In India, right now, ’tis the season to be holy. Everyone’s just winding down from a birthday bash for Ganesh the elephant-headed god, Dussehra’s already at the doorstep, and Diwali will be here before you know it. All of this festival fever is accompanied by, quite naturally, a whole lot of food. A lot of it sweet.
It’s more than a week now since I returned home to Washington but I am still in an India state of mind. All I want to do right now is go back and squabble with the rickshaw drivers in Chennai about the fares, stare upon a lush landscape in Savai Vere, Goa, and watch a movie with my arm tucked in Desi’s at Regal Cinema in Bombay.
Unfortunately life makes it hard to have fun when you want to, and therefore all those plans will just have to wait. So what I have been doing instead is cooking up some favorite Indian foods. And because it is festival season back in my favorite place, some of it is– you guessed it– sweet.
I came up with this very easy Besan and Cashew Halwa because I was looking for a tastier alternative to a very popular Indian sweet that often pops up at Diwali but which Desi detests– Besan Laddoo. For those who are not familiar with laddoos, picture them as spherical cookies that, like cookies, are available in a variety of flavors and textures. Apart from Besan Laddoos, made with garbanzo bean or chickpea flour, you have Rava Ladoo which is made with sooji farina, Til ke Laddoo made with sesame seeds, Coconut Laddoo, laddoos made with puffed rice (kurmura) and so on. I had an uncle who ate a laddoo made with a powder of fenugreek seeds (methi) and jaggery every day of his life. Fenugreek seeds are infused with lifesaving nutrients that fight diabetes, cholesterol, and all that bad stuff and Bhau Mama –one of the fittest people I ever knew– firmly believed this laddoo, among other healthy habits, helped keep him fit. This year he celebrates his 100th birthday and seeing him again– still healthy and fit — was one of the highlights of my visit to India.
My Besan and Cashew Halwa is perhaps not as healthy as a methi laddoo, although one could argue with merit that chickpea flour is good for you. I added the cashews because I wanted to soften the flavor of the besan which, although lovely to some of us, is not something Desi loves. The cashew powder also helps give a great flavor boost, making the absence of the ghee quite unnoticeable. I have some lovely cashew nuts that I just brought from Goa where this nut grows abundantly.
I wanted to share a few more pictures of my India trip with you all, so I’ve pasted them after the recipe. Thanks to all of you who enjoyed my travel posts. I could not leave you without a few more glimpses into some of the amazing places I traveled to and the even more amazing people I encountered.
But first, here’s the recipe.
Besan and Cashew Halwa
(Makes 16 servings)
1 cup besan or chickpea flour, sifted if it is lumpy
2 tbsp walnut oil
8-10 green cardamom pods. Peel the pods, discard the skins and crush the black seeds in a mortar and pestle until you have a fairly fine powder
1/2 cup cashew nuts ground into a fine powder
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup water
Add 1 tbsp of walnut oil to the chickpea flour and mix it in with your fingers until the besan assumes a slightly grainy texture. Set this aside for about 10 minutes.
Heat the remaining walnut oil in a saucepan with sloping sides or a kadhai. Add the besan and cook over medium-low heat, stirring frequently, until the besan gets a couple of shades darker, around 8 minutes.
Add the powdered cashews and again stir-fry for another 5 minutes or until the besan is cooked and a deeper yellow. You want to stir frequently so that the besan doesn’t burn.
Remove the besan to a plate or a bowl and set aside while you prepare the sugar syrup. To make the syrup, mix the water and the sugar and the powdered cardamom in a saucepan and cook until the sugar has dissolved and the mixture bubbles.
Remove from the heat and mix in the besan. Stir fast so the besan doesn’t lump up. When you have a smooth mixture, remove the halwa to a bowl.
Garnish with cashew nuts. The halwa will firm up a little as it cools. Scoop it with an ice-cream scoop or a spoon to serve.
And now for the pictures:
|Girls wait to cross the road outside their school in a small town on the road from Madurai to Kodaikanal, a beautiful hill station in the south Indian state of Tamil Nadu.|
|Tamilians are big coffee drinkers — their coffee made in a special steel filter is one of the best you will ever taste–and here’s their version of a cup and a saucer: a davra tumbler.|
|A beautiful old church covered by early-morning clouds in Kodaikanal.|
|Giant eucalyptus trees march across the landscape in Kodaikanal. You can smell their fragrance everywhere. And below, the gnarly roots of the trees create a natural stairway to help hikers navigate steep trails in the hill station.|
|An unusual home for a community Ganesh idol in Kodaikanal.|
|Visitors brave slippery stones to wade through a waterfall|
|A bhel vendor mixes up a snack for his customers.|
|In beautiful Kodaikanal, the clouds roll beneath you, often covering up the landscape right when you want to have a look. But who’s complaining?|
|This cute boy outside the Meenakshi temple in Madurai begged Desi to take his picture and yelled “super!” after viewing it. He then walked away, happy as could be.|
|In Raia, Goa, children go home after school, including this boy on a cell phone who’s getting a ride on a scooter driven by his mom.|
|At the bustling market in Madgaon a vendor displays piles of fiery red chillies, garlic, tamarind and dry fish– all staples for Goan curry.|
|Mumbaikars, tired of the city’s congested roads, make an appeal to a higher authority.|