The original, Marathi version of this article appeared in Loksatta on November 10, 2012 and can be read here.

I got married on Dassera, and by the time I came back from my honeymoon, it was time for Diwali. I had always been fond of everyday cooking and baking and could manage a decent job of it when I got married, but the seemingly complex cooking methods of Diwali faraal stumped me. I had heard of syrups of various consistencies, and that itself was enough to scare me. I had no clue where to start and what to do. My mother-in-law makes the best karanjis I have tasted. They are crisp and short on the outside, sweet and moist on the inside. Like most Maharashtrian women of her generation, she slaves for days before Diwali, deep frying shankarpale (and namakpaare), karanjis, chaklis, and making chivdas and trying to prevent people from digging into the dabbas before Diwali day.

Then, when the day finally dawns, all the family gets together at the in-laws’, and tucks into the potluck of faraal made by everyone. Breakfast that day comprises laddoos, chivdas of three kinds, karanjis, and whatever else the women in the family have decided to experiment with that year. That was new to me. Back home, in my mother’s house, we would always have a hot savory breakfast like idlis or upma with the faraal at the periphery. I had never made a breakfast of faraal entirely!

I think I got away with making a batch of chivda and some coconut fudge on my first Diwali. Then, as I got more experimental, I eventually graduated to laddoos and satoris. Since I started taking cooking and baking classes, I met so many people who said they wanted to try making faraal but the fat content puts them off.  I completely empathize with them—our metabolisms have changed since our grandparents’ Diwalis, and all these scary stories of lifestyle diseases will never allow us to enjoy a deep fried, syrupy sweetmeat again. And yet, the warm and fuzzy memories from our childhood invite us to attack faraal with reckless abandon (and then leave us alone to face the immeasurable guilt later on).

Another common refrain I hear is about the processes for traditional festive dishes being too complex and elaborate. With hours wasted in juggling traffic to and from work and having to do all the cleaning and Diwali shopping by yourself, there is little energy or enthusiasm left to slave in a hot kitchen over woks of hot fat and balls of dough that need kneading, rolling, cutting, and re-kneading. Add to that the woes of mothers and grandmothers who only give you recipes from andaaz, that reckless system of approximation that always results in the perfect product in their kitchens and disasters in ours. Outsourcing faraal seems to be the easy way out but it is far from enjoyable as it is mass produced and compromises are made on quality. Isn’t Diwali about getting together and doing things at home, being thankful for our families and our health? It is so sad that people don’t have the confidence to make something on their own. That’s when I thought of simplifying traditional recipes or modernizing them to suit contemporary cooking styles, equipment, and tastes without compromising their rootedness in tradition. This festive season, I hope you will give these simple recipes a chance and make something from scratch for your loved ones. I assure you, this year, it will be a happier Diwali.

Easy Baked Karanjis with Microwaved Coconut Filling

I’ve used a simple sweet shortcrust pastry recipe for these karanjis. The dough comes together easily in the food processor or mixer and is even easier to roll out using some cling film or plastic sheets. The filling is cooked quickly in a microwave oven and this really cuts down the cooking time.

Ingredients for the karanji pastry:

  • 2 cups flour
  • 2 tbsp. powdered sugar
  • 5 tbsp. fridge-cold ghee
  • A pinch of salt
  • 2-3 tbsp. very cold water
  • 2 tbsp. ghee, melted (to brush on the half baked karanjis)

Ingredients for the filling:

  • 2 cups freshly grated coconut
  • 4 tbsp. condensed milk
  • 2 tbsp. powdered sugar
  • 3 tbsp. coarsely ground pistachios
  • ¼ tsp. cardamom powder
  • A pinch of saffron

Method:

  1. To make the filling, place the coconut, condensed milk, powdered sugar, ground pistachios, cardamom powder and saffron in a microwave-safe bowl and mix. Microwave on high for one minute.
  2. Remove and mix. Microwave again for 30 seconds.
  3. Check the consistency—it should lump up together so that it is easy to spoon. If it feels too moist, microwave for another 30 seconds. Leave to cool.
  4. Meanwhile, make the pastry. Place the flour, ghee, powdered sugar, and salt in the food processor or mixer and pulse until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs.
  5. Now, add a tablespoonful of very cold water at a time and pulse again until the mixture just comes together. The mixture will still look dry but do not be tempted to add more water. The dough will come together as you roll. Tip the dough onto a sheet of cling film or plastic and wrap the dough tightly. Flatten it into a disc and refrigerate for at least half an hour.
  6. Pinch off lemon-sized rounds of the dough and roll them out not too thin, not too thick between two sheets of cling film or plastic. Place a two teaspoons of the filling in the center of the rolled pastry. Now, using the help of the cling, turn one side of the pastry onto the other to form a semi-circle. Press the edges to seal and trim using a pastry cutter or knife.
  7. Shape all the karanjis Place the shaped karanjis on a baking sheet lined with parchment or butter paper.
  8. Place in the center of the oven at 175 degrees centigrade for 20 minutes. Remove and brush with melted ghee and return to the oven for a final 5-10 minutes or until the karanjis look pinkish brown and feel firm and crisp.
  9. Cool completely on a wire rack and serve. These last up to a week in the refrigerator and for 2-3 days at room temperature in an air-tight box.

Quick Baked Namakpaare

Namakpaare, the savory version of Shankarpaale, are absolutely addictive, don’t you think? Here, I’ve made a cracker-like version of these using a blend of plain and whole wheat flour. They are excellent on their own or with a variety of dips (try a mix of hung yogurt and pesto or green chutney)!

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups plain flour
  • 1 cup whole wheat flour
  • ¼ cup unflavored oil (rice bran/sunflower or vegetable oil)
  • 1 tsp. ajwain
  • ½ tsp. red chili powder
  • Salt to taste
  • ¼ tsp. baking powder
  • About ¼ cup very cold water (or as needed)

Method:

  1. Place all the ingredients except the water in a mixing bowl. Using the tips of your fingers, rub the flour to mix.
  2. Now gradually add the water, a little at a time, until the dough just comes together. Knead into a tough dough. Leave to rest for about 15-20 minutes.
  3. Roll out the dough into a 5 mm thickness and using a pastry cutter or knife, cut into squares or diamonds about an inch in length. Prick the centers with a fork.
  4. Place the cut namakpaare on a greased baking sheet or one lined with parchment.
  5. Bake at 175 degrees centigrade for 15-20 mins. or until golden and firm. Cool completely and store in an air-tight box.

*Happy Diwali, dear reader! I hope the festive season brings you and yours good health and happiness.*

Here are more festive recipes from My Jhola that you might want to try this season:

Oh, and I must tell you, I met Chef Sanjeev Kapoor last week as part of a Food Bloggers event. I was surprised by the fact that a man of his stature made the effort to remember all 15 odd of our names and spent nearly 4-5 hours just chatting about food and perceptions. I’m still beaming a bit!

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