Semolina Ladoo for Diwali and other celebrations

Several years ago I remember reading Jacob Bronowski‘s book ” The Ascent of Man” where he mentioned that wheat which was the earliest cultivated crop and quintessential to man’s transformation from hunter -wanderer to farmer settler human settlements was a mutant form of grass!  Wheat which was originally grown in the Levant region or the Middle East countries of Cyprus, Israel, Palestine, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria. Since then it is cultivated almost world wide and is enjoyed as a main source of food among several cultures and cuisines. Whether it is ground coarsely or fine, it is used as a food staple.

Semolina or one of its coarsely ground variations is very popular among sweet dishes in Indian cuisine. Known as Rava or Sooji, it is used to make ladoos to celebrate occasions particularly the festival of Diwali. This is how I made Ravyache ladoo this year. There are many ways of making this ladoo but I chose to make it the way my grandmother made it – traditionally, slowly roasting the semolina on the fire, adding a generous amount of home made ghee and finally rolling them out after letting them rest for 2-3 hours.

I took

  • 4 cups of semolina
  • 1 /2 cups pure ghee
  • 2 cups fresh grated coconut
  • 3 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups water
  • 1 tablespoon of slivered almonds
  • a handful of raisins de-stemmed.
  • 1 tspn cardamom powder
  • 4-5 strands of saffron

And here’s what I did

I roasted the rava and ghee in a thick pan (to prevent it from burning)and stirring all the while, till it became a light pinkish brown and released the aroma or roasting grain. I then added the coconut and roasted for a few more minutes.

This takes quite a while so don’t be impatient and stop stirring or the rava will roast unevenly.

Then I dissolved the sugar in the water and brought it to the boil to make a syrup of single thread consistency. I added the cardamom, saffron , raisins and almonds to the mixture and poured the whole into the dry ingredients.

I covered it for 2-3 hours and then rolled them out into ladoos while they were still warm. You may have to roll them out twice because they tend to become flattish at the bottom the first time they are rolled out.

While this is a foolproof recipe, care must be taken that the syrup is of the right consistency – too sticky and the ladoos will be hard and brittle, too thin and the laddoos won’t hold at all. Don’t be alarmed when you mix the syrup and the dry ingredients and see a goopy mess. As the mixture cools it comes together but just in the freak chance that the ladoos don’t bind, heat up the mixture again and cook till the mixture starts leaving the sides of the pan. Make sure you are stirring all the time . Once again roll into ladoos when just warm.

I prefer making my ladoos smaller than what my granny made them simply because people nowadays prefer bite sized portions. I also like to serve them in cupcake cases so that they are easier and cleaner to handle.

 

Besan Laddoos for Diwali

Today I made besan laddoos which are a favourite in our home, particularly with my elder daughter who is always away for the festival. Gram flour is popular all over India and can be found in various shapes, sizes and forms.

The traditional Besan ladoos which we make in Maharashtrian homes are made thus:

  • 4 cups of coarsely ground besan or gram flour
  • 3 cups of powdered sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups pure ghee
  • 5-6 strands of saffron
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 2 tspns powdered cardamom
  • 2 tbspns raisins
  • 2 tbspsn slivers of almonds

I sifted the powdered sugar and kept it aside.

I put the ghee in a huge big wok and added the besan and began stirring it on a medium flame till it became golden brown , the ghee separated from the mixture and the whole house was redolent with the aroma of besan browing in pure ghee. I added the saffron strands and stirred it some more.

I then took the wok off the fire and sprinkled the milk into the mixture and quickly stirred it up. I allowed it to cool and when it was still slightly warm,  added the sifted powdered sugar and kneaded it into a smooth dough. I then added the powdered cardamom , raisins and slivers of almonds and rolled them into round balls or ladoos.  

Nota Bene

This made around 2 dozen smallish ladoos so you can increase the quantities if you want more!

Don’t make the mistake of adding the sugar while the mixture is hot – you will land up in a great mess!

While Diwali is the perfect time to make this dish, it is equally popular year round particularly while traveling as these laddoos stay well for a long time.

Diwali’s surprise: Mysore Paak

Once upon a time, an ingenious cook at the Mysore Royal Palace came up with this concoction of chana atta ( besan), ghee and sugar. Fascinated by its sponge like appearance, smooth texture and fantastic taste, it soon became a popular sweet among halwais particularly in South India.

This year I decided to try making Mysore Paak at home as I wanted a break from the traditional laddoo, chakli and shev routine.

I got together

  • 1 cup of finely ground besan
  • 1 1/2 cup sugar
  • 3 cups ghee

I sifted the besan and kept it aside. I heated a bit of the ghee and rubbed it into the flour.

I added a cup of water to the sugar and made a syrup of single string consistency in a large pan.

In the meanwhile I heated the ghee and brought it to the boil.

While the ghee was heating up and after the syrup was made, I added the flour to the syrup, stirring with a wire whisk to ensure a smooth paste. When the ghee was boiling hot, I added it to the flour and syrup mixture one ladle at a time . I allowed the mixture to cook continuing with the ghee till the mixture began to thicken and get a spongy appearance. Then I took it off the fire and poured it into a cake tray which I had lined with tin foil. While it was still slightly warm, I cut it into squares and when completely cool, stored the Mysore Paak in an airtight tin to be kept for Diwali day.

Nota Bene

I think my Mysore Paak should have been browned a little more and kept cooking for a longer time so that it actually looked like a sponge but I made the mistake of taking a shallow pan rather than a deep bowl which would have prevented the ghee from splattering out!

Shankarpale for Diwali and all year round

My grandmother used to love making these tiny diamond shaped goodies all year round and very often I would come home to the house smelling of them being fried to a crisp golden brown as granny fished  them out of the kadahi with her big zhara or slotted spoon. This year with little P being around to enjoy Diwali and at the age when he appreciates finger food, I decided to make them myself. Made of wholewheat flour and pure home made ghee just slightly sweet, they are the perfect little bites for little tykes on the go.These don’t look too good because I’ve been out of the kitchen and out of practice for a bit, but I assure you they taste great.

Here’s what I did:

I got together

  •  3 -4   cups of whole wheat flour or maida or a mix of both
  • 1 cup of sugar
  • 1 cup of milk or water
  • 1 cup of pure ghee
  • Ghee for deep frying

I sieved the wheat flour and kept it aside while I put the sugar, ghee and milk in a pan and brought it to a quick boil.

I took the pan off the fire and added as much wheat flour as could be absorbed to make a nice soft dough. Since the liquid was hot, I made sure to use a spoon to stir in the flour! Then I kept the dough aside for a while.

A few hours later, I kneaded the dough once more and then rolled it out into pastry sheets about 2-3 mm thick and ran a pastry cutter wheel through it to make the diamond shapes. In the meanwhile, I kept some ghee in a kadahi to heat up and then slowly added the diamond shapes one by one. I reduced the heat a bit and fried them till the ghee stopped bubbling and the shankarpale turned golden brown.

I took them out with a slotted spoon, draining off excess fat and allowed them to drain and cool on a kitchen towel. Then I stored them in an airtight tin to open up on Diwali day.

Nota Bene

Shankarpale which look simple enough to make can be quite tricky. If you substitute the milk with water as many people like to do, or even reduce the quantity of ghee your shankarpale can become hard enough for you to break a tooth! But if you more or less follow this recipe, you will get perfectly crunchy yet melt in your mouth shankarpale to die for.

Equally misleading is the amount of time you will take- plan for at least half an hour because the shankarpale take time to cook but an easy way out would be to use a wide mouthed shallow kadahi or a deep frying pan which will hold more shankarpale than the regular kadahi!

 

Rishi chi Bhaji : Fat free and Guilt Free

Top row : French Beans
Middle row ( left to right) Snake gourd, pumpkin, bottle gourd, Yam
Bottom row : Runner beans

What do the following vegetables have in common?

  • French Beans
  • Runner beans
  • Pumpkin
  • Snake gourd
  • Bottle gourd
  • Amaranthus
  • Colocasia 
  • Yam

No, this is not a botany test but I’ll give you the answer anyways – they are all vegetables that don’t require to be cultivated by oxen. Today is the day when these beasts of burden are actually given the day off and their labour is saluted by eating vegetables that grow without their help. Thus on this day you can get a whole assortment of vegetables which are all dunked together and cooked for several hours till they all come together. Normally these vegetables are found growing around the house but today when gardens are few, you can easily source them from the local market.

Thus yesterday while walking through my favourite market place at Bhaji Gully I when I came upon these veggies, I thought I’d give the usual Aloo gobi a miss and try these for a change. A lady who was also buying these vegetables actually told me that this vegetable is made without any oil, and with whatever spices you normally use to spice up your dishes………..and if you make it in the pressure cooker you don’t have to cook it for hours.

So I came home with a quarter kilo of assorted veg and chopped them up to make a yummy, fat free and guilt free (No animals were used during the cultivation) dish. Of course you can eat this all year round but I’m sure its tastier because you know it’s an annual affair!