Top 5 Indian Desserts – jalebi – the whirl of delight

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.

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