Deep fried dough is a delicacy. French would eat ‘beignets’, the Italians ‘ciambelle’ and the South Americans ‘hush puppy’. In India we have the balushahi, gulab jamun and the jalebi. But for the time being, move over all, for we choose – as the star of this week’s search – jalebi. Interestingly, jalebi is a corruption of the word ‘zalabia’ which belongs to Arabic. Scripts have also given us proof that a Jain work by Jinasura dated 1450 AD mentions of a feast which includes jalebies. So we know it goes quite far back in history!
Well, every farsan shop, be it a nondescript Nandu at the corner of your lane or a glass shelved mithai centre in a strategic corner of the local station, would have a huge pile of yellow or orange coloured jalebi in the early hours of the morning: likely to be breakfast time. And they will sell as soon as the stuff comes out of the syrup. In fact, sometimes there is a waiting period especially on Sundays. The recipe varies in different parts of the country. In South India, they use ground urad with a little rice flour or a mixture of besan and wheat flour. In the north, it is either white flour or besan or a mixture. In Bengal, they make jilipi using saffron to give the orangish colour and the base is white flour or a mixture of chenna and khoya. Though made in small and large sizes, this spiral sweet has been made even three feet wide at one time. Some jaleba! Wonder how many people would have feasted on it?
Our feast begins with the normal eight centimetre ones available. Best had hot if one carries them home, the temperature is bound to come down. In any way, it is good that way because then you are absolutely ready to eat it! This recipe will make about 30 pieces. Place 1½ cups refined flour (maida) in a bowl, add 1 ½ cups water and beat with your hands for ½ hour. The batter should not have any lumps and should be absolutely smooth. Cover the bowl and keep in a warm place to ferment for 20 hours.
Beat the batter with your hands again for 15 minutes. Add ¼ teaspoon edible yellow or orange colour and 2 tablespoons refined flour and beat again for 10 minutes. To prepare sugar syrup, cook 2 cups sugar with 2 cups water. Cook, stirring continuously, till all the sugar dissolves. Add ½ teaspoon green cardamom powder and cook, stirring, till the syrup reaches one string consistency. Let the syrup cool but ensure that it remains lukewarm. Heat 2 cups ghee in a jalebi kadai. Pour some of the batter into a plastic squeezy bottle. When the ghee is heated, lower the heat and holding the bottle over the hot ghee, gently squeeze the batter into the ghee in round spirals. Start from outside to inside for better results. Fry, on both sides, till the jalebis are evenly golden and crisp. Drain and soak in the sugar syrup for 2-3 minutes. Drain and serve hot.
Traditionally, the batter is squeezed through a jalebi cloth which is a piece of thick cloth in which a three mm hole is made in the centre. Jalebi making takes some practice and patience. To start with, try making individual jalebis and when you have perfected that, try making them together in a row. To make crisp jalebis, add a little rice flour to refined flour. Only after you feel confident about making jalebis progress to making imarti at home.
US based well known cookbook author Monica Bhide who was instrumental in getting my book HOW TO COOK INDIAN going has a very interesting blog:
She is contending for the 2011 best blog award and sends the link:
I have of course given my comment: “Monica, this is bang on. According to me every thing great in this world is just pure and simple. And it is not restricted only to food; be it music, be it art, be it writing, be it life, simpler the better. For trained professionals it is often hard to unlearn complexities and see dishes from a simple perspective. When I started teaching recipes and cooking through my television show, Khana Khazana, I was often lambasted and criticized by my fellow chefs for showing very simple dishes on TV. Today with the longest running food show in this part of the world, my stand is vindicated. I think you have been able to present simplicity in your food and recipes with such ease, comfort and elan that would make chefs with complex recipes go green (with envy)! Thank God you have not spent years learning complex dishes!”
Now getting ready for the Sanjeev Kapoor’s Kitchen shooting that will go on for more than a week. My choices are simple and if at all the recipe reads a little complex, when you see it on the programme, it will look simple!
A taste of my latest favourites :
Till I write again
It’s time for confessions. Confessions about the love for confections! For a true Indian palate will vouch for the passion for mithais. For us in India, happiness means sweets, mithais or mishthan, call what you may! We love all sweetmeats and love them very sweet. Somebody from a western country might just comment that they are too sweet because their palate just cannot take it. It is the occasion and the celebration that necessitates the distribution of sweets for they are the symbol of spreading sweetness and happiness.
Mithais seem to have won the taste buds the world over and Indian sweets have extremely high visibility these days. Be it the fudge like dry sweetmeat barfi and peda, or the syrupy Gulab Jamun and rosogulla that require a bowl and a spoon, the sticky deep fried balushahi and gujiya, the fragrant hot halwa and jalebi, round besan laddoo and motichoor laddoo, creamy milk puddings like rice kheer or seviyan and then shahi tukre. A description of Indian sweetmeats requires reams of paper, a gourmet to relish them and the constitution to digest them. A quicker version of kheer is the ever popular phirni and a variety like Badam Pista Phirni, Rasgulla Phirni, Kesari Phirni make interesting bowlful of dessert at parties.
Indian sweetmeats and sweet makers are a world unto themselves, a world that draws anyone who has a very sweet tooth into a series of temptations! Indian sweetmeats are not only sweet, but also rich. If you do have a good supplier of fresh mithai like the local halwai then your life is made because making the sweets themselves can be a sticky (rocky) road to success. What one needs is the inclination to try it out the very first time and then remove all fear of failure. Generally, sweet making is a family business handed down from one generation to the next. Halwais are understandably reluctant to pass on their recipes and the tricks that make them work, so finding the perfect recipe requires luck and persistence. Then, as in all branches of confectionery making, it requires not only the ability to follow a recipe, but practice and observation of how the mixture behaves at every stage of preparation so that the end result is worth the time and effort invested.
Some traditional desserts that will never go out of fashion are given here for you: Gajar Halwa, Rasmalai, Kesari Kulfi!