For as far back as I can remember, Diwali meant Mysorepak and Pokkuvadam, among other things. We would get up early in the morning, and burst firecrackers. Then we would have our ritual oil baths with coconut oil for the hair/ head and sesame oil for the body. After this we would go and collect our new clothes and blessings from the eldest in the family, usually a grandparent.
Then we would all sit down for breakfast. Most of India celebrates Diwali in more exuberant manner. Diwali is a three or four day affair in some parts of India. Some people visit family and friends, exchange gifts, sweets and savouries. Goa celebrates by making huge effigies of the demon Narakasura and burning it down in the early hours of Diwali morning. This signifies triumph of good over evil.
For us, Diwali is all about breakfast. We sit down to Dosai (savoury lentil and rice pancakes) with Sambhar and Chutney, and Mysorepak and Pokkuvadam of course. I usually also make Ukkarai (a lentil-jaggery crumble), my personal Diwali tradition. There’s normally a temple visit during the morning or the evening. Then we’re done with Diwali when left over crackers from the morning are burnt at sundown.
It is difficult to describe this sweet in English. It is reasonably soft in texture, looks like fudge but isn’t quite fudge. The Middle East might call it Halva. It is a heavenly Burfi like concoction of besan/ chickpea flour, sugar and ghee with a faint hint of cardamom. Our Mysorepak is very different from the soft ghee laden Sri Krishna Sweets style sweet that many people consider the gold standard. I have grown up with a firmer, less ghee saturated, airier and more porous version. This is what is made in my native cuisine and nothing else compares as Mysorepak for me.
This recipe comes down from my grandmother and mother. It uses much less ghee than many other Mysorepak recipes. Though Mysorepak requires very few ingredients, it does some experience to get it right. It goes without saying the quality of the ingredients will decide how good the end product tastes. What really makes (or breaks) this recipe is getting the sugar syrup consistency right. It is also about understanding the correct texture and when exactly to turn out the cooked mixture from the pan to the tray. This only comes with experience. Also, be prepared for quite a bit of stirring and bicep-strengthening exercise!
- 1 cup chickpea flour or besan sieved
- 1 1/2 cups sugar
- 1 cup ghee
- 1 tsp cardamom powder
- Use a heavy bottom largish and deep pan. This ensures that cooking is at constant heat without the food sticking to the pan. I use the pan of my pressure cooker.
- Dissolve the sugar in 1/2 cup of water. Bring to a boil and cook till it reaches a one-string syrup consistency. Take the pan off the heat and add the chickpea flour. Mix well till blended. It will initially form lumps but with some whisking they will disappear to become a smooth mixture.
- Meanwhile melt the ghee in another pan and keep warm. Keep the pan with the sugar syrup-chickpea flour mixture back on low to medium heat and stir regularly or else the mixture will stick to the pan. Adjust the heat as required. When the mixture starts thickening, pour a ladleful of melted ghee.
- Keep stirring carefully till ghee is absorbed. Add all the ghee this way, a ladle at a time, stirring all the while. Once all the ghee is absorbed the mixture will start leaving the sides of the pan to form a cohesive mass. Pour it into a greased tray or thali, about 10”x7” in size.
- Tilt the tray to allow the mixture to spread uniformly. Use the back of a greased spoon to smoothen the top without pressing down. You have to work quickly or the Mysorepak will set and look unattractive. Mark into smallish squares (about 1.5 inch square) or diamond shapes with a sharp greased knife, while the mixture is still warm. Let it cool completely. Cut the Mysorepak along the scored lines. Store in an airtight container. This will keep for a week.