Pedhas are Indian ball-shaped sweets made with milk, milk powder, butter and sugar, plus traditional flavorings like cardamom, pistachio and saffron. (Reshma Seetharam/For The Herald)

Pedhas are Indian ball-shaped sweets made with milk, milk powder, butter and sugar, plus traditional flavorings like cardamom, pistachio and saffron. (Reshma Seetharam/For The Herald)

Try these Indian sweets to celebrate popular Hindu festival

Columnist Reshma Seetharam shares her favorite recipes for Diwali treats that you can make at home.

Diwali is a Hindu festival that has been celebrated all over the world for thousands of years.

Today it is one of the most anticipated and celebrated festivals in India. Diwali is also known as the Festival of Light, where the lights or lamps signify victory of good over evil, knowledge over ignorance and hope over despair.

Diwali coincides with the new moon night during the Hindu calendar month of Karthika. This year it falls on Oct. 19 — but it is observed a day earlier in south India. After Diwali night, the festival lasts for five days.

The festival is a time for family gatherings, mouthwatering sweets, extravagant feasts and tons of gifts. It is also a time to give back to the community and those in need.

Shopping malls are decked out in lights and other Diwali decorations — including lots of sparkling silver and gold decor. Families light numerous clay lamps (diyas) and candles in their homes. Hindus worship Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth, fortune and prosperity. After puja (prayer) and a fireworks show, family and friends feast on sweets and exchange presents.

The fireworks, for many years, were a way for families to show off in their neighborhoods. This trend has hit a down turn recently, however, with more opting to go green and celebrate solely with clay lamps as Indians did in ancient times.

No matter how grand or humble, the festival always takes me back to my childhood days. I have warm memories of spending time with my parents, siblings, cousins, aunts and uncles and grandparents.

Here are some Diwali treats you can try making at home.

Pedha

Pedhas are Indian ball-shaped sweets made with milk, milk powder, butter and sugar, plus traditional flavorings like cardamom, pistachio and saffron. This recipe can yield many different kinds of pedhas: white, yellow, brown — whatever you like.

If you heat the mixture just a bit, you will make white pedhas. When you add saffron, you will get saffron-flavored pedhas. If you swap out the milk with mango puree, it will turn into mango pedhas. In my family, we heat it until the mixture turns a golden brown.

3 cups milk powder

1 cup sugar, plus extra to roll dough in

½ cup milk

1 can condensed milk (14 ounces)

½ teaspoon of cardamom powder

1 pinch saffron strands

½ cup butter or ghee, melted

In a non-stick pan, combine the sugar, milk, milk powder, condensed milk and cardamom powder. Place it on low heat and stir until the mixture turns into a smooth, thick paste.

If you cook the mixture for 3 minutes on low heat with continuous stirring, you will get white pedhas. They taste delicious. But we want brown ones, so continue to cook it for about 8 to 10 minutes until the mixture turns a deep yellow, then a warm brown. This is called Dharwad pedha.

Now add the butter or ghee and stir it one more time. Turn off the heat and let the mixture cool. While it is still warm, knead it gently to a fine dough without any dry-cracked edges.

Mold the dough into 1-inch sized balls and roll them in the sugar. Makes about 25 pedhas.

Store the pedha for up to a week in an airtight container or for more than a month if you keep them refrigerated. Eat them chilled or warm. To warm them up, pop them in the microwave for a few seconds.

Baby corn bajji

Bajji are spicy vegetable fritters. This recipe calls for baby corn, but you can also cook up peppers, gourds, jalapenos and onion rings. All kinds of crunchy vegetables can be dipped in this spicy lentil and rice flour batter and then fried. They complement sweets and are delightful as an appetizer at festival parties.

12 baby corn, skinned and cut into 4 pieces vertically

1 cup lentil flour

2 teaspoons rice flour

1 pinch of baking soda (optional)

½ teaspoon red chili powder

½ teaspoon salt

¼ teaspoon cumin seeds

2 cups water

3 cups vegetable oil, for deep frying

Add oil to a frying pan and set on medium heat. In the meantime, in a mixing bowl, add the lentil flour, rice flour, salt, chili powder and cumin. Stir to combine.

Take 1 tablespoon of hot oil from the deep fry pan and pour it over the dry flour mixture. The oil will foam on the flour. This adds a crisp texture to the fritters. Stir to combine.

Add water to the flour mixture, a little at a time, and mix to form a batter with a thin yogurt or pudding consistency. Add a few drops of the batter to the oil. If it sizzles, you are good to fry.

Dip the cut baby corn in the batter and slowly lower it into the hot oil. Repeat until the frying pan is about three-fourths full.

Let the corn cook until golden brown, then flip it over gently to cook the other side. Once it looks golden and crisp, remove the fritters and place them on a plate lined with tissue. Let the excess oil drain.

Makes 12 to 14 fritters. Serve them hot with ketchup for dipping.

Besan laddoo

Besan laddoo are another kind of ball-shaped sweets from India. These are made from chickpea flour, sugar, ghee and nuts.

1 cup chickpea flour

1 cup powdered sugar

⅓ cup ghee

¼ teaspoon cardamom powder

Almond or pistachio nuts, coarsely ground

You may make besan laddoo on a stovetop or in a microwave. I typically resort to the latter. In a glass or porcelain bowl, melt the ghee until it’s nice and hot.

Note: About the flour, try to find chickpea flour made especially for besan laddoo. That way, the texture is just right. The flour needs to be somewhat course and grainy.

Pour in the chickpea flour and cook on high for about 3 to 4 minutes, making sure to give it a whisk every 60 seconds. The color of the flour should turn from yellow to a light brown as it cooks. Once the flour is aromatic, pour in the powdered sugar. Whisk it and then let it cool.

While it is still warm, mold the dough into balls. If the mixture is too dry, add in more ghee. Add in ground almonds or pistachios. As another option, you may add in powdered cardamom and saffron.

Makes about 8 to 10 medium-sized laddoos. Serve them right away or store them in air-tight containers.

Kaju pista barfi

Kaju pista barfi are cashew and pistachio rolled sweets that are very similar to marzipan. Kaju means cashew and pista means pistachio in Hindi. The cashew dough is rolled over a cylinder of green-colored pistachio dough.

For the cashew dough

2 cups whole cashews

½ cup sweetened condensed milk

Pinch of cardamom powder

1 tablespoon ghee

2 tablespoons milk

1 tablespoon milk powder, heaping

½ teaspoon all-purpose flour

For the pistachio dough

2 cups whole pistachios

½ cup sweetened condensed milk

Pinch of cardamom powder

1 tablespoon ghee

2 tablespoons milk

1 tablespoon milk powder, heaping

½ teaspoon all-purpose flour

2 to 3 drops green food coloring

Powder the cashews and pistachios in a blender separately. While blending, add the all-purpose flour. This prevents the nuts from crumbling into a dough.

Grease a plate or baking tray lightly with ghee and set aside. You may also use a wax paper to line the tray instead.

Put a pan on medium heat. Pour in the cashew powder, condensed milk and cardamom powder. Cook for about 4 to 6 minutes, stirring until the mixture forms a dough consistency. Add ghee and continue to knead the dough with a stirring spoon on low heat.

Once the mixture leaves the sides of the pan and resembles a soft dough, turn off the heat. Add in the milk powder and knead the dough until it is not sticky anymore and firm enough to roll out. Pour out the dough on the greased plate, or tray with wax paper.

Repeat the above steps to make the pistachio dough. Add a few drops of green food coloring to the pistachio dough and knead it until the color is blended.

Roll each of the doughs separately on a piece of wax paper into cylinders about a½ inch thick. Flatten the cashew dough into an oval or rectangle shape that is about the same length as a pistachio cylinder. Place the pistachio roll on the flattened cashew dough. Roll together tightly to form one cylinder.

Roll each cylinder carefully into wax paper and chill the fridge for about 30 minutes. Remove and cut the cylinder into 2-inch-long cylinders. Makes 2 cups of pistachio and cashew burfi dough.

Serve right away or store the burfi in an air-tight container for a few days. If you refrigerate it, the burfi will keep for a few weeks.

Poppy seed and almond kheer

Kheer is an Indian rice pudding served for dessert. This recipe features roasted poppy seeds and almonds.

1 cup raw poppy seeds

1 cup raw almonds

1 tablespoon fresh or dry coconut flakes

½ teaspoon saffron

1 teaspoon raisins

1 teaspoon clarified butter or ghee

1 cup warm milk

1 cup brown sugar

1 cup water

2 green cardamom pods

Dry roast the poppy seeds, almonds and cardamoms in a pan on medium heat. Take care to toss the poppy seeds regularly so they roast evenly. When you smell the aroma of roasted almonds and poppy seeds, turn off the heat and let it cool.

Grind the almond-poppy seed mixture, coconut flakes and saffron together in a blender. Once the mixture begins to crumble to a sticky powder, add milk and grind it down to a smooth paste.

In a pan on medium heat, add the brown sugar and water. Cook until the brown sugar mixture starts foaming. Add the almond-poppy seed paste. When the mixture starts to boil, turn off the heat. You can add more milk and sugar depending on how thick or sweet you like your kheer to be.

In the meantime, warm up the ghee in a small pan and add raisins to it. When the raisins swell, toss them on the kheer as a garnish.

Makes 6 servings. Serve the kheer warm or chilled.

Celebrate Diwali

The Hindu Temple & Cultural Center, 3818 212th St. SE, Bothell, opens for Diwali puja (prayer) at 7 p.m. followed by a fireworks show from 8 to 8:30 p.m. on Oct. 18. Call 425-483-7115. More at www.htccwa.org.

Diwali: Lights of India is noon to 6 p.m. Oct. 21 at the Seattle Center Armory, 305 Harrison St. The festival showcases Indian culture with music, dance, crafts, activities and food. More at www.seattlecenter.com.

Or visit an Indian store in Snohomish County to buy your own Diwali-themed decorations and treats, such as Mayuri Food, 20611 Bothell Everett Highway, or Apna Bazaar, 20710 Bothell Everett Highway, both in Bothell.

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