Happy Diwali all! I went all out and tried my hand at making my own diyas (oil lamps) and Coconut Ladoos (truffle like sweets)!
Diwali, for those unfamiliar with the holiday, is the Hindu “Festival of Lights”.
“Diwali? But you’re not Hindu!”
Yea, well I’m not Christian either, but I’ll be damned if I give up my Christmas celebrations. But I do suppose you might be wondering why I, a white girl born and bred in California with an obnoxiously Eurocentric education would be celebrating a Hindu holiday.
Well, its largely because my boyfriend was born and raised in Mumbai. In fact, he just moved to the states a little over 2 years ago for grad school.
It amazes me at times that my soulmate grew up on the opposite side of the world and yet, somehow, we found each other. I don’t mean to say that I subscribe to the idea that there exists only one person in the world destined to be with me. Its just that he and I complement each other so well that it feels as though we were always meant to be together.
Its occasionally eerie how similar we are. We have the same academic interests (we work in the same lab), similar music tastes (we were quite impressed to find that our iPods both contain Andrea Bocelli and Canon in D along side of a boatload of classic rock), and, perhaps most importantly, we are both obsessive foodies (our first conversation was an in-depth discussion of past Chopped episodes). Our birthdays are even 2 days apart.
We seem to know what each other is thinking even before they think of it themselves.
“Who is that writer I’m thinking of?”
“Yep that’s him” *Cue Twilight Zone music*.
Anyways, back to how my man introduced me to Diwali. Now, like me, he isn’t particularly religious (that’s the understatement of the year), but we both feel absolutely no reservations about celebrating the beautiful holidays we grew up with.
Especially when the involve pretty lights and good food :). By the way, I adore Christmas. It’s my favorite holiday for completely non-Jesus related reasons.
So we decided to have ourselves a (relatively small) Diwali celebration. Last Friday night we went to Michaels to get some modeling clay to make small oil lamps called diyas. I suppose we could have easily bought some, but I thought it would be fun to make them. I use to quite enjoy making Sculpey figurines when I was younger It’s been years since I have gotten to play with clay. However, the wicks we bought didn’t work so well, so we ended up making cotton wicks out of my man’s undershirt. It’s all about using what you have right?
I also took it upon my self to make Coconut Ladoos, an Indian sweet quite popular for festivals such as Diwali. Ladoos are a simple, sweet confection made from just a few ingredients: flour or coconut, butter (ghee), sugar, and usually a bit of cardamom. Now, in my research, I’ve found numerous variations of Coconut Ladoo: with fresh coconut, with dried coconut, with sugar, with jaggery, with ghee, without ghee, with condensed milk etc. The particular recipe that I made uses fresh coconut, jaggery, cardamom powder and ghee.
While there were many recipes using sugar, I sought out one that specifically uses jaggery. Jaggery is, essentially, unrefined cane sugar. Because the molasses is not removed from the sugar cane, jaggery remains a beautiful golden color and is sold in semi-soft amorphous blocks (not loose and granular like white sugar). Unlike white sugar, with it’s nondescript sweetness, jaggery actually has some flavor of its own. It is similar to molasses, but far more mild, and a touch grassy and earthy. If you have ever chewed on raw sugarcane, you will understand what I am talking about.
In addition to the fresh coconut, I also rolled the ladoos in dried, sweetened coconut flakes dyed with some food color to make them even more festive. I wasn’t quite sure how they would turn out, as I have never made anything remotely like this before. In fact, the first time around my ladoos mostly just crumbled apart because I didn’t cook the mixture quite long enough. Delicious, sweet, coconut-y crumbles…but still not ladoos.
The second time around, I made some corrections to the cooking time and was able to form the Ladoos in to their proper spherical shape and roll them in the brightly colored coconut garnish. I was so happy about how vibrant and enticing they looked! They tasted great too. They have an earthy, sweet (but not overpowering) flavor and a dense texture full of chew.
My boyfriend said they tasted exactly like the one’s he had growing up. Highest praise I can get :).
Coconut Ladoos (adapted from these Coconut Ladoos)
Makes 15-20, depending on how big you roll them
- 2 tbsp ghee (or butter)
- 2 cups fresh coconut, grated *NOTE*
- 1/2 cup jaggery, crumbled *NOTE*
- 1/4 tsp cardamom powder or 1/2 tsp cardamom essence
- Colored coconut for rolling
- Melt ghee (or butter) in a large cast-iron pan over medium-high heat.
- Add grated coconut and fry until slightly browned, about 5 minutes.
- Mix in crumbled jaggery and cardamom.
- Reduce to medium-low heat and cook until jaggery melts and coats coconut.
- Cook, stirring occasionally, 10-15 minutes more until mixture thickens. The coconut will start to clump together and stick to your spoon or spatula.
- Remove from heat and allow to cool slightly, about 5 minutes or until you can handle it with your bare hands.
- Meanwhile, spread dried coconut onto a large plate.
- Roll the ladoo mixture in to balls, about 1 inch diameter, then roll in dried coconut.
- 1/2 cup sweetened, dried coconut
- 2-3 drops food coloring in 1/2 tsp water
- Place coconut in to a small ziplock bag.
- Add food coloring and water and mix until coconut is completely coated.
- Allow to dry ~20 minutes before use.
- Grating coconut is a PAIN. I do not recommend actually attempting to use a cheese grater. Thats just a good way to hurt yourself. My man tells me that these specialized coconut graters are a common household item in India. I’ve never even heard of one. So, to grate a fresh coconut, I first split the coconut then scored along the meat in a grid pattern, similar to how you would cut a mango. Then I removed the meat, piece by piece with a knife and threw it all in to the food processor for 1-2 minutes.
- Jaggery will be hard to find in your local grocery store. Check for it at an Indian market if you have one near by. If you can’t find it, you can buy it here or simply use a ladoo recipe without jaggery such as this one.