Everyone knows what Diwali is about so I won’t bore you with details of the festival of light and good versus evil stuff. Crackers are out, thanks to the Supreme Court, yay, let’s celebrate the decision by bursting some…uh-oh, green crackers. Whatever.
Deciding on the perfect Diwali menu is challenging. That’s because this is the time to burn resolutions, not carbs or fat, and to indulge in rich, delicious tasty food that would cause the knotted and combined dreadlocks of your personal trainer to stand up in quills like the fretful porcupine. Choosing the ideal menu is difficult if you are hosting family and friends and the dieter to gourmand ratio is seriously disproportionate. Mega fights have broken out over menu choices and Aunty Meena and Uncle Manjunath had to be taken to separate nursing homes.
Anyway, I make no claims to expertise on the spiritual side but here are my Diwali notes acquired from a lifetime of dedicated eating based on the simple principle that one eats for taste, not fuel.
A wonderful Diwali starter is an almond milk thandai, made duh, with almond milk, a sprinkling of spices and infused with a delicate touch of kesar. Everyone knows farsaan but for the palatally-evolved, there is cholafali, a traditional Gujarati snack that is widely enjoyed during Diwali. Light and fluffy, with a sour and spicy seasoning of chilli powder and amchur, aka dry mango powder, this savoury fritter is irresistible, especially for calorie-counters.
For snacks, I love namak pare, those crisp munchies, besan sev or even better, mathri, These are savoury Punjabi biscuits served with Mom’s aam ka aachar or Rajasthani green chilli pickle, the taste of this jugalbhandi is totally insane and you can never stop at two. Aloo tikkis, served with chole or dhokla, served with sonth and pudina chutney are superb Diwali starters. Murukku and Koraishutir Kachoris, basically fried bread with a mildly spiced green pea stuffing, are brilliant. The Maharashtrian Dabeli is a super variation on the boring old vada pav: take the spicy potato filling, douse it with hot and sweet chutney, add grapes, pomegranate and onions, stuff it in a hot pav, sprinkle with sev and Moti’s your uncle. Dabeli rocks, like totally.
Dahi bhalla, not dahi vada, pillowy soft vadas without the hole in the centre, embellished with plump raisins, soaked in salt water, wrung out and covered in beaten dahi, a generous helping of sonth, that lipsmacking relish made with dates, deghi mirch, garlic, tamarind, garam masala, rock salt, roasted jeera powder, dried ginger and a dash of gur. Of course this needs to be balanced with pudina chutney, deep green with a hint of chilli…awesome!
A winter sweet treat loaded with dry fruits, pinni is a Diwali favourite in most Punjabi homes. Think of fresh whole wheat flour, sinfully roasted in desi ghee with dry fruits, khoya and sugar until it caramelizes and turns into a rich golden brown in colour. The mixture is then shaped into delicious laddoos which are richly addictive.
Chole batura is my go to favourite: it’s flavourful, hearty and substantial. Personally I prefer the Pindi style chole which was traditionally simmered for hours in a cast-iron wok. One can get the same results at home with two cups of chickpeas soaked in water overnight, a couple of tea bags, lashings of ginger-garlic, finely bhunaoed onion, pepper, jeera, green chilli, cinnamon, cloves and bayleaf, lal mirch and coriander. The tea bags give it that smoky black colour while the remaining ingredients combine harmoniously to give it body and flavour. I love the original recipe which calls for anardhana or dried pomegranate powder, mace, ajwain, asafoetida and tamarind, with a healthy pinch of dried mango powder and fresh coriander for garnish. Plus fresh ginger juliennes, this, served with piping hot bhatura is perfect for the season.
Then for the main course I love Palak Mirch Khadi: fresh capsicum, delicately stuffed with savoury spinach and cooked in a dahi khadi redolent with hing, jeera and fresh green chilli. Bagara bhaingan Hyderabadi style with roasted brinjal enlivened with copra, spices, sesame and tamarind pairs well with a simple Doodh ka Palav, basmati rice cooked in milk and vegetable stock.
Mushroom and Rajma curry served with piping hot puris is another Diwali staple followed by moong dal halwa. Of course we have to serve bhindi, made with cashewnuts, garlic and green chilli which pairs perfectly with Lacchedar parathas. Kacche kele ka kebab, is so good you won’t miss non-veg. Beetroot raita makes a pleasant change from the usual suspects: onion, potato et al. Rice served with hara moong dal or Chhattisgarh style kadi pakodi is another great Diwali dish.
For dessert, look no further than moong dal halwa, anjeer burfi, Almond and amaranth laddoos, rasmalai, kaju khatli, nariyal gur laddoos, date and sesame laddoos and phirni.