Diwali, the festival of lights is one of the major holidays celebrated by Hindus worldwide and starts in a couple of days. The festival spans across 5 days and symbolizes the triumph of good over evil. The lighting of the traditional earthen oil lamps and lanterns is symbolic of dispelling the darkness (metaphorically and literally), by illuminating every corner of one’s home. Elaborate rangolis adorn verandahs and courtyards, while home-made paper lanterns in spectacular colors dot rural and urban landscapes, gently swaying in the breeze, as children and adults alike light the ubiquitous firecrackers that are such an integral part of how this colorful festival is celebrated in India.
Nostalgia lane: I have vivid memories of my grandmother and mother “cooking up a storm” in the weeks leading up to the festival, as they prepared scrumptious sweets and savory snacks to share with family, friends and neighbors on this holiday. The most divine aromas wafted down hallways as cinnamon, nutmeg and saffron were sprinkled into traditional Indian sweets, and sandalwood was combined with whole turmeric to create a fragrant home-made paste that was applied to the face before the traditional oil bath, and before dressing in your “Sunday best”.
On this auspicious occasion, I would like to post a recipe that is fitting, I hope, for this occasion. The featured saffron-mango recipe is called a “halwa”. Somewhat similar to a pudding, halwa is a traditional Indian dessert often made by cooking carrots (carrot halwa) or semolina (suji halwa) with sugar, milk and fragrant spices. The featured recipe adds a festive touch to the traditional semolina halwa by blending the aromatic and luscious mango pulp and saffron strands with the semolina and milk base, to create a virtual “melt in your mouth” dessert.
No of servings: 3, ½ cup servings
- 1/2 cup coarse rava (semolina)
- 2 tbsp peanut oil
- 2 tbsp sugar
- 1/2 cup milk
- 2 tbsp alfonso mango pulp, canned (available in Indian groceries)
- a few strands of saffron
- pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
- slivered almonds 3-5, and/or cashew halves for garnish
- Dried cranberries for garnish (optional)
- Heat the oil in a small, thick bottomed pan.
- Add rava to the pan and sauté on low heat for a few minutes, stirring constantly until the faint aroma of roasted rava begins to emanate from the pan.
- Watch for signs of burning and adjust heat accordingly. In the meantime, heat the ½ cup of milk in a microwave. (Please note that you need a 1:1 proportion of rava and milk, so I used a ½ cup of milk using the same solid measuring cup as the one used to measure the rava)
- Heat on high power for about 90 seconds or more if need be, until the milk is steaming hot.
- Stir in the saffron strands.
- Add the hot milk with saffron to the rava in pan, stirring rapidly on low heat to allow to blend and being careful to ensure that the rava does not stick to the bottom of the pan.
- At this time, the rava should lose it’s grainy and raw texture. (Figure 1)
- Remove from the stove and gently mix in the 2 tbsp of mango pulp until thoroughly blended and the mixture takes on a golden- yellow hue.
- Return the saucepan to the stove top and stir in the sugar on low heat until blended. The halwa will begin to look smooth by now. (Figure 2).
- Using a grater, grate a pinch of fresh nutmeg directly into the pan.
- Stir to combine.
- Serve warm or cold garnished with slivered almonds or cashew halves and dried cranberries.
Chef’s tip: Please note that it is very important that the milk is steaming hot when added to the roasted rava, otherwise some grains will remain raw. Likewise, make sure that the milk has been completely absorbed by the rava before adding the mango pulp as the hot milk may curdle if it comes in contact with the mango pulp. Also, remove from heat before adding the fruit pulp.
Registered Dietitian’s tip: Like all traditional holiday desserts, the original version of this dessert is laden with ghee, sugar and whole milk. I have reduced the sugar by at least ½, using a small amount of the mango pulp to offset the reduction in sugar, switched to peanut oil rich in mono unsaturated fats instead of ghee, and used fat-free milk instead of whole milk to reduce the overall caloric density without reducing taste. A very Happy Diwali and a Happy, Healthy and Prosperous New Year to all my fellow bloggers and readers!!
Disclaimer: The content of this blog is strictly for informational purposes only and should not be construed as medical advice. Please consult your doctor or Registered Dietitian for recommendations tailored to your unique needs.