Celebrations and sweets are so closely tied together, especially in India, and perhaps Diwali/ Deepavali is the one festival that is more about sweets than any other Indian festival I know of. It’s the one occasion when there’s so much sweet stuff going around that it’s enough to send one into a sugar induced coma! It is a festival that’s celebrated almost all over India in Hindu homes, but the way it is celebrated differs from community to community. It can be a half day celebration in some places while some others celebrate it over five days!
Diwali/ Deepavali is also known as the “Festival of Lights”, because people who do celebrate this festival light up their homes with oil lamps at dusk and keep them burning way into the night. Like most other festivals in India, Diwali is one more occasion where the triumph of good over bad is celebrated.
In my community of Palakkad Iyers, Diwali is traditionally celebrated a little differently. For one thing, we don’t light oil lamps so it really isn’t a Festival of Lights for us, though I have adopted the practise of lighting oil lamps as part of our festivities at home. We light oil lamps at dusk only when we celebrate Karthi/ Karthigai Deepam which is our Festival of Lights.
For us Diwali starts with getting up early in the morning and lighting fireworks/ bursting crackers at the break of dawn. Then everyone has a ritual bath that involves anointing oneself with coconut oil and washing it off, leaving one with a silky smooth skin and lustrous hair.
Then we dress up up in new clothes bought especially for Diwali, seek our elders’ blessings and then get down to the business of a heavy festive breakfast of Dosai (savoury, thin and crisp South Indian rice and lentil crepes), Sambhar (a tangy and spicy vegetable and lentil curry), Coconut Chutney and Ukkarai (a sweet made with lentils and jaggery) and then a taste of whatever sweets and savoury items have been prepared for the festivities.
A little later these sweets and savouries are packed and shared with friends and neighbours. That’s about it as far as our Diwali celebrations go, unlike the more festive and colourful Diwalis in the rest of the country.
I have over the years, added several non-traditional (to our community) sweets and savouries to my repertoire of Diwali specialities. What I make every Diwali mostly depends on what I would like to experiment with that year and what my family asks for, apart from the regulars.
This year we are not celebrating Diwali, but I decided to make something easy to mark the festivities rather than let them pass us by. Not that it’s easy to forget that its Diwali season here in Goa, with cooler and misty mornings, colourful “Aakash Kandils” (Diwali lanterns) decorating porches everywhere and giant sized “Narakasura” effigies in every corner of the neighbourhood waiting to be burnt down early on Diwali morning signifying the triumph over evil.
Many of the sweets and savouries made for festivities tend to require quite a bit of time and effort, so starting on them a day or two ahead is the way to go. Much as I like to cook, one thing about festivities I do not look forward to is spending a lot of time sweating over the stove.
So I’m a fan of recipes require very little effort but turn out stuff that look like you’ve spent a lot of time on them. I always have a few such “easy and comparatively quick” recipes on hand that take a lof the grind out of festive cooking. Sometimes, all it takes is some planning and doing some of the stuff ahead.
This year, my “easy/ quick” recipe is Kalakhand which is a milk based sweet topped with almonds and pistachios. Kalakhand is soft and fudge-like in texture and made with full fat milk, paneer (Indian fresh milk cheese) and sugar which is cooked until it thickens. Traditionally, it means cooking down and reducing sweetened milk over low heat and this involves a lot of stirring and takes quite a while. My easy/ cheat’s version does away with all the stirring and reducing the milk by using sweetened condensed milk, milk powder, store bought paneer and takes very little time to make.
If you want to cook this in even less time then you can cook the Kalakhand in the microwave. I understand it takes about 5 to 6 minutes of microwaving at 100% power, but don’t take my word for it because I have never cooked Kalakhand in the microwave. I prefer to make it on the stove top.