We just celebrated Diwali with family and friends. It is the brightest feast and forms the grand finale of all the festivals in India. Even our cool President Barack Obama talked about Diwali in his address. It has become mainstream, PepsiCo Inc. and Target Corp. picked New Jersey to test a new kind of holiday promotion this month – Diwali marketing.
Feasting is part of special occasions in India; I have pleasant memories as a child of the pre-festival arrangements that would begin several days in advance in our home. The professional cooks hired by my parents would bring their own enormous utensils and set up a wood-burning stove in the backyard to make boondi laddu and other snacks. Observing them was quite an education. My sister and I would watch them steadily stirring the sugar syrup and frying tiny droplets of chick-pea flour. With great expertise, they combined the still hot mixture with the syrup, rolling it in seemingly heat-resistant hands into plump, round balls. We would pack large quantities of these and other sweets and snacks in baskets or trays lined with colorful napkins and distribute them to friends and neighbors to convey affection, appreciation, and joy.
Despite of countless dishes that were prepared I insisted on the following favorite recipe and my mother always made it special.
Fudge Balls in Rose-Perfumed Syrup (Gulab Jamun)
The ability to make this dish is one of the hallmarks of a good Indian cook, and when I first came to America I naturally wanted to continue to make it for my family. But one of the key ingredients, khawa (condensed milk), was hard to obtain, and making my own was too time-consuming. So I tried various recipes including instant baking mix, trying to recreate the texture and flavor I remembered. Carnation, dry milk turned out to be the best substitute. And while I am usually not a fan of vegetable shortening, it makes fudge balls that are even fluffier and moister than the original. Serve them at room temperature with the syrup spooned over the balls. Makes a perfect ending for a special family meal.
- 1-1/2 cups sugar
- 2-1/2 cups water
- Seeds from 4 green cardamom pods, crushed
- 2 teaspoons rose water
Combine the sugar and water in a Dutch oven. Bring to a boil, stirring until the sugar dissolves. Reduce the heat to low and simmer uncovered for 15 minutes to reduce the volume slightly. Turn off the heat and stir in the cardamom and rose water.
- 2 cups nonfat Carnation dry milk
- 1/2 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/2 cup melted vegetable shortening
- 1/2 cup whole or low-fat milk
- 1 tablespoon water
- Mild vegetable oil for frying
Combine the dry milk, flour, and baking powder in a large mixing bowl. Gradually pour in the melted shortening. Mix until crumbly. Add the milk and water and knead into smooth pliable dough. To make the dough in the food processor: Combine the dry ingredients and shortening in the work bowl and process until crumbly, about 30 seconds. With the machine running, gradually add the milk and water in a steady stream through the feed tube. Process until the dough begins to clean the sides of the bowl. Form the dough into a smooth ball. Set aside.
Fill a wok or skillet with oil to a depth of 2 to 2-1/2 inches and heat to 225-250 degrees F (or set on medium heat). Pinch off portions of dough and roll between your hands into smooth balls about 1 inch in diameter. Slip about 8 to 10 balls carefully into the hot oil; after about 30 seconds, stir them gently so they brown evenly (do not stir them immediately or they may break). Fry until golden brown all over, 4 to 5 minutes in all. Remove with a slotted spoon, drain briefly over the oil, and add to the sugar syrup. (If the dough starts to crumble or develop cracks while you are making balls, return it to the food processor or the bowl and mix again with 1 tablespoon water to restore the consistency.) Cool completely, cover and let the fudge balls soak for at least 3 hours before serving. Serve at room temperature or chilled.
Makes 35 medium fudge balls (10 to 12 servings).