Diwali, the Indian festival of lights, is my favorite festival of all, and perhaps the grandest of all for most Indians as well :-). As a kid, the festival meant new clothes, uncensored gluttony and crackers day & night. As an adolescent, it was about catching up and hanging out with family and friends, exchanging wishes and sweets and ofcourse, unadulterated gluttony (that doesn't change with age!).
When I moved out of India for work, initially, I would get sorely homesick around this time. I missed the festive air, the happy laughter, the meeting and greetings and someone else who would make all the goodies ('palagarams' in Tamil) that I could devour. Slowly, as we made more and more friends, and many Indian ones, and I started taking an active interest in cooking, I could recreate some of that magic in our little abode here far away from home in India.
Wishes were exchanged with family over the phone and with friends in real time. We host little parties for each other to share our homemade or store bought sweet as well as savory creations. For me, this is the time when I show my love through my hand made palagarams and I look forward to it very very much!
Diwali is also the one festival when sweets are made ahead of time and it isn't taboo to dip in prior to the day. That made it extra special! Imagine, weeks (before and after) of indulgence rather than just a day or two. For every other festival, all goodies are usually made on the day and first presented to the god/goddess whose day it was before us mortals could sample it. But, Diwali transcends any one deity and even religion. Technically it is a Hindu festival but is celebrated by one and all because it is a festival of Lights and not of God ....
Every year, for Diwali and only for it, I make Cashew Burfi. Kaju Katli (cashew fudge) is my absolute favorite Indian sweet. I love it for the pure cashew flavor and not-too-sweet bite. So, for that little sweet thing, I make my version of it with milk. I reduce down full fat (yes, had to be full!) milk slowly, oh very slowly, to a thick sticky consistency. All the love is in that slow reduction because you have stir constantly for hours to get it right! :)
And, for something savory, because you need that balance, I make Murukku, crispy fried dough spirals. Traditionally, it is fried in ghee (clarified butter) (Well, technically everything is cooked in ghee for the occasion to signify the indulgence). Murukku is an irresistable snack, much like the potato chip. You just cannot eat just one! :)
So that's how we spent the day ... snacking on murukkus and indulging on cashew burfi while catching up with friends and wishing everyone a wonderful and prosperous year ahead!! And, I send you the same love and wishes to you all!
From my family to yours - Have a joyous year ahead filled with many many delights and happy memories!! :))
8 cups whole milk
1 cup cashews + another 1/4 cup for garnish
1/2 cup sugar
pinch cardamom powder
Roast cashews for 15 minutes in an oven preheated to 350 degrees until golden brown. Cool to room temperature. Process the cashews with the sugar to as fine a powder as you can.
In a wide heavy bottomed pan, slowly reduce the milk over low heat to one-fourth its volume. Do not use a non-stick pan for this. It always burns at the bottom and burnt milk does not make any good sweet! When the milk is reduced, stir in the cashew mixture and cook for 30 minutes more until the mixture comes away from the sides of the pan and very thick.
Pour into a greased cake pan. Once the mixture has cooled enough to handle, spoon out about a tablespoon of the burfi onto to lightly greased hands and roll into a ball. Top each with a roasted cashew as garnish.
2 cups rice flour
1/2 cup urad dal (split gram) flour
1/4 cup semolina
3 T garbanzo flour
2 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp caraway seeds
1/4 cup sesame seeds
3 T butter, melter
1 T salt
1/2 tsp asofetida powder
3/4 cup water or more as needed
Sift together the flours, semolina and salt. Stir in the cumin, caraway and sesame seeds. Add the melted butter to make a crumbly mixture. Slowly add water to make a dough that just comes together; much like a shortbread dough. Grease your palms and knead the dough until it comes away from the sides of the pan. Cover with a damp towel and let it rest for 30 minutes.
When ready to fry the murukkus, heat oil in a small wok to 350 degrees. Maintain the flame at low. If you have a murukku maker, choose the shape you want and fill with the dough. You can get one of these handy little things at an Indian store. If you can't find one, fret not, you can use a cookie press as well.
On a clean plastic shape, press out shapes and then transfer into the oil. Fry until golden brown and there are no bubbles in the oil. Remove onto a kitchen towel to soak any excess oil. You can store in an airtight container for a week.