Thursday, 21 June 2012

The dog, the cardamom and the gulab jamuns!

Gulab Jamuns

I believe coincidences are nature’s way of striving to achieve harmony, synergy and symmetry all the time and in every possible way. No wonder then that I came across these ‘I love cardamom dogs T-shirt designs’ on the internet, just when I had made some gulab jamuns and was unfailingly remembering our best friends and son and brother respectively, Rajah and Sharad.

Seldom have I been able to peel a green cardamom without remembering Rajah. Right from the time he was a gangly and uncouth little pup, Rajah belied his Aussie ancestry by drawing a complete blank when spoken to in English, intensely disliking tradies of the dominant race and taking to the language spoken at home as if he were a Marathi mutt. And this love of everything Indian extended to all food I cooked, from sprout usals, besan pithala and all vegetables to hot idlis and chapattis that he caught mid-air like frisbees. But his special love was for sweets, especially the Indian sweets, the mithais. Rajah’s tail would start wagging as if it were a living thing in its own rights and was furiously trying to detach itself from his rear end. The impetus for this activity was the very simple act of opening the little jar of cardamom, selecting a handful of cardamoms, peeling and crushing the seeds in the little mortar and pestle.

So, what is this post about? Gulab Jamun? Cardamom? Dogs?  I will tick on ‘All of the above’, while sheepishly remembering how we used to love the MCQs that had a fifth choice of a response at E! It used to be the next safest bet after C!  

Yes, I know,  I haven’t forgotten  to tell you about the cardamoms…

These days we hear that sugary foods and sweets are bad for people and for dogs, in no particular order. Most vets, dog lovers and ‘holier than thou’ disciplinarian dog owners obsessed with showing the poor pooch who is the boss, will fanatically keep their dogs sugar free.  But there is something so innocent and appealing about a dog’s love for sweets that one can’t palate the linkage of gloomy predictions of organ failure with a pure and joyous activity like eating sweets.

One whiff of cardamoms and the doggone mutt starts an intense eye balling of every action of the person making the sweets. It’s very hard to shoo this kind of a entranced dog out of the kitchen. Traditionally, sweets made at home or even shop bought are first offered to God as naivedya.  It’s impossible to do it this with a desperado sniffing the kitchen floor for every bit of visible and invisible crumbs that one may have dropped inadvertently while making the sweets. By now the impatient pooch is drooling puddles and emitting soft high pitched whimpers and is about to drive the person preparing sweets mad. So the first sweet is offered to the dog served in the chow bowl or casually tossed and perfectly caught by the ever watchful one. Occasionally, the dog might decide to help itself when you are not looking and spare you the trouble! Laddus, pedhas, pumpkin poris, shakkarparas et al are hogged with unashamed abandon. The dog stays totally spooked and hounds the lives of the keeper of the kitchen for more till the last of the sweets is finished.

Sharad, our ‘free to a good home’ black mongrel who surprisingly looked like his pure bred black lab father, loved sweets unconditionally, too. Why was he named Sharad? Thereby hangs a tale for another day! He had come into our lives when we had become most conscious and keen to cut out sugar and ghee from our diets. Seeing his strong interest in sweets and his willingness to be a dumpster or a vacuum cleaner to dispose of any and all human food and of course, knowing no better, we pampered his sweet tooth.

It all started when one day when he was sick and wouldn’t eat his milk and roti- hmmm, no Purina in India back then- and mother sprinkled some sugar over his food. The sick puppy polished off the plate, pausing from time to time for more sugar. Soon his obsessive love for sweets became a charming indulgence. An aunt would get justifiably offended that her homemade, pure ghee (for some reason many people often used Dalda in those days!) besan laddus were lobbed at the family pooch! He was known to take sneaky licks of lollies and laddus and chocolates and karanjis from the family kids’ hands. He even stole sweets from neighbours houses, but respectfully nibbled them with disinterest as if to show mother that he liked her sweets the best and that he was just humouring the neighbours. 

Oh yes, that reminds me- all dogs have this very clear classification in their minds as to what constitutes ‘tuck’, treats or ‘khau’ (in Marathi) . Treats are not to be wolfed down. They are to be relished on a patch of lawn or grass, or on a mat. They are meant to be looked at and licked at leisurely. Sometimes they are to be buried in the umpteen potholes in the garden patches or even in the folds of the sofa to be dug up in the future.

Only when sweets can’t be carted off, they should be deposited in canine stomachs. I remember Sharad polishing off at least a few kilos of gajjar halwa during my brother’s wedding celebrations over a few days. And not to mention that by then a lot of the house guests gathered for the wedding had heard about his phenomenal love for sweets and caught on to  ‘feed the dog ’ game. Some had even heard of how we ingrates (mother, brother and I) passed on the sweets they lovingly sent/brought for us to the dog. Some well meaning relatives (overtly and covertly) showed their utter disapproval at Sharad’s upbringing! Undaunted by all these controversies, Sharad optimised this opportunity to eat sweets and be the centre of attention in a house full of wedding guests.

Rajah was also of mixed heritage - Kelpie, German shepherd (and we suspect a little bit of Dingo, the Australian wild dog with roots in India). This Aussie pup completely floored us when he started wagging his tail madly and sniffing in the air with half-closed, dazed eyes, an unmistakable grin of an equally unmistakably silly nature on his face. This was the second time I had peeled cardamoms in the kitchen since he arrived from the RSPCA one day. He remembered the fragrance from the first time he got some sheera (sooji halwa or semolina pudding) and loved it.

Pavlov should feel totally validated!

Never did Rajah fail to wag his tail on smelling cardamoms. A favourite family game emerged. We would hold some cardamom under a sleeping Rajah’s nose. His tail would start wagging in his sleep. Deep, pleasurable sighs would emanate from him and his facial muscles would relax into a lazy grin. His paws would twitch as if he were romping in the leash free park- we were convinced he was dreaming of chasing sweet gulab jamuns,  kaju katlis and balushahis with cardamom.

Rajah loved to eat whatever we ate, even fruit. One summer he got hooked on to catching grapes we threw at him with the ease of a Roman senator plucking grapes from a dangling bunch with his lips. Then the kulfi was taken out and he got a small piece to lick. He went crazy with the sensations! Someone wickedly threw a grape at him which he caught in a reflex action. To our utter amazement and amusement, the instant he realised it was not a piece of kulfi, he spat out the grape with such a forceful ‘thooo!’ the grape ricocheted off the timber floor a few meters away!! We were wiping our tears and ROFLing!

Memories of Rajah’s antics bring tears to our eyes, but smiles to our lips. And we celebrate the time we spent with him with sweets, of course, with cardamom. J

Gulab Jamun


1 cup skim milk powder (purists, don’t look down upon the lack of khoya- these gulab jamuns come out well- ask Rajah and Sharad!)

¼ cup plain flour (you can use self raising flour as well and dispense with the baking soda)

1 tbsp semolina

3 tablespoons ghee

A few tablespoons milk at room temperature

Pinch of baking soda

2 cups sugar

1 1/2 cup water

½ tsp grounded cardamom seeds

A few strands of saffron (optional)

1 tsp rose water (great if you can get gulkand or fresh rose petals)

Oil for deep-frying


For the syrup

In a large pan, add water and sugar and bring it to a boil. Add the cardamom seeds and saffron and let the syrup boil for a minute. Remove from heat and add the rose water. Keep the syrup warm. The syrup should be of one- string consistency.

For the Gulab Jamuns

In a bowl, mix milk powder, flour, semolina and baking soda. If you use self-raising flour, don’t add the soda. Rub the ghee into the mixture until it resembles bread crumbs. Add a little milk to make a stiff dough. Roll the dough into one big ball. Dunk this ball of dough into a bowl of chilled water and let it ‘soak’ for an hour or so. The soaking will not dissolve the ball of dough, although the water will turn milky. I was shown this trick by my friend Charu Khandekar, whose culinary skills I hold in great esteem! I think the soaking allows the dough to rise beautifully, fluffs up the semolina and gives the gulab jamuns a grainy khoya like texture. Some solace for us NRIs who can’t access khoya!

After about an hour, remove the ball from the water and crumble it. Although the outside becomes a bit slimy, you will see how the dough has fluffed up- not risen but just become textured.  Knead the crumbled dough with a very light hand so as not to flatten the grain. Divide the dough into small smooth balls, bearing in mind that the dough will grow in size during frying and also when soaked in the syrup. All the while work with a firm but light hand.

Heat the oil in a suitable frying pan on medium heat. The oil should be about four fingers (sideways) deep. Gently place a batch of balls in the oil and shake the pan a bit to move them around so that they fry very slowly and evenly. Make sure the balls have enough space to expand in the oil. The balls will rise and start rolling in the oil as if they have come alive! Lower the heat and continue to fry them till they are very rich dark golden brown. If you fry them too quickly, the balls will burn from the outside and remain uncooked from the inside. Remove the balls from the oil onto kitchen paper and let them cool a bit. Soak the balls into very warm syrup for about cool down for a few minutes before placing in the hot syrup. Allow the gulab jamuns to soak in the syrup for 15-20 minutes.

Pluheeese DO NOT sprinkle desiccated coconut on the gulab jamuns! Sacrilege! 


  1. Excellent mouth watering and would love eat at least TWO!!

  2. Really enjoyed the story, and loved the pics. They look absolutely... *Sigh!*

    And yes, dunking the balls in chilled water is an unusual trick, which I never knew.

  3. Shrutiji I have never seen such beautifully perfect and round gulab jamoons! It must feel great to make them from scratch at home, I am definitely going to try them soon. I am so glad I stumbled upon your blog via Facebook, happy to follow u!

  4. Thank you Shireen. Yes! It is great to make things at home- it's such a rewarding experience!
    And you have such a lovely blog with brilliant photos and recipes! I am honoured that you liked mine and are following me! :)

  5. What a finely written post Babi..the jamun recipe is amazing...loved every bit of description on the 'doggy' tales..Our pet Diego loves sweets too and ofcourse we need to restrict him..But that's part of bringing up a dog; You love them so much that you want to pamper them with an occasional pedha treat but you love them even more so you stop them from the sweet tooth binge.

    1. Yes, Surhuda- you love the mutts and they know it and take advantage of it. I loved the expression - bring up a dog! :)

  6. Hi Shruti,

    This is by far, the best Indian sweet dish which appeals to me and I'm always on the lookout for this dish whenever I go to a shaadi or a party.
    Awesome recipe, thanks for sharing this :)


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  7. Thank you! Going to try soon.
    Really looking forward and I love the stories that precede the recipes almost as much--
    kyi m kaung


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