With Diwali, the festival of lights - and sweets, lots of sweets! - almost here, we talk to cookbook author and Spice Stories star Anjum Anand about how she celebrates, and her cheat's version of a classic Indian sweet.
What does Diwali mean to you?
Diwali is like our version of Christmas and an incredibly exciting and fun time of the year for my family and I. To me it is a very important family time and I always take time away from work to celebrate Diwali with my friends and family. To me, it is a magical time of year and features lots of great food, family time and laughter.
What will you be doing to celebrate Diwali this year?
I will be spending the whole time with friends and family. We have lots of family traditions during Diwali... Like all Indian festivals, it is considered good luck to give something sweet to your friends and family so the day before Diwali, or in the morning, my family and I always buy lots of Indian mithai (small self-contained desserts) and Indian sweets. The night before Diwali we also place little candles or tea lights around our house to show the goddess Laxmi the way to our home (she is the goddess of wealth, which includes health and happiness), which we all light together; it always sets a really lovely atmosphere in our home.
In the morning, my children set out new candles for the evening. We then make little boxes of the Indian sweets, put on some traditional Indian clothes and walk around to our local shops to drop off little boxes to give to everyone who helps us throughout the year. We then spend the rest of the day with family, eating, exchanging gifts and having prayer ceremonies in our homes. We hear the story of Diwali and the children love it and always listen really carefully; I remember doing the same when I was young.
What Indian sweets do you love to make (or eat!)?
I love to make coconut and pistachio barfi, gulub jamun, jalebi and of course my cheat’s rasmalai - they are all absolutely delicious and they are such a treat at this time of the year. I particularly love rasmalai and jalebi.
Get Anjum's recipe for gulab jamun (deliciously sticky saffron-flavoured dumplings) here.
So why is rasmalai is your favourite Indian dessert? Do your children love it too?
Rasmalai is definitely my favourite Indian dessert. In its authentic form, it is made from spongy balls of paneer that have been cooked and soaked in sugar syrup, then placed into a fragrant, milky liquor, so it has this wonderful sweet, creamy flavour and texture. It is absolutely delicious and all the family love it, including my children. Making the balls is an artform - one I confess I haven't taken time to master. But I was told it is was really easy to cheat with ricotta! And I shorten the cooking time by using evaporated milk. This is super easy and really hits the spot.
Anjum's cheat's version of rasmali is faster and easier but still just as good.
For me, my daily ginger chai is reviving, soothing and relaxing all at the same time. So combining my personal pick me up with the Italian classic, replacing the Italian coffee with Indian tea makes complete sense to me.
“It is true that many Indian desserts can be rich and sweet but we do have Indian granitas in the form of a gola. These are little cups of shaved ice, flavoured with your choice of sweet syrups. Shikanji is not a typical flavour- it is the name of a popular lemon drink that is sweet, lightly tangy and gently flavoured with a little roasted cumin powder, black salt and mint leaves. It is really refreshing and moreish. The reason salt was added was to replenish that lost in long, hard days in the sun and the cumin helps cool the body as does the mint. If you don’t want to add black salt (which has a sulphurous smell, but not taste), you can add a little pink salt or no salt at all. It is really subtle and delicious served as a granita and perfect at any time on a hot day. To make it that little bit more special, serve with the simple lemon crème, for a fantastic end to an Indian meal.” Anjum Anand, Anjum's Australian Spice Stories