Diwali is here again, once again reminding us that the year's almost over. Diwali brings with it several twinkling lights, great food, happy times, vacation for the kids, and alas, lots of smoke and pollution due to crackers. I have never really caught on to what fascination people find in things that make a loud bang!
In our childhood, Diwali used to be a leisurely festival. Preparations would start weeks in advance, where initially my grandma would get all the various grains ready to be ground from the 'chakki' or neighbourhood flour mill. A different delicacy would be made everyday, and stashed away out of sight so that we kids could not sneak out anything before the big day. There was the bad with the good, since this was also the time for exams, and it would be torture trying to study with all the different aromas wafting out from people's windows. The dreaded exams would give way to a 2 week vacation, and the first job would be to build the 'killa' or fort. This was almost always a group project, run in grand fashion with the bullies haggling over 'design', and the meeker kids doing menial tasks like filching and carrying bricks, sand , mud etc. from the neighbourhood as needed and assembling it before the 'construction' began. The completed 'fort' would be either painted in a maroon paint called 'geru' and/or sprinkled with mustard seeds so that a verdant fuzz grew over it by the great Diwali day. Lamps would be lit in the fort and crackers burst around it.
I have no idea if kids still do this, or engage in these simple but exciting pursuits since the virtual world of Wiis and Xboxes has taken over. Also, with our busier lives, and the proliferation of goodies available 'ready-made' in the market, the number of goodies made at home is dwindling, and hence the interest in them too. But nothing can really equal the pleasure of feasting on fresh, hot chaklis that your mother is lifting out of the kadai, or home-made shankar palas or laddus. Although I have been away from home for Diwali for most of the last several years, there is one thing that I always make at home, and this to me brings the quintessential feeling of Diwali - rava besan ladus.
These Ladus are slightly time consuming and difficult since they are made with a syrup, and also are mostly common in my family, compared to the pure besan ladu that is more widely seen. I am providing the method and recipe for a small measure, but the quantity can be doubled as needed.
The recipe is as follows -
1 cup rava/semolina
1 cup besan/chickpea flour
1 cup ghee
1 cup sugar
1 cup water
1 Tbsp crushed cardamom
5-6 cashew pieces
2 Tbsp raisins
1) Heat half cup ghee in a kadai and add the Rava to it. Roast the rava on a Very Low Flame until it becomes slightly pink and lets out a nice nutty aroma. Remove and set aside.
2) Add the remaining ghee to the Kadai and add the chickpea flour or besan. The chickpea flour will initially soak up all the ghee. Keep roasting the besan patiently on a low flame. The besan will gradually change colour and at some point dissolve in the ghee and become slightly liquid. Continue roasting till its a nice brown colour - but not burnt. Remove and set aside.
3) Crumble the cashews and the raisins and powder some cardamom pods. You can also add some grated nutmeg if you wish.
4) Put the sugar in a thick pot and add 1 cup of water. Heat till the sugar dissolves and a simple syrup is made. Continue heating until you get a 'ek tari paak'. This is a marathi term that might be difficult to explain, but I am sure that this has some equivalent in candy terminology. I will try to explain this roughly - as the syrup thickens, check if it starts coating the spoon. Take a little of this syrup between your thumb and forefinger( after cooling slightly slightly), press down, and lift your finger. Check if the syrup forms a strand between your thumb and forefinger. IF you see one strand, you have 'ek taari' or 'one strand' syrup. You want something which is slightly thicker than what you get with the one strand. The thicker the syrup, the more rapidly, it will harden. We want a medium syrup so that our roasted flours soak in it for a couple of hours and absorb all the sweetness. This way, the mixture also cools down enough to allow you to roll the ladus. If the syrup is too thick or hard, everything will harden into a solid ball and will not be pliable at all.
5) After you determine that the syrup is a desired thickness, switch off the heat. Add the cashews, raisins and elaichi powder to the syrup. Add the roasted flours. Start mixing immediately.
6) This is the crucial point in this recipe. If your syrup is very thick, everything will start hardening and will dry up at once. You will have to start rolling the ladus right away. Ideally, the mixture will be a thick liquid that you can cover and let rest for some time - anything between half an hour to four hours. Everyone has their own tack here that they develop over years of making delicious ladus. Keep checking periodically to see if the mixture has solidified and come together like a dough ball.
7) Start rolling the ladus. Take a small amount in the palm of your hand, squeeze as you would squeeze a ball and roll on your palm to form round balls.
8) Place on a plate and let cool.
I wished to share this simple and traditional recipe for rava besan ladu. The description here is a bit crude, and especially esoteric to someone not exposed to Indian cooking and I apologize for it. I am not a pro at this myself, and only ever make this once a year. I have tried to describe this as simply as possible, and am posting this for the benefit of anyone who wants to try it out.
So what are you cooking this Diwali?