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