It is indeed ironic when people talk of going on a diet around Diwali so as to not gain weight. Festivals are food that also have its origins in eating according to the seasons. The festival of Diwali takes place after the monsoons or in some parts of the country, when the rains are just abating.
The body needs nutrients in the form of energy giving foods to keep the organs and other vital functions working in a balance. The answer lies not in avoiding sweets but in the type of sweets and the quantity in which they must be consumed. The joint family system was one where members of the family were involved in making the different ghee laden sweets at home. This would result in each person having about 10 each over the course of 3 days. The calories from the sweets would be used up by way of the energy spent enjoying the Diwali festivities.
Desi ghee adds vitality to the sense organs, aids digestion, adds lubrication to the joints, boosts memory and strengthens the immune system. Cane sugar when mixed with ghee to make different delicious Indian sweets adds warmth as well as a cooling effect on the body. Cardamom and saffron add necessary vitamins and minerals for wellness along with the myriad dried fruits and nuts.
Frying the mithai in ghee allows for the proper absorption of the gram flour, natural sugar and other ingredients added to the making of these sweets. Eating sugar free sweets or using another medium of fat like olive oil or a nut oil hampers the assimilation of the traditional sweets during digestion. The ancient combinations were part of old Vedic food science in which desi ghee played a vital role in wellness, especially during Diwali.
Recipe for Kasi halwa / Dumroot halwa / Kushmanda halwa (serves 6)
White pumpkin which is considered cooling in summer months in a South Indian buttermilk gravy, takes on a warmer avatar during the festival of lights. The ash gourd, cooked with copious amounts of ghee and sugar, flavoured with saffron or cardamom and garnished with dried fruits and nuts is a delicious mithai which is easy and nutritious to make at home . A small gourd is ample for a family of 6. It is a tasty treat. The recipe can be tripled to accommodate large gatherings or to share with loved ones.
White pumpkin (grated)– 3 cups
Lemon juice- quarter or half a lemon depending on taste
Palm sugar or any sugar of choice- 1 1/2 cups or to taste
Ghee – 1/4 cup
Saffron strands-½ tsp
Cardamom powder-1 tsp (optional)
Cashew nuts – 10-15, chopped or halved
Rock salt- a tiny pinch
Hot water-1 tsp
Grate the pumpkin after removing the seeds.
Place the grated pumpkin in a thin muslin cloth and squeeze to remove all the excess water. Use this water to flavour soups or boil and drink with some salt.
Keep the ball of grated pumpkin aside.
Soak the saffron in 1 tsp of hot water and set aside.
In a deep pan, heat 1 tablespoon of ghee on a low flame. Add the cashew nuts and raisins. Fry to a light golden brown and set aside.
Add 1 more tablespoon of ghee to the same pan and add the grated pumpkin. Keep stirring on low heat until the pumpkin strands change colour to yellow. The texture will go from crunchy to soft when cooked.
At this stage add the sugar, lemon juice and salt. Once the sugar is added, the water from the pumpkin will mix with the melted sugar and turn the mixture watery. Do not worry. It just needs to be cooked down.
Add the soaked saffron and mix. Keep stirring. Add the remaining ghee and continue cooking until the water dries up. As the water dries up and the mixture starts to leave the sides of the pan, care has to be taken to not let the pumpkin halwa burn at the bottom of the pan.
Keep the heat on low and continue stirring and mixing until the ghee rises to the surface. The pumpkin should become a dark golden colour and turn sticky.
Take off the fire and keep aside. Add cardamom powder, the fried cashew nuts and raisins. Keep some aside for garnish. Mix in the rest.
Serve hot or warm. This delicious halwa is a comforting dish perfect for a festive feast and a family get together. It’s a wonderful recipe to make along with children and to serve at any Diwali meal.
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