Deepavali is also known as the “Festival of Lights” and is meant to symbolise the Hindu religious concept of “light conquering darkness.”
In Singapore, it is celebrated with a lot of fanfare with families waking up at dawn to bath in oil, dressing up in colourful clothing, and offering prayers. At home, lamps are lit all over the house, doors have green mango leaves dangling, and colourful designs called "kolam" are drawn on the floor. It is a time when families get together and celebrate.
Food and Festivities are synonyms in India. In Singapore as well, the celebrations include making, eating and sharing traditional dishes. There are numerous sweet and savoury dishes prepared that become part of the families favourite and thus traditions.
The Singapore Tourism Board (www.stb.gov.sg) along with LISHA (www.littleindia.com.sg) organised a culinary workshop at the Indian Heritage Centre in association with the Indian Chefs & Culinary Association of Singapore (https://www.facebook.com/ICCA.SINGAPORE). The culinary workshop included a recipe demonstration of a Deepavali savoury biscuit/snack called Curry Kalakala followed by a hands-on-practice recipe of a dessert called Nei Urundai.
While developing the recipes I kept two things in mind. One, to keep it authentic and the second was to keep it as healthy as possible. The first recipe is Nei Urundai, meaning Ghee/Clarified Balls, is a sweet dish made with roasted Split Mung Beans, nattu sakkarai or also called Jaggery and of course Ghee. All these ingredients are easily available in Indian stores across the Island.
Traditionally, this sweet is made with sugar but I have replaced it with nattu sakkarai as it has a less sweeter and a healthier option. After all the Health Promotion Board of Singapore (https://www.facebook.com/hpbsg) has been recommending that we eat healthier this Deepavali!
As a MasterChef Singapore Contestant I have learnt the importance of making sweet dishes that are not unidimensional. I have played along the lines of accentuating the caramel flavours of Nattu Sakkarai to mimic a salted caramel by adding some sea salt in the dish.
Here is the recipe for Nei Urundai.
1 cup roasted and powdered Split Mung Beans
1 cup Nattu Sakkarai
A pinch of Cardamom Powder
1/2 tsp of sea salt
2 tbsp of Ghee
5-6 Fired Cashew Nuts to decorate the sweet.
Take a cup and a half of Split Mung Beans, dry roast it on a pan without oil. Make sure you don't leave the pan unattended and keep stirring the beans to toast brown them evenly. Once browned, remove from heat and let it cool. Once cooled, powder it in a blender jar meant for grinding spices or masala. You will get one cup of roasted, powdered Split Mung Beans.
Take a cup of Nattu Sakkarai, melt it in a pan with 4 tablespoons of water. Once melted add in the powdered split mung beans, pinch of cardamom, 1/2 tsp of salt and ghee.
Let it cool a bit so you can handle it. While it is cooling, roast the cashew nuts in a teaspoon of ghee until it is slightly browned.
Once the mixture is slightly cool, roll it into a ball. Adorn the sweet ball with a cashew nut. Serve.
During Deepavali all families not only make sweet dishes but also make many traditional savoury dishes as well. Every bite of sweet begs for a bite of savoury and that is why is absolutely critical to have something salty-crispy during Deepavali.
The idea is not to make something labour intensive even though festivals are a great occasion to hone those "bakshanam" making skills. This, easy to make, Curry Kalakala or popularly known as Indian Diamond Biscuits are deep-fried and therefore don't need an oven. Of course you can go ahead and bake them, but baking batches of them will be time consuming.
Kalakala, traditionally are sweet biscuits but also have a savoury version that people make at homes. I have made this a combination snack with a little bit of all flavours. The MasterChef twist to this dish is that I have used Madras Curry Powder or Sambar Powder along with some Curry Leaf Powder to make every bite an interesting composition. And to keep it healthier I have included whole wheat flour in the recipe.
Here is the recipe for Curry Kalakala.
1 cup plain flour/maida
1 cup whole wheat flour/atta
1 tsp powdered sugar
1 tsp salt
1 tsp Madras Curry Powder/ Sambar Powder
1 tsp Dry, Powdered, Curry Leaves
1 tbsp of ghee/oil
Approximately 1 cup of tepid water to mix and make a stiff dough.
Mix all the dry ingredients i.e. plain flour, whole wheat flour, powdered sugar, salt, madras curry powder, curry leave powder in a mixing bowl. Add a the ghee to the mixture and ensure you mix it well with your fingers.
To make the dry curry leaf powder, just dry fry (without oil) fresh curry leaves on a pan till it dehydrates or crisps up. Then blend it in a spice blender to a powder.
Add tepid water to the mixture and knead it to a stiff dough. Cling wrap and let it rest for 15 minutes.
Divide the dough into four. Roll each portion in to a ball. Roll each ball into a flat disk of around 1 cm thickness. Ensure the disk is of uniform thickness. Do not use any dusting flour while rolling to a flat disk.
Use a pizza cutter to cut diagonal and then across to make diamond shaped pieces of the dough.
Heat oil in a deep frying pan. Once it is hot enough that when you put a piece of the dough it starts bubbling and frying then the oil is hot enough. Lower the flame a notch and then slide in each diamond cut piece of dough. Make sure they don't clump together in the oil. Fry until they are browned on both sides. Pull it out with a slotted spoon on to a kitchen towel. Serve.
Take a bite of the Nei Urundai sweet then go for a bite of savoury Curry Kalakala, then repeat.
Wishing you all a Happy, Prosperous and a Healthy Deepavali!
Check out https://www.facebook.com/Officiallishasg/ to see the Facebook live posts of the workshop conducted.
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