Glossy pics of goodies like rich fruit cakes, cookies, gingerbread, egg nog from Mother’s Women and Home issues, infinite number of white Christmas stories with Father Christmas, elves and gifts in stockings over the fireplace, a real fir tree decked with baubles and candles – this was the Christmas out of the books.
Kulkuls, roce cookies, murkus, guava cheese, glorious rum and fruit cake, yellow rice and ball curry, a nativity scene set out in a manger cut out of cardboard boxes and a faux tree or a branch of a rare pine, Ashok or even mango tree decorated with fairy lights- this was the Christmas or Kissmiss panduga or Bada Din of my childhood.
We didn’t really celebrate this holiday at home, but went visiting and loved receiving the little trays or plates full of goodies that neighbours would send. Payback time for the Diwali trays!
A lot of goodies seemed similar to what we made at home, but only apparently- for we did not use egg in festive sweetmeats, neither did we use vanilla as flavour. Onion and garlic in savoury snacks was “abrahmanyam” - (unholy/taboo) while alcohol in cooking was wanton, though exotic!
Curious about the preparations in friends’ homes, I constantly compared the two Christmases, feeling delighted when a bauble here and a sweetmeat there matched its western counterpart. Anything less similar was a compromise stomached with the aid of wisdom beyond my years.
With age and experience came the understanding and ensuing marvel at the local adaptations – the jaggery, bananas, jackfruit sweets of Kerala, the use of coconut milk, cashew nuts, egg and rice flour in Manglorean or Goan Kunswar or festive sweets and the garlicky and hot chekka garulus and murkus of the Telugu folks’ kissmiss panduga.
Faithful folk celebrated with the available and the appreciated. The idea was to celebrate life, so it was but natural to venerate a ‘kalpataru’ (tree of life) banana tree or evergreen Ashok tree. The regional interpretations thus and then became more significant.
This year, what with the blog, I started to recreate the magic of Christmas by making kulkuls, the worm shaped treats aptly called ‘kidyo’ or silk worm according to my blogger friend Shirin Sequeira of Ruchik Randhap
I started out in great excitement by researching my favourite bloggers’ recipes and instructions, changing my mind about which recipe to use a hundred times, weighing all the ingredients on the digital kitchen scale that I knew we had somewhere at home. I even sourced BRAND NEW combs of various sizes and shapes (not - really - free airline and hotel amenities). Although the combs were all new, they were washed and dried under the vigilant eyes of my queasy girls. Combs are the best to make the kulkuls, for the tines of a fork are too big, as I had once discovered.
One batch of perfectly shaped kulkuls was painstakingly made, and we had to try them to see if they had an eggy smell, were sweet enough and had that pinch of salt. Some more needed to be munched on to see if they remained crisp after cooling slightly. Then we needed some tea to down these kulkuls to check if they gave that tummy warming feeling, and that’s when their fate was sealed. No one could be bothered to make those shapes.
“What’s in a shape Mom – a kulkul in any shape will be just as delicious! Weren’t we just talking about adaptations? “
So the curly kulkuls became straightforward squares, and I made another departure by sifting some cinnamon sugar on top of these squares.
And then I hit another wrong number by telling Shireen that I had tried her recipe, when really it was another Hilda’s recipe!
So here are the kulkuls– that never really happened. The recipe for the dough is by my fellow blogger Hilda Mascarenhas.
2 cups Maida (Refined Flour)
½ cup fine Semolina/Rawa (optional)
2 tbsp. powdered sugar (I used four as I was not glazing them)
2 tbsp. Vegetable Oil
¼ tsp. Salt
½ cup fresh Coconut Milk (I used tinned)
Vegetable Oil for deep frying
2-3 tbsp icing sugar mixed with powdered cinnamon for dusting
In a sufficiently large bowl, combine flour, sugar, salt & oil. Then add the egg and mix to resemble bread crumbs. Use a little coconut milk at a time & knead to a smooth, elastic & pliable dough. The dough should not be sticky. Turn out the dough on to your work surface or rolling board and knead using your fingers and palms to the desired consistency. You may use more coconut milk to achieve the right dough consistency.
Place the dough in a bowl and keep it covered for about 15 to 20 mins.
If using semolina/rawa, then you need to keep it longer about an hour or two for the semolina to soften.
After the dough has rested, make 4 equal sized balls of the dough roll it out uniformly on a board into a large circular or square shape about 3mm in thickness and cut it into small squares or diamonds.
In a kadhai/wok, heat oil till hot. Do not over heat. To test, just drop in a bit of dough into the oil and if it bubbles up and rises to the surface, then it is time to deep fry the squares golden brown in small batches.
Once they are done, drain them completely using a slotted spoon. Transfer them on to absorbent paper towels/tissue. Remember the squares will continue cooking for sometime once you drain them out from the oil.
Dust with icing sugar with cinnamon powder while the squares are still hot.
Store them in an airtight container.