Sunday, November 7, 2010

Happy Diwali!

November 5 officially marked the Hindu festival of Diwali. During Diwali Hindus light lamps as part of the festival; in reading about it I came across this quote that I believe is absolutely beautiful:

"What is the significance of lighting a lamp? There is a logical answer to this question. It is through the light that the beauty of this world is revealed or experienced. Most civilizations of the world recognize the importance of light as a gift of God. It has always been a symbol of whatever is positive in our world of experience.
To Hindus, darkness represents ignorance, and light is a metaphor for knowledge. Therefore, lighting a lamp symbolizes the destruction, through knowledge, of all negative forces- wickedness, violence, lust, anger, envy, greed, bigotry, fear, injustice, oppression and suffering..."

And while I do not prescribe myself to any religion, the idea of celebrating knowledge and the beauty of knowledge's capability to illuminate the world in such a way that we can erase oppression, injustice, fear, etc. seems like one of the best reasons to celebrate that I can think of.

Thus, moving into a less serious tone of thought, I decided to partake in the Diwali celebration by attempting to make a delicious north Indian dessert, Gulab Jamun, that I have always enjoyed. 

My partner and I, self-proclaimed gulab jamun amateurs, went to work on these delicious pancake-like balls of syrupy sweetness, and the recipe that follows is what transpired:

Gulab Jamun

Sugar Syrup Ingredients:
1 cup of sugar
2 cups of water
2-3 tablespoons of cardamom powder or 3-4 cardamom pods
1 tablespoon cinnamon (optional)
1-2 tablespoons rose water (optional)

Directions for Sugar Syrup:
Mix ingredients in a sauce pan, heat mixture to boiling while stirring, until sugar dissolves. Allow mixture to boil for a few seconds, then turn down to a simmer. Leave syrup simmering, so that it may thicken (though you do not want it too thick, a good thin syrup consistency). Be sure to stir it occasionally, as you are making the jamuns, so that the sugar doesn't burn to the pan. 

Jamun Ingredients:
1 cup dry milk powder
1/4 cup flour
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/8 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 cup milk
Oil for frying

 In a thick bottomed pan (like a Dutch oven, or just a thicker bottomed sauce pan), pour enough oil in to cover the small jamuns in, and turn on a low heat (between 2-4, if using an electric oven). Let the oil heat up while you are making the jamuns (you do not want your oil too hot, as the jamuns will instantly burn, they need to fry slowly so that they can plump up and cook thoroughly inside and out). 

* Mix all of the dry ingredients together in a bowl, then add butter. Using your fingers mix the butter in until the butter is completely crumbled up and integrated into the dry mix.
*Next, add milk, and mix into a sticky dough. Form one large ball, and then from that ball make smaller balls (about the size of a rubber bouncy ball you would get from a quarter machine, or a large marble). Place these little dough balls on a plate, and cover in a damp (but not wet!) paper towel. Let sit for about 10-15 minutes. 
*Now, test your oil by placing one jamun in it. It should take a good 15 seconds for it to rise to the top, and then it will slowly cook from there. If it cooks faster than that, or fries to a crisp, your oil is too hot and you should turn off the heat or remove the oil from the stove until it cools down.
Jamuns frying
*When your jamun cooks at the appropriate pace, you can then add about 6 or 7 at a time. Gently turn them in the oil using a spatula,so that they cook evenly on all sides. Once they have plumped up and are golden all the way around (this takes a few minutes), remove them from the oil and set them on a plate to cool. 
*Once all of the jamuns are finished, you can remove your sugar syrup from the heat, let it cool for a few minutes, and then place the jamuns in the syrup. They may be eaten immediately, or you can let them sit overnight (so that they soak up the syrup) and warmed up the next day. Either way, they are delicious.

Finished Gulab Jamun
Enjoy! And be sure, while you are enjoying these delicious sweets to think about the meaning and significance of Diwali, and maybe in your own way celebrate your own triumphs over darkness in life.

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