Category Archives: festival food

Diwali Traditions – Okkarai revisited

Its a refreshing change to get back into the obsessive cooking mode after an extended slump brought about by a general saturation of food related over stimulation of the nervous system. At the same time I realize that since 2010, over three Diwali celebrations I may just have ended up ‘panfusining’ most of the traditional dishes that my family generally serves up. Here’s a recap:

Maa Ladoo: An unbelievably simple confection consisting of fresh ground Garbanzo flour, sugar and ghee flavored with a touch of Cardamom & Saffron.

Lehiyam Truffles: The traditional antidote to heavy Diwali indulgence.

Hazelnut and Almond ‘Cake’ : A burfi using hazelnuts, something that does not figure in any Indian Dishes.

and somethings that are great just the way mommy made them, like the rice chakli known as ‘Vella Thenkozhal’

 Okkarai health bars was one of my earliest experiments for Panfusine and there was a phase when I kept making batch after batch at such regular intervals and got to the point when I never wanted to see, smell or even hear about the dish.. took me a year and a half to get over it just in time for a revised version with some contrasting ingredients for added color.

 Here is the recipe for the redux. Thisversion  is absolutely no ghee involved and makes for a great healthy vegan treat. I used a coconut Palm jaggery, an ingredient borrowed from Thai cuisine. This kind of jaggery is comparatively more soft, and has a viscous consistency. Its perfect for pouting out into the pan. If you’re using regular sugar cane jaggery, just make sure you powder the blocks before measuring out the amount you need.

Okkarai Health Bars:

You need:

1 cup dried Split garbanzo beans (channa dal)
1 cup shelled pumpkin seeds
1/2 cup sliced almonds
1/2cup dried sweetened cranberries
1 cup jaggery, crumbled
1 cup dark brown sugar
1  teaspoon powdered cardamom.

Preheat the oven to 275 F.

Line a 15 x 10 inch baking sheet with parchment paper.

Toast the split garbanzo beans until golden. Add to a container containing scalding hot water. set aside for about 2-3 hours or preferably overnight for the beans to soften. Drain the water and and add the garbanzo into a food processor. Pulse until the mixture breaks up into a very coarse consistency. Transfer into a large mixing bowl.

Lightly toast the pumpkin seeds and sliced almonds and add them to the garbanzo along with the dried sweetened cranberries. Add the cardamom and toss to blend.

Combine the jaggery and the sugar and heat gently until the mixture melts and forms a syrup. When the syrup reaches a ‘soft crack’ (the syrup forms thin malleable threads when dropped into cold water) stage, add the scalding hot sugar syrup into the garbanzo and nut mixture. Fold to evenly coat the syrup around the mixture.

 Spread the mixture evenly on the baking sheet,

Slide the baking sheet into the oven and bake at 275 F for about 25 minutes until the edges begin to caramelize. Switch off the oven and allow the okkarai to rest in the oven itself for about 10 minutes. Remove and score with a sharp knife and cut into bars. Allow the baking sheet to completely cool over a wire rack before breaking up the pieces. Store in an airtight jar.

Bon appetit!

Wishing everyone a very happy Diwali and prosperity filled year ahead!

Diwali Munchies: Hazelnut & Almond ‘Cake’

Its that time of the year again, Diwali, a.k.a the festival of lights.. The brain rewinds to memories from long ago of childhood, the aroma of Diwali savories deep frying in a variety of oils, Peanut oil for the ‘mixtures’ (as chivda is known down south) & ‘omappodi’ , coconut oil for the ‘murukku’ & ‘thenkozhal’ and lots and lots of ghee for the sweet stuff. Every family had  (& still does) its traditional set of munchies. My favorite memories are that of waking up from my afternoon nap to the aroma of curry leaves being sauteed with asafetida to be added to the ‘Miccher’ (mixture). There would be a one foot high hill of various ingredients piled high on layers of newspaper to be mixed by hand before being ladled into the large stainless steel containers.(to be unopened, preferably, until Diwali Eve. Yeah, like that curfew was ever obeyed!!).

Fast forward to this century…Start the Car, drive to Edison, NJ , pick up boxes of stuff from Sukhadia…:-( Go ahead, replace the italicized words with your town & store of choice!

And yet, the heart yearns to recreate the marathon munchie making sessions of the previous generation and I usually like to at least make one sweet & one savory dish to celebrate the event. (in addition to the mandatory Lehiyam). Old traditions carried on, as in the Diwali Eve dinner of Onion & Coconut Sambhar with crispy roast potatoes and deep fried papad, (a tradition adopted from my husbands side of the family).
and some new creative liberties that I began taking last year with classics such as Okkarai (morphed into a health bar)

Thattai (Biscottified)

and a Lavender Badaam ‘Cake’.

Well, This year, its my mom’s recipe for ‘mullu thenkozhal’ for the salty part,

My li’l notebook of recipes dictated by ‘amma’ a week before she passed away.

and the introduction of a new member of the nut family into the South Indian ‘sweets’, Hazelnut.
Aside from flavored  coffee, the first place one associates hazelnuts is Nutella and Ferrero Rocher chocolates. Since it was the first time I had worked with these in South Indian food, I combined it with some almonds but, in retrospect, I realize, the hazelnuts would have been great by themselves.

Hazelnut-Almond ‘Cake’ (Makes ~ 45-50 1  inch squares)

You need:
1 cup hazelnuts, with the outer skin removed
1/2 cup blanched and peeled almonds
1 1/2cup heavy cream
1 1/2  cups confectioners sugar (since this dissolves almost instantly) 
1 1/2 cup milk (2 % will do since there’s plenty of fatty goodness from the heavy cream)
10-12 strands saffron (Disclaimer: I was rather generous with this, resulting in the darker color)
2 -3 tablespoons ghee.

 On a low heat, lightly toast the peeled hazelnuts til they just barely start turning brown & emit a light aroma.

Dissolve saffron in 2 tablespoons of the milk.
In a food processor, combine the toasted hazelnuts and almond &  process to a coarse  grit. Keeping the machine running add the heavy cream and allow to grind to a coarse paste. Dilute with the milk and transfer contents of the food processor jar into a non stick pan.
Add the confectioners sugar, mix well and cook the mixture on a low medium heat (take care to avoid burning the mixture at the bottom of the pan).
Once the mixture begins to simmer, add the saffron infused milk along with the strands.
Stirring frequently, continue to heat the mixture till it begins leaving the sides of the pan. Add the ghee, & continue to heat the mix till it has the consistency of pizza dough and comes together as a ball.  (for want of a better comparison!)
Line a small 6 x 8 inch sheet pan (or a small thali) with Parchment paper or Aluminum foil (brushed thoroughly with ghee).
Drop the mixture into the sheet pan and smooth over with an offset spatula.
Place in refrigerator and allow to set.
When completely cooled, cut into squares. Press halved toasted hazelnuts into the center and serve.

That is my 5 yr old piling on the nuts!

Wishing everyone of you a wonderful & happy Diwali.