Semira Arora (’25) | November 19, 2021
Diwali is a holiday widely known as the festival of lights that coincides with the Hindu New Year—but this special day includes more than what meets the eye. From praying to various gods for a prosperous year to lighting diyas and firecrackers, Diwali is a holiday that brings a smile to everyone’s face. I, for one, looked forward to a week of festivities, from the foods to the cultural clothing. One highlight of Diwali is the mouthwatering food, an array of dishes as diverse as India itself. Different parts of the country express their joy for this occasion through savory meals and desserts.
In the Indian state of West Bengal, Bengalis eat a goat curry called mangshor jhol, a popular savory dish eaten on Diwali. The meat is marinated in yogurt, garlic, turmeric, and a spice mix. The spice mix is composed of a blend of cinnamon, cloves, cardamom, nutmeg, and dried chilies. The meat is then cooked and served with potatoes and rice, making for a hearty, yet festive meal for this special occasion. Although West Bengal is known for its seafood, given its proximity to the Bay of Bengal, this dish personifies the robust flavors the state is known for. However, savory dishes aren’t the only popular West Bengali meal. In fact, desserts are just as well known as their spicy counterparts, as their milk-based sweets are famous across India. The popular Bengali sweet of rasgulla is typically consumed during festivals such as Diwali. Similarly, in west India, moong dal halwa is popular during Diwali. This dish is made up of lentil paste, clarified butter, milk, cardamom powder, and fried lentils. It is then topped with golden raisins and pistachios, leaving a silky texture that melts in your mouth.
Another popular sweet in India is jalebi, a treat made by deep-frying wheat flour in a spiral or pretzel-like shape. The fried dough is then soaked in a sugar syrup infused with cardamom and saffron for a sweet taste with a twist. Typically, a jalebi has a crunchy crust and chewy texture in the interior. Sahana Chandramohan (’22) says, “My family is Tamilian. Every Deepavali, my mom makes jalebi, but South Indian style, which is unfermented and soft rather than crunchy.”
My family is from Punjab, India, and it isn’t Diwali if we aren’t fighting over besan ladoos. A besan ladoo is a dessert ball made with chickpea flour, clarified butter (ghee), sugar, and cardamom. This dessert has a nutty taste to it and the warm sweet crumbles into your mouth.
For many, Diwali is a holiday to remember because it is characterized by flavorful dishes and desserts, bringing together the diverse states of India into one shared practice. Food is at the heart of Indian culture, so it is only fitting that it is a conspicuous highlight of an internationally-known holiday.
Ingredients for a Besan Ladoo:
For the ladoo:
- 1 ½ cup of chickpea flour
- 2 tablespoons of semolina
- ½ cup of clarified butter
- ¾ cup of sugar
- 4 tablespoons of sliced almonds
- ¼ teaspoons of ground cardamom seeds
- 1 tablespoon of sliced pistachios
- Put the chickpea flour, semolina, and clarified butter into a pan and mix.
- Turn the stove on medium heat and roast the mixture until it becomes a light golden brown.
- Keep stirring to prevent burning. When the color changes, you should be able to smell the sweetness of the mixture, which takes around 7-10 minutes.
- Remove the pan from the heat and let the mixture cool down, but avoid room temperature.
- When the mixture is warm, add in the cardamom seeds, almonds, and sugar.
- To make the ladoos, take around 2 tablespoons of the warm mixture and press it to form a ball, around the size of a ping-pong ball.
- After the ladoos are formed, dip only a quarter-inch of each ladoo into clarified butter.
- Add the pistachios to the butter covered part of the ladoo.
- Let the ladoos cool, and enjoy! They should be stored in an airtight container.