mention gold!

It is also a time to give back to the less privileged, to communities in need. For years, firecrackers were used to be a bold statement for families to show off. This has hit a down trend, with many people opting to go green and celebrate with clay lamps instead.

No matter how grand or humble, the festival always takes me back to childhood days in my parents’ home. Siblings, cousins, aunts and uncles, grandparents and warm memories.

Diwali, or Dipawali, is symbolized by clay lamps, flower garlands, colorful rangolis (hand-made art from flowers or colored powder) that adorn homes and businesses alike. Rows of lamps light up streets during the five days of festival. The lamps symbolize inner light that protects us from spiritual darkness.

North India commemorates the festival to celebrate the return of King Rama after defeating Ravana and rescuing his wife. South India celebrates in memory of Lord Krishna’s defeat of Narakasura. No matter the story behind it, the underlying interpretation is victory of good over evil. It is also believed that Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth and prosperity, wanders looking for a welcome home. People therefore decorate their homes to invite her to come and stay.

If you want to taste some sweets and savories or buy beautiful clay lamps, visit an Indian store like Imrans Market (11501 Highway 99, Everett) or Mayuri Foods (20611 Bothell-Everett Highway, Bothell) during this time of the year. Amazon has its share of treats online as well.

Below are some easy sweets you can try at home.

Cashew burfi

2 cups whole cashews

1 cup sugar

1/2 cup water

1/4 cup ghee

Large Ziploc bag or wax paper

Lightly toast the cashews in a glass bowl in the microwave for about 30 seconds. You may also pan roast them for 2 minutes. Let them cool. Powder them to a grinder. Set aside.

Slit the ziploc bag on two sides, so it resembles a folder. Grease the insides of the plastic bag with ghee and set aside. You may use wax paper instead.

In a nonstick pan, boil sugar and water together on medium heat. Once the sugar dissolves and the mixture comes to a rolling boil, take a few drops of the syrup and pour it into a cup of cold water. If it dissolves, it is not the right stage yet; keep boiling. After a few minutes, pour about 1/2 teaspoon of the syrup in cold water; it should have a thread consistency and form a soft ball when stirred.

Pour in the powdered cashews, and keep stirring until it forms a thick dough consistency. This should take about 6 to 8 minutes on medium heat. Turn off the heat. When the dough cools from hot to lukewarm, it is ready to knead. Grease your hands generously with ghee. Knead the dough to a smooth texture. Form a ball without crumbs or cracks. Place it inside the greased ziploc. Roll it out gently with a rolling pan to about 1/4 or 1/2 inch. While the dough is warm, cut into desired squares or diamonds. Let cool before storing in airtight containers. These will stay fresh for a week.

You can swap out cashews with almonds to make almond burfis.

Makes about 20 2-inch burfis.

Coconut burfi

4 cups sweetened coconut flakes

1/2 cup milk

1/2 cup sweetened condensed milk

2 tablespoons ghee

Pinch of cardamom powder

You can make this sweet two ways: using sugar, or condensed milk. This version uses condensed milk.

Grease a plate or baking tray lightly with ghee and set aside. Blend the sweetened coconut flakes and milk together. You may grind it as course or smooth you like it to be.

In a pan on medium heat, add the coconut paste and condensed milk. Cook on medium heat for 4 to 6 minutes. Once the mixture starts to leave the sides of the pan and form a dough, pour it on the greased tray; spread it evenly.

Chill in the fridge for about an hour. Remove and cut into squares. Holds good for a few days at room temperature. If you refrigerate it, the burfi will hold good for up to a few weeks.

Makes about 20 2-inch squares.

Milk and saffron pedas

2 cups (14-ounce can) of condensed milk

2 cups of milk powder

1 tablespoon ghee or butter

Few strands of saffron

2 green cardamoms

1/2 cup of crushed nuts of your choice: pistachios, almonds or cashews

Peel the cardamom seeds and crush them down finely with a rolling pin. Set aside.

Set aside 1/4 cup milk powder aside as a reserve to correct your final product.

Grease the inside of a glass bowl with ghee. Add condensed milk, milk powder and ghee together. Stir to a smooth paste.

Place in the microwave on regular heat for 2 minutes, stopping every 20 seconds and stirring. Microwave times and heat will vary. Watch for changes from bubbling liquid to a slightly crumbly dough formation. Remove and add saffron strands and cardamom powder.

Once the mixture cools from hot to warm, dip your hands in some ghee, and roll little balls of uniform size.

Tip: Just make sure you work with warm dough. If your mixture is too runny, use the reserved milk powder to thicken into a dough. If the mixture is too crumbly, add a few teaspoons of hot milk and milk powder to knead it back to the right consistency.

Once you form little balls, indent the center with your thumb and press it down with crushed nuts. Stays fresh in an airtight container for up to a week.

Variation: Soak a few saffron strands in 3 teaspoons of hot milk. Pour this over the dough and knead, to get yellow/saffron pedas.

Makes 20 to 24 pedas.

Vermicelli kheer

1/2 cup dry vermicelli

2 cups milk (low fat or whole milk)

1 cup water

1/2 cup sweetened condensed milk

1 tablespoon ghee

1 teaspoon raisins

1 teaspoon slivered or sliced almonds

Few whole cashews

1 tablespoon sugar, more if you like.

1/4 teaspoon cardamom powder

Pinch of saffron

Warm the ghee in a non-stick pan. Toss in cashews, as they brown lightly, add in the raisins. As you see the raisins puff, remove them all onto a plate and set aside. In the same pan that still holds liquid ghee, add sliced almonds and dry vermicelli.

Roast on a low to medium flame until uniformly browned to light golden.

Add in a cup of cold water and let it cook until it comes to a rolling boil. Add in the milk and let it continue to boil.

When the milk begins to boil, add in the saffron, saving a few strands for garnish.

Once the whole mixture begins to boil, take a spoon to test the vermicelli. It should be nearly cooked and firm to touch. Add in the sugar and condensed milk and cook on low heat for about 5 minutes.

Turn off the heat. Sprinkle cardamom powder, and the roasted nuts and raisins. Garnish with saffron before it is served hot. You may also serve it chilled.

Serves 4.

More Indian sweet recipes at www.reshmaseetharam.com

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