A couple of sweet Diwali treats for a chilly winter evening…
Diwali is probably best known for its lights, decorations, and riotous displays of fireworks. But food and drinks play a big part in the celebrations, too. It’s a time to indulge your sweet – tooth. Dried fruit and nuts enrich and adorn many of the traditional desserts. The choice on offer is dizzying. Singling out one to share with you today was not easy. So I’m actually giving you two. Well, one dessert and one hot, a sweet drink which can warm up any chilly evening.
To make these dishes as inclusive as possible the recipes are free of eggs, dairy and gluten. If you prefer to cook with dairy milk, you can swap it back in by all means. I’ll tell you how in the recipes.
If there’s one type of food you can’t miss in November, it’s the array of winter squashes on offer. Pumpkins of every shape and size are everywhere right now and – whilst most people have heard of pumpkin pie – not everyone knows how versatile squashes can be when it comes to making desserts. You’ll need a firm-fleshed variety for this recipe to work best. So don’t opt for the jack-o-lantern types. Their water content is too high. Butternut squash is good, as are the blue or green-skinned pumpkins with perplexing names like ‘Mother Hubbard’ or ‘Crown Prince’. Some of them, like the Italian Ironbark, are pretty hefty but they keep well in the fridge once cut. If you are lucky to live near an African or Oriental supermarket you might be able to buy pumpkins sold as halves or quarters, which saves you a bit of space (not to mention lugging one home). If squashes don’t appeal, or if they elude you, this dessert can also be made with carrots.
You can play with the spicing of this dish. Swap nutmeg for cinnamon, omit the ginger or the cloves and up the cardamom. Be bold!
Traditionally this dessert would be made with dairy milk and a little ghee would be folded in before serving. I have used coconut milk here because it has a richness of its own but you could swap it for the same amount of cow’s milk. If using ghee, fold it into the cooked dessert as soon as you take it off the heat.
For four to six servings you need :
450g pumpkin or squash peeled and cored weight
A small chunk of fresh ginger (approx. 30g)
Half a nutmeg
3 cardamom pods, split
50g green or golden sultanas
50 g dried shaved coconut
50g pistachio kernels. If you can find the kibbled (the bright green, fully skinned) version they are very decorative
1 x 400g tin coconut milk (or 400 ml of your choice of milk)
100g sugar or jaggery
A pinch of salt (optional)
Grate the flesh of the peeled and deseeded pumpkin. If you have a spiraliser or julienne blade on a food processor you could use that instead.
Peel and finely chop the fresh ginger if using.
Crush the dried spices.
Soak the sultanas in just enough hot water to cover them.
Set all the above aside.
Bring the coconut milk to a steady simmer in a wide-bottomed saucepan, then add the pumpkin, ginger and dried spices. Strain the sultanas and add them. Keep the heat gentle and cook the mixture until the pumpkin is very soft. It could take thirty minutes or so but check after twenty.
Once the pumpkin is soft, add the sugar or jaggery and stir it in. add the salt, too if using.
Now continue to cook until all the milk has been absorbed and the mix looks slightly ‘jammy’. A spoon dragged across the bottom of the pan will leave a clear ‘wake’.
Allow the mix to cool slightly. It can be eaten warm but is not at its best when piping hot.
While the dessert cools, roast the coconut shavings and allow them to cool. You can crush them to crumbs or leave them as they are.
To serve the dessert, portion it onto small plates or present it in a large bowl adorned with as much of the coconut shavings and pistachio kernels as you like.
Baddam ‘Mylk ‘
If you don’t fancy making a full-on dessert, try this sweet drink, as rich and warming as a cup hot chocolate…but prettier! It can be enjoyed hot or cold.
Traditionally this would be made with cow’s milk and enriched with almonds. I’ve worked out a way to make a fresh and very indulgent almond ‘mylk’ instead. It’s a cinch and way tastier than most commercial brands. If you want to make the dairy version simply swap in milk for water.
To serve 4 to 6 small glasses you need
100 g blanched or flaked almonds
3 cardamom pods, skinned and seeds lightly crushed
A pinch of saffron
50 g sugar or honey (or any sweetener you prefer)
1 level tsp. cornflour (optional)
Soak the almonds in the water for at least a couple of hours, overnight or throughout the day is even better. If you are soaking the almonds in cows milk, refrigerate it.
Then add the nuts and the liquid to a blender or food processor and blitz until you have a smooth, creamy looking milk.
Pass the milk through a fine sieve or muslin cloth and discard the almond pulp. Transfer the milk to a pan with the saffron, cardamom and sweetener and bring to a simmer for no more than a minute or so. You want to avoid boiling it, so keep the heat low. It’s ready when the saffron and sweeteners have dissolved.
There is always a chance that fresh almond milk can separate slightly when boiled so this barely noticeable trick to coax it back together with cornflour is entirely optional. Dissolve the cornflour in literally a tablespoon or two of water and stir it into the simmering almond milk. Keep stirring. You will see and feel the milk thicken slightly. As soon as this happens to take it off the heat.
If you want a super smooth drink you can now sieve or pass it one more time although this means you will lose the ghostly remains of any saffron threads which haven’t dissolved. They do look great left as they are. It’s up to you.
Serve immediately if drinking hot. Baddam milk can also be chilled and serve over ice if the mood takes you.
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