Rich, colourful, sweet and extravagant, Indian sweets really are in a class of their own. Diwali is the perfect time to get a bit adventurous and find out what all the fuss is about. Here’s what you need to know.
It is almost impossible to separate sweets from the Diwali experience. During this five day Indian New Year’s festivity held to celebrate the triumph of good over evil, sweets are given to neighbours, friends and family in order to wish them a prosperous and happy coming year. In the weeks leading up to the celebrations, women in India would traditionally spend days masterfully producing extravagant sweets of all colours, shapes and sizes. Kenyan Indians have continued this legacy of amazing sweets and this Diwali, you should make a point of heading to one of the city’s many Indian confectioners to try out some of these decadently delicious delights. In case you have no idea how to tell one of these treats from the other, here is a little and by no means extensive glossary of the most common Diwali sweets available in Kenya
Sweet or savoury, barfis are a must have during Diwali. Plain barfis are made from a mixture of condensed milk and sugar with the addition of nuts like cashews or pistachios which give them a buttery crunch. The addition of Cardamom gives this sweet a distinct smokey flavour that compliments the sweetness. I would advise you not to get the commercially prepacked barfis as their manufacturers often forget what flavour means.
Made from a variety of flours, grains and pulses, once bit into, a good Laddu is an explosion of flavour that distributes itself all over your taste buds. The flours are blended with sugar and a variety of flavours like dry fruits or nuts. Their longs shelf life makes them the perfect sweet to bring on a road trip.
Ras malai is made of balls of chhana (not to be mistaken for chana which are chickpeas) soaked in clotted cream. Often you’ll hear it described as cottage cheese dumplings soaked in flavoured milk. The homemade version is made from powdered milk, all-purpose flour, baking powder and oil moulded into balls and dropped into simmering milk cream- often flavoured with wonderful spices like cardamom and saffron to give it a pale yellow colour.
Another recipe using chhana, ras gulla is absolutely decadent. In this sweet, the cottage cheese dumplings are cooked in sugar syrup until the syrup soaks into them. You would be tempted to buy the canned version, but nothing beats making them at home and gorging yourself on them throughout your Diwali celebrations.
A lot of people freak out once I describe Jalebi to them; deep fried dough soaked in sugar syrup. That is until they try this sweet that somehow has managed to spread throughout Europe and Africa. I once had great Jalebi in Paris, but nothing compares to the classical Indian stuff. The sugar syrup is not always the stand alone flavouring as rose water, clarified honey or clarified butter can be used to create a different taste.
These half-moon shaped pastries are filled with pounded dry fruit and coconut, and are delicious either hot or cold. They were traditionally fried in ghee to give them a rich buttery taste, but healthier oils can also be used. Use dried coconut instead of fresh to keep them longer. Scented with cardamom and speckled with nuts and sultanas if preferred, these are the perfect Diwali treat.