Recipe: Meals with Malouf
Diwali, the festival of lights, is the biggest and brightest festival in India’s calendar. It’s celebrated by Hindus, Jains and Sikhs but has also become increasingly popular and mainstream in countries with large Indian communities. I love the idea that all around the world people gather to watch fireworks displays and light sparklers, candles and diyas (small clay pots) on the big night. Eating and drinking is at the heart of all religious festivals and Diwali is no exception.
The food itself reflects local traditions – both internationally and within India itself – but there is no prescribed special Diwali meal, as for a western Thanksgiving or Christmas. At home, people simply eat their favourite foods, although as many Hindus are vegetarian, they will usually include a huge spread of savoury snacks, spicy pastries, puffy breads and as many vegetable dishes as you can manage.
One thing that every Indian will agree on, however, is that sweets – or mithai – are an absolute must. Although many people nowadays do prefer to buy their sweets, there is still a thriving tradition for families to get together in the weeks before Diwali to make their particular favourites. Barfi, halva, gulab jamun and besan laddoo are all popular, and simple to make at home, with the added bonus of being able to control the sugar and fat content better. One of my favourite sweets are jalebi –twisty, deep-fried pastries that are gold with saffron, and sticky with syrup – but I find most shop-made versions are too tooth-achingly sweet. For me they are better when light-as-air, crisp and delicate, and you can achieve this by dusting them with a spiced sugar instead of dunking them in sugar syrup.
Makes 14 TO 16
FOR THE FRITTER BATTER
15 to 20 saffron threads
175g plain flour
1 tbsp dried yeast
75g thick natural yoghurt
250ml warm water
A pinch of salt
Vegetable oil for deep-frying
FOR THE PISTACHIO SUGAR
120g icing sugar
50g ground pistachios
½ tsp ground cardamom
1 Combine all the ingredients for the pistachio sugar and mix well. Transfer and store in an airtight container until ready to use.
2 For the batter, first infuse the saffron threads in 2 tablespoons of boiling water for an hour before using.
3 Sift the flour into a bowl. Sprinkle on the yeast, then whisk in the warm water and the yoghurt to form a batter.
4 Stir in the saffron liquid and salt, then cover and leave to stand for at least 2 hours or up to 12 hours.
5 Pour the vegetable oil into a small, deep, heavy-based saucepan, to around 5cm depth.
6 Heat the oil to 190C. If you don’t have a candy thermometer, the oil will have reached temperature when it is shimmering, and when a blob of batter sizzles up to the surface in a few seconds.
7 Pour the batter into a piping bag fitted with a narrow nozzle, or into a plastic squeezy bottle. Pipe the batter into the oil, working from the centre outwards in a spiral. Use the size of the saucepan as the template for your fritter size.
8 Don’t worry if you do not make a perfect spiral, a free-form, lacy effect is just as pretty. Cook for 1 to 2 minutes, moving the fritter in the hot oil with a slotted spoon so it colours evenly.
Once the batter has set, turn it over in the oil to colour. Lift the fritter out of the oil with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels for a moment. Repeat with the remaining batter. Dust the pistachio sugar over the