Diwali is fast approaching, and although things are going to be very different this year, it does not mean that we stop celebrating the festivals that come once a year, and that mean the most to us! Growing up Diwali was the biggest and most anticipated festival of the year that we most looked forward to as kids. It meant a lot of things. Lot of good things, fun things, and new beginnings. For Gujaratis, it also means it is our New Year, as we call it Bestu Varas (meaning New Year!) and signifies new beginnings. Weeks before Diwali commenced, mom would first get the whole house cleaned, from top to bottom. It meant we clean our cupboards and rooms as well, which was a mighty chore! Diwali means safai (or cleaning!). Then came the new clothes shopping, we all had new clothes to wear for Diwali day, new vessels (pots and pans) that mom would buy for the kitchen, and ofcourse with new stuff came new jewelry as well! That is part of the tradition!
Rangoli was a huge part of Diwali that I really enjoyed making every year. Mom and I would go shopping to Vile Parle, and purchase all the colors and diyas, required to make a pretty Rangoli. Every year, that was my job, rather a fun activity for me to make a Rangoli design outside our door. It is meant to bring good luck into your home. It adorns the home and makes it welcoming for guests for the celebration. Rangoli is often made with rice or flowers as well. I loved playing with colors and making pretty geometric designs with the colors and then finally decorating the Rangoli with diyas. I would participate in school and college Rangoli competitions as well. It was seriously my favorite part about Diwali!
Diwali is just NOT Diwali without its snacks and mithais and all the good food!! Mom would go on a rampant spree. She would gather up all the ingredients required to make all the goodies that Gujaratis make for Diwali. She would make sweet and savory snacks – big big dabbas of snacks! The savory would include the below:
- Chorafadi : made out of rice and urad daal flower, rolled and fried, and then coated with some spices. It is perhaps my favorite snack!
- Chevdo : made with poha or flattened dried rice, fried, and mixed with spices, curry leaves, green chillies, peanuts, cashews and raisins, this was very popular too.
- Mathiya : Made out of green gram flour, it is fried, and crispy and really very delicious. Another favorite that mom would make in the best way possible.
- Farsi puri: Puris again fried, made with all purpose flour and spices, and sooo delicious with some Masala Chai
- Chakri : She had a special chakri maker. It was a cylindrical vessel, in which you put the chakri dough, and then there Is a handle on the top, to turn the mechanism inside, and the chakri comes out from the bottom of the cylindrical vessel right into the hot oil, fried, and made crunchy.
These were the main savory ones that she made.
The sweet ones would include:
- Mohanthal : Perhaps my favorite gujarati sweet I think! It is made with besan or gram flour, spices and nuts and ghee ofcourse! IT is really hearty, good for you, and really delicious
- Ghughra : Recipe is here. It is a fried hand pie made with a filling of semolina, nuts, spices, raisins and ghee. Another favorite!
- Kaju Katri : Made with cashews and sugar and some cardamom, maybe nutmeg, this sweet is a favorite amongst all, young and old and anyone in between!
- Penda: made with milk powder and condensed milk, sugar and some nuts and spices, this delicacy is always a winner in my book!
Diwali is a celebration, where it is the occasion to meet people, whom you have perhaps not met in the whole year. It is a chance to catch up, and talk about what you and your families have been upto in the whole year. We would have people come over, or we would go and visit people at their home. People come bearing gifts during Diwali. And we would take gifts to people’s homes as well. It is like Christmas for the Indians! Homes are decorated with lights and diyas. Restaurants and stores look festive. Hotels look festive with all the decoration. Everyone is happy, jovial, and well dressed!
WHY IS DIWALI CELEBRATED?
Lord Rama was fighting with Raavana who had the strength of 10 men. He fought with Raavana for 14 years. He fought to rescue his wife Sita from the clutches of the evil Raavana. After winning the war, Lord Rama came back with Sita and Hanuman, his loyal companion, back to Ayodhya and all the folks were waiting for his arrival. In anticipation and in celebration of his win, the entire city was decorated with diyas everywhere, and hence Diwali is called the Festival of Lights. It is a victory of good over evil, a joyous celebration of the people of Ayodhya.
As kids we would burst fire crackers too and that would get us so excited. I lived in a building, with many other families, and we had a big sort of a courtyard, or compound if you may call it, and all the families of the building would gather there in their prettiest outfits, looking pretty and handsome, adorned in jewels and makeup, sparkles and shines everywhere, and we would chit chat, laugh, and burst crackers in celebration of Diwali. As we grew older, my parents along with their family friends and kids, we were around 5 families, would go out of town for 4 days or so, which would be a lot of fun too! Any outing where you do not have to study or be stuck at home, is a fun one! Lol. So Diwali all in all was one of those best times of the year, that we looked forward to, and loved every minute of this beautiful festival!
Coming here to the United States, where I simply had friends and no family, we would have our own little celebration with food, music, crackers and small festivities. After I got married, my husband’s family lives in LA, so that made it nicer that we could atleast wish each other and chat, even if we were not together during Diwali. Every family has their own traditions, and it is always nice to learn about the different traditions, even though we all are from different parts of India. My husband’s family is Sindhi, they come from the Pakistan part of Sindh, which was part of India before the partition. After the partition, Sindhis migrated from the Sindh area – some to India, some to Pakistan. My father-in law migrated from Sindh to Pune when he was 3. They adapted to the different environment and situations in their own way and made a life in Pune. My inlaws celebrate Diwali by making a curry with 7 vegetables in it. That is their tradition.
Once I had my kids, we made our own little traditions of getting dressed, making a few elaborate dishes, sweets. We also celebrated with my friends and their families, and kids, by having a potluck, and over the years we catered food due to the number of people is our group, growing in size.
Last year I collaborated with Hetal from Milk and Cardamom , where we made 3 sweets and 1 savory dish, and put it together in this Diwali box, that we created together! It was a lot of fun to collaborate, and come up with these fun ideas! We loved what the final box looked like! I was in love with it and did not want to disassemble it! Here is the blog post all about it ! You can read all about it. This year because of COVID, and a few other commitments, we were not able to do this again, although I would have loved to!
I came up with these Nankhatai Apple Crumb Bars, with a mehendi design on the top with Royal Icing, which are pretty simple to put together! They are eggless, and are very tasty, crumbly, soft, and taste like a mix of the crumbly texture of nankhatai, and of apple pie! It is crazy delicious and full of flavor! You will take a bite, and I guarantee you, you will not stop there. I tried, I failed! LOL. The Nankhatai is made with flours like all purpose flour, chickpea flour, semolina, spices like cardamom and nutmeg, saffron, nuts like almonds and pistachios. The mixture forms the base of the bars, and also the crumb part of the bars. The middle filling is the apple filling which is thinly sliced apples, coated with brown sugar, lemon, cardamom, cinnamon, and cornstarch. The layers are baked together for about an hour. They should be completely cooled, and chilled before topping them with the royal icing.
I made royal icing, and then divided it into 4 colors. I used 12 inch pipping bags and Wilton #1 and #2 tips for pipping fine lines. I really wanted to give these bars an Indian touch, so I decided to do a mehendi design on the top. I used one pattern, and continued the pattern throughout the top with different colors of the royal icing. When pipping with the royal icing, you want to make sure that the consistency of the royal icing is not too thick, else it will not come out of the tip and not thin, else it is going to spread and flood. The consistency is very important. Also when pipping, you have to keep twisting the top, such that the pressure is consistent, for the icing to come out of the tip, and you get even lines. I have to admit, it was a bit tough to pipe on an uneven surface of the bars, which has these tiny mountains throughout lol. But it sort of worked out!! You can totally skip the royal icing and serve the bars garnished with edible gold leaf and some dried rose petals.
Your guests will surely be wowed with these bars. They would be perfect to give as gifts too! If you do try these bars, remember to tag #thejamlab on Instagram and/or leave a comment on this blog post!
I will be posting one more Diwali recipe before Diwali so stay on the look out for it!
Hope you and yours are safe and doing well!
Nankhatai Apple Crumb Bars
Nankhatai base and crumbs on the top:
- 1 cup (120 gms) all purpose flour
- ¾ cup (68 gms) chickpea flour (besan)
- ¼ cup (38 gms) semolina
- ½ tsp baking powder
- ½ tsp (3 gms) salt
- 1 tsp (2 gms) ground cardamom
- ¾ tsp (2 gms) ground nutmeg
- ¾ cup (168 gms) ghee, not melted, should be semi solid
- 2 tbsp (30 gms) whole milk or heavy cream
- A pinch of saffron or ¼ tsp saffron
- 1 tsp (5 gms) vanilla extract
- 1 cup (120 gms) confectioner’s sugar or powdered sugar
- 2 tbsp (18 gms) coarsely chopped pistachios
- ¼ cup (22 gms) sliced almonds
- 2 apples (453 gms/1 lb), skin peeled, halved, core removed, and thinly sliced
- ½ cup (100 gms) light brown sugar
- 1 tbsp (7.5 gms) cornstarch
- 1 tbsp (15 gms) lemon juice
- 1 tsp (2 gms) ground cardamom
- 1 tsp (2 gms) ground cinnamon
- 1 tsp (2 gms) ground fennel seeds
- 2 cups (240 gms) confectioner’s sugar
- 1 ½ tbsp meringue powder
- 3-4 tbsp warm water
- Colors depending upon what colors you want to decorate on the top of the bars.
- 8x8 inch square baking pan
- Parchment papers
- Cooking spray
- Americolor gel colors
- 12 inch pipping bags
- Wilton #1 and #2 pipping tips (atleast 2 each)
- Bench scraper
Nankhatai base and crumbs on the top:
- 1. In a medium bowl, add in the all purpose flour, chickpea flour, semolina, baking powder, salt, cardamom, nutmeg and stir to combine.
- 2. In a small bowl, add in the milk, warm it in the microwave for 15 seconds. Add in the saffron, cover and let it steep to get the color and flavor.
- 3. In the bowl of a stand mixer, with a paddle attachment, add in the powdered sugar and ghee. Start on slow speed for 30 seconds until the mixture is incorporated. Increase the speed to high for 1 minute, until light and fluffy.
- 4. Add in the saffron-milk and vanilla extract and mix to combine. Use a rubber spatula, to clean the sides of the mixture and bring it to the center of the bowl.
- 5. Add in the dry mixture, into the bowl and whisk at slow speed to combine, until incorporated.
- 6. Add in the almonds and pistachios and combine again.
- 7. Grease an 8x8 inch square pan with cooking spray. Put a parchment paper with an overhang. Put another parchment paper for an overhang on the other 2 sides as well. This will make it easier to lift it off the pan. Use cooking spray to spray inside the parchment as well.
- 1. In a medium bowl, combine all the ingredients and gently mix to coat all the apples evenly.
Assembly and baking:
- 1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
- 2. Add 2/3 of the nankhatai mixture into the pan. Press it in and make sure it is evenly distributed. Use a small offset spatula to level it out nicely and evenly.
- 3. Add the apple filling into the pan. Level it out neatly with a rubber spatula.
- 4. Crumble the remaining 1/3 of the nankhatai mixture on top evenly distributed throughout the pan. Using a rubber spatula, press it in and level the mixture.
- 5. Put the tray in the middle rack of the oven and bake for around 50-60 minutes, until the top is nicely browned.
- 6. Remove and let cool completely for 2 hours.
- 7. Put it in the fridge and let cool for 5-6 hours.
- 1. In the bowl of a stand mixer with a paddle attachment, beat the confectioner’s sugar, meringue powder and water, first at low speed, until combined. Increase the speed to medium and continue to mix until it is light in color and holds a stiff peak, for about 4 minutes. Do not overmix.
- 2. If you need the consistency to be a little smoother, add in 1 tsp of warm water at a time and then whip with a rubber spatula to combine. You will feel the consistency while whipping.
- 3. Separate out the icing into 4 small bowls. Add in the color respectively, and using a separate small rubber spatula for each bowl, whip vigorously to combine and get the color you want.
- 4. Get 4 pipping bags, inserted with a Wilton #1 or #2 tip for fine pipping lines. Put each colored royal icing in each pipping bag. Use a bench scraper to scrap it down to the tip. Twist and seal the pipping bag.
- 1. Remove the bar from the fridge. Pipe away using the colors on the top of the bar. Always remember to keep twisting and keeping the pressure, so that the royal icing will come out consistently to give consistent lines.
- 2. Once pipping is done with whatever design you desire, put it back in the fridge overnight to set.
- 3. Remove the next day and cut them up with a sharp knife into 16 squares. Make sure to clean the knife after ever cut so that you can get clean cuts.
- 4. Store in an airtight container in the fridge for upto a week.
- 5. The pipping bags can be kept in the fridge for upto 10 days. Keep the tips secured by wrapping it with a damp cloth so it does not dry out the icing.