Thought for Food Books

Laddoo No. 1

Ma key haath key laddoo. What is it about these five little words that they never fail to throw up an image of a long-suffering mother, toiling away in the kitchen or in front of a sewing machine, all for the sake of her (often ungrateful) children?

I refer to the oft-heard line from Hindi films, which means ‘laddoos prepared by mum’. I have lost count of the number of films where a mother, usually clad in white, would tell her son, ‘Here, I have been making laddoos for you’. And the homesick son would always recall those laddoos with tears in his eyes.

The laddoo occupies the top rung in the Indian hierarchy of sweets. It’s served on all happy occasions — from the birth of a child, to a marriage, to examination successes. And in Hindi films, of course, it is a symbol of a mother’s sacrificial love and outshines every other sweet. Somehow, Ma key haath key Mysore pak doesn’t evoke the same emotion.

Television chef Ranveer Brar puts it well. “Pedas, laddoos, barfis, jalebis and kalakands will have their takers. But if India has to choose a national sweet, the most likely contender will be the laddoo, and for some good hearty reasons,” he writes in Come Into My Kitchen.

Laddoos, Brar says, are omnipresent and every region has its own version. “And every mother, grandmother and aunt will have her own recipe.”

But times are changing. And even Brar has been conjuring up exotic variations of the old favourite. He shares a recipe for motichoor cookies and urges readers to try out a motichoor laddu with whipped cream.

That the old sweet is being given a makeover became clear to me when I read the Indian Accent Restaurant Cookbook by Manish Mehrotra and came across his besan laddoo tart served with saffron cheesecake.

Laddoo tarts?

“Laddoos made with besan are a common sweet prepared across India. My mother, and my friends’ mothers, would always pack a dabba (box) full of besan laddoos when we returned to college in Mumbai at the end of the holidays. We didn’t eat them in solitary splendour. Dabbas would be opened as soon as we reached the hostel, all of us competing to see how many laddoos we could eat. Each looked different — some were plain, some filled with dry fruits. But in all of them we could taste a mother’s love,” he writes.

For this exotic dessert, he kneads besan laddoos to create a soft dough-like mixture. He lines a tart mould with this and refrigerates it overnight. Because the laddoos are prepared with ghee, the tart shell hardens. And he bakes a cheese cake in it.

It sounds delicious, but I must say I cherish the old-fashioned ones I grew up on. Unlike Mehrotra and his friends, the laddoos that came for me from my village were jealously guarded. One could never trust a hungry hosteller.

In western Uttar Pradesh, where I grew up, laddoos were served in pairs before a feast, and a person’s stature depended wholly on how many he could eat. I wonder how many laddoo with cheesecake or laddoo cookies they could handle.

The writer likes reading and writing about food as much as he does cooking and eating it. Well, almost.

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Printable version | May 6, 2021 6:12:55 PM |

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