Diwali (or Deepavali or Dipavali) is the festival of lights celebrated by Hindus, Jains, Sikhs and some Buddhists in the autumn to signify the victory of good over evil. This year, it falls on Saturday, Nov. 14.
Preparations start with a deep cleaning of your home to get rid of unwanted things you no longer have use for. Homes are lit up with diyas, which instantly brighten up every corner, signifying light over darkness, welcoming prosperity and wealth into your life. And then, of course, comes the cooking: an array of savory and sweet snacks to enjoy with your friends and family.
One of the most important aspects of any special occasion in Indian culture are the desserts. There are hundreds of varieties across the country, but I chose barfi, peda and kheer, as they were a big part of my upbringing. The recipes are simple to make and use very few ingredients. Whether or not you are celebrating Diwali, these sweets are sure to hit the spot.
I am keeping my celebrations very low-key this year, given the ongoing pandemic, but that doesn't mean I can't enjoy treats for my favorite holiday.
This coconut barfi was one of the first desserts I learned to make in my mother’s kitchen. It is usually made with fresh grated coconut, but that is not as readily available to everyone, which is why I recommend dry, unsweetened, desiccated coconut for this recipe. It is reconstituted with whole milk and cooked with condensed milk until lightly toasted, then topped with a roughly chopped, salted butter crumble, which adds a mild, nutty flavor with a hint of pine. If that's not your thing, you can substitute with pecans, walnuts or almonds.
Peda or “pera” are a genre of sweets from India that are fudge-like in consistency and can be formed into various shapes and sizes. Traditionally, they're made with khoya or milk solids, sweeteners such as sugar, jaggery or condensed milk, and a mixture of nuts. Khoya is made by reducing whole milk for hours, until all the water has evaporated and you're left with a soft brown mass. To cut down on the cook time, this recipe substitutes khoya for milk powder, and the dish turns out just as creamy, soft and melt-in-your-mouth delicious. Infusing the base with saffron gives it a bright yellow color with floral honey notes. These pedas freeze and travel extremely well, which means they are easy to share with friends and family during the holidays.
Kheer is a rice pudding made by reducing milk, sugar, dried fruits and spices like cardamom, cinnamon and saffron. There are many different variations on kheer across India. The most common base is rice, which is what I have used in this recipe, but other versions include tapioca balls, vermicelli noodles and grated bottle gourd. You can use any short-grain rice, but using the floral basmati variety is what makes the flavor so uniquely Indian and special. Creamy and comforting, this dessert is a sure crowd-pleaser.