Homemade Besan Ladoo for Diwali

October 26, 2011 § 4 Comments

Every year on Diwali I host a gathering and invite friends to join me in celebrating the Hindu New Year. I light the traditional diyas (clay lamps) to guide the goddess of wealth and prosperity, Lakshmi, to our home and wish for her blessing. Diwali is the largest Indian festival and literally translates into “row of lights.” The meaning of Diwali slightly differs in various regions and religions of India though the core message is the same,  the coming out of darkness into the light and the presiding of good over evil.

I searched the internet for traditional Diwali foods to serve at my party and came across a besan ladoo recipe that only had four ingredients and looked fairly easy to make. The recipe called for gram flour which I had never heard of before. I looked it up on the internet and found that gram flour is another name for besan which is the Punjabi name for chickpea and in Hindi it’s called chana.

I went to a few grocery stores in my neighborhood to look for the ingredients I needed for the ladoos. The chickpea flour and ghee were harder to find and I had to drive across town to a large grocery store chain that carries ethnic foods. When I found the chana flour I realized that it’s the same flour that I use to make pakoras, the savory fritters, and wondered how it would taste in the ladoos.

 The next day I followed the brief instructions and tried to make ladoo for the first time. I am not sure where I went wrong but the texture and the consistency of the mixture was way off. There was no way I was going to form a ping-pong ball out of the goey mixture that I was left with. I was surprised at my misfortune as the recipe I used was from a reliable source, a famous Indian chef.

Determined to get it right, I researched besan ladoo recipes on the internet and watched a few YouTube videos. I compared ingredients and cooking techniques and learnt that there are many styles of making ladoos and the proportions of the essential ingredients varies greatly. I found a YouTube video by Manjulaskitchen that is easy to follow and did not contain copious amounts of sugar or ghee. After watching her video, I felt confident in attempting ladoo making again.

I am happy to say that the ladoos were successful and very delicious. I found this recipe straight forward and easy to follow. The semolina flour in this recipe adds a sweetness to the ladoos that balances the pungent flavor of the chickpea flour. The original recipe calls for sliced almonds which I substituted for pistachios for personal preference. For vegans simply substitute the ghee for a vegan butter like earth balance.

Makes 15 ladoos
Cooking time 40 minutes

1 1/2 cups (375 ml) chickpea flour
1/8 cup (60 ml) semolina flour
1/2 cup + 1 tsp (125 ml + 5 ml) melted ghee or butter
3/4 cup (185 ml) sugar
1/8 cup + 1 tbsp (60 ml + 15 ml) pistachios sliced
1 tsp (1 ml) ground cardamom


1. Add the chickpea flour to a medium-sized saucepan on medium heat.

2. Add the semolina flour.

3. Mix the flour together.

4. Pour 1/2 cup of the melted ghee or butter into the flour and mix together. Stir continuously and use the back of the spoon to break up any lumps.

5. Continue to stir the flour mixture on medium heat until the flour is roasted. The recipe says that the flour releases an aromatic smell that signifies that it’s ready. There were many fragrant smells emanating from the flour that were new to me. I could not distinguish what I was supposed to be looking for so I timed the roasting to 10 minutes. This is what the flour looks like at the half way point after 5 minutes of roasting.

6. When the flour is finished roasting. transfer the mixture to a medium-sized bowl to cool for about 10-15 minutes.

7. While the flour is cooling, slice the pistachios. Place 1 tbsp of sliced pistachios into a small bowl and set aside for the garnish.

8. Add the cardamom powder, sugar and 1/8 cup of pistachios to the flour mixture. It’s important to add the sugar while the flour mixture is warm to decrystallize the sugar.

9. Mix all the ingredients together and use your hands to make sure the ingredients are thoroughly incorporated. Take a tablespoon or so of the ladoo mixture into your hands and form into a round ball, about the size of a ping-pong. 

10. Pour 1 tsp of melted ghee or butter into a small bowl. Dip one side of the ladoo lightly in the ghee.

11. Gently dab the ladoo into the pistachios using the ghee as glue.

Indian sweets are served best with a steaming cup of hot chai.


Apple & Peach Crisp with Pecans

October 18, 2011 § 2 Comments

Apples are very popular in my house. My kids like taking apples to school because they don’t get squished in their bags and ruin their homework. My daughter loves tart green apples which she eats in a tradition Indian style, cut into slices and sprinkled with salt and chilli powder, while my son and I prefer sweet crisp apples. With over 7500 varieties available in the world, there’s an apple for everyone’s palate.

Apple crisp is an easy way to satisfy your sweet tooth and use the apples that are in season. I was lucky to find the last of the local organic peaches and included them in my crisp. If you don’t have peaches, you can double the quantity of apples.

Preheat oven 375F
Cooking time 80 minutes
Serves 6

5 medium apples
5 medium peaches
juice of 1/2 lemon
1/8 cup (30 ml) water
1/2 cup (125 ml) sugar
1/2 tsp (2 ml) cinnamon

1 cup (250 ml) oats
1/2 cup (125 ml) all purpose flour
1 cup (250 ml) chopped pecans
1/4 cup (65 ml) sugar
1/2 tsp (2 ml) salt
1/2 cup (125 ml) butter

1. Peel, core and slice apples into 1/2″ pieces and place in a large mixing bowl.

2. Slice the peaches and cut into 1/2″ pieces. Add to the mixing bowl with the apples.

3. Add lemon juice, water, sugar and cinnamon to apple and peach mixture. Mix and set aside.

4. Combine the dry ingredients in a bowl and mix together. Using a fork break down the butter until small lumps form and incorporated into the dry ingredients.

5. Transfer the apple and peach filling into a medium-sized casserole dish.

6. Top the apples and peaches with the oat and pecan mixture and level with a spatula or spoon.

7. Bake in the oven at 375 degrees F for 50 – 60 minutes or until the apples and peach begin to bubble and the oats turn golden brown. Serve by itself or with vanilla ice cream.

Vegetarian Shepard’s Pie for Thanksgiving

October 10, 2011 § 2 Comments

When I was a kid, I thought the name shepard’s pie came from the fact that the mashed potatoes resembled sheep’s fleece. Boy, was I way off. Traditionally shepard’s pie was made with mutton or lamb which is where the name comes from. This version is made with neither lamb or mutton but instead with a soy alternative, veggie beef.

Veggie beef tastes remarkably like the real deal and I have fooled unsuspecting guests many a times. Veggie beef contains very little fat and is high in protein, iron and B12. Veggie beef is usually kept in the cooler section near the produce department in the grocery store.

Shepard’s pie can be made in advance and popped in the oven to bake when ready to eat. Try this recipe with other vegetables and throw in some veggies from your garden.

cooking time 80 minutes
prep time 50 mins
bake time 30 mins
Serves 6

8 cups (2 L) water for boiling
4 cups (1 L) red potatoes
2 cups (500 ml) milk
1/4 cup (65 ml) butter
1/8 tsp (1 ml) salt

2 tbsp (30 ml) olive oil
3/4 cup (175 ml) red onion diced
3 cloves crushed garlic
1 cup (250 ml) carrots sliced into 1/8″ pieces
1 cup (250 ml) broccoli florets
2 cups (500 ml) cabbage cut into 1/2″ pieces
680 grams veggie ground beef
1/8 tsp (1 ml) salt
veggie gravy (optional)

1. Wash and scrub the potatoes and place in a large stock pot with water and bring to a boil.

2. Cook the potatoes until soft and a fork can easily poke through. Drain and set aside to cool.

3. Heat a large saucepan on medium-high heat and add olive oil. When hot add the onions and cook until transparent. Add the garlic and cook until garlic starts to brown.

4. Add carrots and broccoli and cook until veggies start to soften 5-8 mins.

5. Add cabbage and cook until cabbage wilt 2-3 mins.

6. Add the veggie beef and cook until the veggie beef browns, add salt and stir.

7. Grease a medium-sized casserole dish (8″x12″) with oil and add veggie ground mixture. Level with a wooden spoon.

8. Peel the potatoes and place in a small mixing bowl. Lightly mash the potatoes with a potato masher, then add milk, butter and salt. Continue mashing until the potatoes reach a creamy texture.

9. Top the veggie ground with mashed potatoes. Smooth the potatoes over and poke holes using a fork to allow the steam to escape while baking.

10. Place in the oven and bake on 375 F until the veggie beef starts to bubble about 25 mins. Broil until the potatoes brown about 5-7 mins.

Rainbow Swiss Chard Pie

October 5, 2011 § 1 Comment

My daughter loves Greek food, and has since the age of two. For years her family birthday celebration was held at her favourite Greek restaurant. Everyone found it intriguing that a young girl of Indian descent would have such an appreciation for Greek food .We would joke that she must have been Greek in a past life.  To this day she argues that feta is a legitimate snack.  

After some coaxing, my daughter convinced me to make homemade spanokopita. I was surprised at how simple the ingredients are and that spanokopita is fairly easy to make. I decided to try substituting the spinach for rainbow swiss chard which is how I came up with this recipe. Swiss chard is much firmer than spinach and contains less water which makes it easier to roll.

Swiss chard is a part of the chenopod group of vegetables along with spinach and beets.  Chard has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits and the phytonutrients in chard help regulate the body’s blood sugar levels. Surprisingly, one cup of cooked chard contains 3.5 grams of protein.

Cooking time 75 minutes
prep time 45 minutes
bake time 30 minutes
Makes 6 pies
Oven temp 375 F

1 1/2 tbsp (25 ml) olive oil
1/2 cup (125 ml) diced onions
7 cups (1.75 L) rainbow swiss chard
1/4 tsp (1 ml) sea salt
1/4 (65 ml) cup chopped dill with stems removed
1 cup (250 ml) crumbled feta cheese
1 cup (250 ml) ricotta cheese

250 grams (1/2 pound) phyllo pastry
1/4 cup (65 ml) olive oil or butter for basting

1. Cut the stems off swiss chard and slice into 1/8 ” pieces and place into a bowl and set aside. Cut the swiss chard leave into 1 inch pieces and set aside.

2. Heat a medium-sized saucepan on medium-high heat. Add the olive oil and onions. Cook until the onions are transparent about 1-2 mins. Add the chard stems and cook for 3-5 mins until tender.

3. Add the chard leaves and cook covered for about 2-3 minutes until chard wilts.

4.Uncover and cook for another 5-8 minutes until the chard is thoroughly cooked and most of the moisture evaporates.

5. Add salt, turn off heat, add dill and stir.

6. Transfer the chard into a small bowl and allow to cool.

7. Add ricotta and feta cheese to the swiss  chard and mix together.

8. Gently unroll the phyllo pastry and place on a flat cutting board or baking sheet. Cover with a clean tea towel to prevent drying.

9. Take two layers of phyllo and place on  flat surface. Take 3 heaping tbsp of filling and place near one corner of the phyllo.

10. Slip your hand under the phyllo and gently fold over and tuck in the corner.

11. Fold again.

12. Fold in left side.

13. Roll forward.

14. Tuck right side in.

15. Roll forward and tuck in the ends.

16. Place upside down on a baking sheet and brush with oil or butter, applying extra to folded pastry. Turn over and do the same on the other side.

17. Bake in the oven at 375 F for 30 minutes or until the pastry becomes flaky and golden.

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