Dry fruit hampers are selling like hot cakes but where are the traditional home-made sweets

Are you wondering which special goodies to dig into this Diwali? The festive platter may have ample to offer from the home-made thick and delicious creamy ‘kheer’ and syrupy gulab jamuns to the sweet and spongy ‘roshogollas’ and gur (jaggery) sandesh, pedas, kaju barfis, besan laddoos, that inevitably monopolize ‘mithai’ bazaars.

The festival of lights acquires different hues for different people from sparkling crackers, dazzling dresses to exchanging innovative gifts. But for many a feast of sweets is still what matters the most. Sweets just can’t be ignored even though you realize you no longer are the sweet toothed you used to be few years ago. At the same time, the customary feasting on sweets too seems to have palpably reduced. Very often you hear people saying, “I have stopped eating sweets”. News dispatches on diabetes alarm also make you reluctant.

May be this is a reason why the ‘diwali corners’ inside supermarkets and malls are nowadays less sweet in character. Step into any fancy store and shelves are packed with dry fruits in attractive containers. There are other innovative add-ons too, like assortment of delicious cookies, yummy chocolates, spicy namkeens and even crunchy cornflakes.

From Rs.60 to 900, the price tag gets heavier with the packaging, especially for the dry fruits depending on the type and size of a container. The quantity of almonds, pistachios, cashew nuts, walnut, raisins and the like may be less but it is beautifully wrapped inside crystal bowls or steel tray with gold rims, pearl pet bottles, wooden boxes, bejewelled glass cases, nattily embroidered cloth bags, colourfully painted and embellished paper bags.

“The utility of the containers and its lasting value is a major deciding factor behind these purchases,” remarks Kishore V.Shah, owner of Remuki departmental store, who expects 2,000 packets of dry fruits to go off his shelf this season. Last year I sold 1500 packs. Sale of sweets has gone down by 90 per cent,” he adds.

Echoes the FSM departmental store manager Ravi: “People are increasingly going for out-of-the-ordinary stuff. Sweets have less shelf life and an overdose plays with peoples’ health. I have already sold 750 packs of dry fruits and expect the number to touch minimum 3,000.”

Even scented candles, brightly painted terracotta diyas, wooden rangolis, colourful lanterns and artificial lights, perfumed oil soaps and deodarants are in the race against sweets and marking their presence in diwali sales.

“We don’t stock sweet items except Haldiram’s Sonepapdi. People are very health conscious now. Dry fruits packs are the fastest moving followed by chocolate hampers. I can see 2,000 of these units moving out of my store this year. Already I have had bulk orders and corporate bookings for 300-plus packs,” shares Lakshmanan Venkatesh, store manager of Reliance Super.

“Sweets are passé. Quality of sweets, given the mass production during such occasions, is also doubtful. You can’t be sure despite shelling out so much. The rising cost of commodities coupled with lack of time has also taken a toll and women no longer fancy the idea of preparing the items at home. Instead, picking up something that has value-addition and will remain longer is convenient and fashionable,” endorses Dr.G.Vasu, city hotelier.

Specially designed festival hampers sans sweets may not necessarily be a wrong choice as presents. They too help in bond building. But who will deny festivals are all about cheer, merriment and most importantly eating. Distribution of sweet also signifies the importance of serving and sharing. Less than a decade ago, most of you would have seen in your homes the women getting together and making a variety of goodies through the night. Different types of murukkus, malpuahs, coconut laddus, athirasams, paniyarams would be savoured on Diwali day and many days thereafter and also divided and distributed among friends, relatives, neighbours.

Just the way earthen diyas are gradually giving way to electric illumination of homes, crackers are getting more colourful and visually delightful, traditional attires are going chic with fusion, sweets too are on trial now. We tried to rediscover some old and traditional Diwali sweets, with the help of some ladies in the city. Try out these time-honoured, indigenous recipes this festive season and revel in the cheer.

UKKARAI

The ‘ukkarai’ is also called ‘paruppu puttu’ in simple terms. It is a protein rich dish and tastes the best if cooked in bronze or brass vessel, according to A. Kalyani, home maker. “If properly prepared it stays good for more than a week. This dish is prepared on the day of Deepavali and offered to God. It attracts both young and old alike,” she says.

What goes in:

Bengal gram (chana dal) and powdered jaggery: One kg each; Cashew nut: 100 gm;

Cardamom: 50 gm; Gingelly oil: 400 ml; Ghee: 100 ml

How to make:

Dry roast the dal till it turns brown. Soak the roasted dal for 15 minutes. Drain the water and grind the soaked dal into a paste, sprinkling water if necessary. Heat gingelly oil in a heavy-bottomed vessel, put the paste and stir till the lumps break into pieces. Add the powdered jaggery and cook the paste in low fire. Stir continuously until it turns into fine sand like texture (puttu consistency). Heat the ghee and roast cashew nut. Add the ghee and roasted cashew to the dish and put cardamom for flavour. Serve the dish hot or cold.

ASOKA

The dish can well be called the emperor of Deepavali sweets, for its rich taste. It is more in the genre of halwa. “It is popular in the delta region particularly in the Thiruvaiyaru area. It just melts in your mouth and the taste lingers on,” adds Ms.Kalyani

What goes in:

Green gram (moong dal): 500 gm; Milk powder, maida and wheat flour: 200 gm each;

Sugar: One kg; Kesar powder: (for colouring); Ghee: 750 gm; Cashew nuts: Five to 20

How to make:

Roast wheat and maida flour in little ghee till it turns light brown and kept it aside. Prepare sugar syrup and keep it ready. Steam-cook the moong dal and mash it well. Transfer the moong dal, roasted wheat and maida flour in a thick vessel and pour little ghee. Now add the sugar syrup, ghee and stir continuously till the ghee melts. At this stage add milk powder and kesar powder. The mixture now starts to thicken. Cook well until the mixture reaches the consistency of tomato puree. Roast the cashew nuts in ghee and garnish the dish.

KARKANDU VADAI

Karkandu vadai is a permanent feature in the Chettinad platter for Deepavali. With more than 52 years of cooking experience, RM. Saroja Aachi is an expert in it. “Sweetness is moderate in this dish and is liked by everyone. Consistency of batter decides the taste of this dish,” she says.

What goes in:

Raw rice: 400 gm; Black gram (Urad dal): 300 gm; Powdered rock candy (karkandu): 500 gm; Refined oil: One litre

How to make:

Wash and soak rice and urad dal in water for 45 minutes. Drain the water and grind the rice and urad dal adding rock candy. Grind it without adding water and to a thick paste. Keep it aside for 15 minutes. Take a scoop of batter and flatten it. Deep fry in oil till the vada turns golden brown. Relish the delicious karkandu vada hot or cold.

VELLAI PANIYARAM

Though the dish does not have a big ingredients list, much care has to be taken while preparing it. It too has a prominent place in the Chettinad cuisine, says Saroja Aachi.

What goes in:

Raw rice: 500 gm; Black gram (Urad dal): 50 gm; Salt: To taste; Refined oil: One litre

How to make:

Soak both rice and urad dal in water for 30 minutes. Drain the water and grind rice and urad dal. Add salt to the batter. Heat the oil and now pour a cup of batter in oil and fry it. Once the bottom portion of the paniyaram is cooked, turn upside down. Remove the paniyaram and check whether it is fully cooked. Serve it hot or cold.

MANOHARAM

Rich in taste, manoharam is also a traditional and popular sweet from Chettinad. It also finds prominence in weddings. Homemaker KN. Visalakshi, adept in making the dish says, “consistency of dough and jaggery is vital.”

What goes in:

Green gram (Moong dal) and vanaspati: 1.5 kg each; Black gram (Urad dal): 300 gm; Raw rice: 300 gm; Jaggery: 1.25 kg; Roasted gram: 150 gm; Coconut: Half shell

How to make:

Cut coconut into small pieces. Deep fry it in vanaspati and keep it aside. Powder the green gram, black gram and raw rice. Mix it gently and knead until the dough gets smooth. Heat the vanaspati in a pan. Take the dough and put it into a mould (manoharam achu) and press out long strings into the hot oil. Fry it and drain the oil. Crush the fried sticks into small pieces. In a separate pan, dissolve jaggery in one cup of water and strain. Heat the jaggery water in another pan until it starts foaming to get a string consistency. Pour the sticky syrup over the crushed sticks and add fried coconut pieces and roasted gram.

(With inputs from T.SARAVANAN)