Anticipating festivals can sometimes be more fun than the festivals themselves.
The evidence is all around us. Take the holiday season when just about everyone you meet appears to wear a halo of enchantment and goodwill. Charity spikes, and so does courtesy. The day before Thanksgiving, for instance, you just can't do anything to annoy anyone. Even that woman whose foot you stepped hard on while trying to stumble out at your Metro stop gives you a broad smile and a "don't-worry-about-it" wave. Of course it would be a different story if you were waiting with her and a thousand others outside your favorite store for the hot sale the day after Thanksgiving, but we won't get into that here.
In India, the Diwali season brings on a similar sort of magic. Cities light up, people shine, and there appears to be no dearth of delicious things to eat.
In the India where I grew up, sweets for Diwali were usually made at home. In my home, it was a collaboration between my mom and my very handy-around-the-kitchen dad who would together come up with amazing treats that would be made days in advance and then stashed away for the big day.
One of the most welcome sweets in my home, usually made only for Diwali, were Shankarpali. Shankarpali are tiny, diamond-shaped, deep-fried cookies. Think of them as super-tiny beignets, only crispier.
Shankarpali were the first sweet I tried in my kitchen when I started out as a cook, and they turned out pretty decent even that first time round, so many years ago. That's how easy they are. And fool-proof. Shankarpali recipes typically incorporate ghee and milk, but for our vegan version we replace these with oil and non-dairy milk with no loss of flavor. The saffron is not traditionally used, but I added it for some extra flavor. You can leave it out.
Before we move on to the recipe, I want to draw your attention to my vegan Indian sweets page. You will find a number of delicious, animal-free versions of Indian sweets here for Diwali, and an appeal to make your Diwali this year cruelty-free. Because here's one more thing about festivals: they are the perfect time to start new traditions.
- Put the milk, sugar, saffron, cardamom and oil in a saucepan and heat, stirring, until the sugar is dissolved. Set aside to cool.
- Once the milk has cooled, add 1 ½ cups of flour and stir to mix.
- Add more flour, a little at a time, until you have a smooth dough. It should not be sticky and should be pliable enough to roll.
- Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and set aside at least an hour.
- Divide the dough into four sections. Take one portion, form into a ball, and roll into a disc around 5-6 inches in diameter. You want the disc to be fairly thick.
- Using a pizza cutter, cut the disc into tiny diamond shapes, around 1 inch each. Separate the diamonds and place them on a dish, not overlapping. Continue with the remaining dough.
- Once all your shankarpalis are cut, heat the oil for frying to a temperature of around 360 degrees. You don't want the oil to be too hot or else your shankarpalis will burn outside and remain uncooked on the inside.
- Carefully place the shankarpalis in the hot oil, a few at a time, without crowding. Using a spider or a spatula, deep-fry them, stirring, until they are golden-brown. Place on paper towels or in a strainer.
- Sprinkle some powdered sugar on top of the shankarpalis, for a prettier look.