Saturday, 5 November 2016

Sleight of hand laadu

Vegan and Low-Sugar Besanacha Laadu

Besan laadus are loved by one and all – right from our modest middle class Marathi homes, to the flamboyant filmy families – yes, those made by “Maa with her own hands”.

I wonder how “Maa” can make them with someone else’s hands….

Talking about mothers and hands, my Aai always rolled laadus with both her hands.

A large portion of the laadu mixture was made into a rough ball shaped with both the hands cupping it, the heel of the hand and the two middle fingers dexterously rotating in opposite directions.  This process was supervised by the artistically curved fore and little fingers, who didn’t realise they were only being kept on this post as they didn’t have a role to play in the real process

The result was a perfectly round large ball of unqualified happiness.

But…. this was in the days when people ate whole and big laadus without a worry.

With time and with our growing health considerations to limit or eliminate sugar and fats from our diets, the size of laadus is getting smaller and smaller.

And there is nothing more irritating than watching a perfect laadu made with such love and care, being broken and scattered and totally wasted.

The only way to do justice to a laadu is to bite into it. Or better still - roll them with only one hand, I mean - smaller, so you could pop a whole laadu into your mouth.

There are other types of sleights of hand we need to learn and practice all the time.

For the last few years since my daughters have become vegan, I have started experimenting with alternate fats in the making of sweets, especially the besan laadu.

Having tried olive oil, vegan margarine, I have now zeroed in on making these laadus in RBD Coconut oil, which is refined, bleached, and deodorized coconut oil, for it mimics the properties of ghee or toop, and there is absolutely no flavour or smell of coconut to this oil.

Microwaving besan and ghee/coconut oil is a very quick process as the actual roasting is done in a few minutes – the only issue with this is you need to microwave in short bursts and remove the bowl and stir the besan thoroughly.

Another advantage is that you can also use significantly less amounts of ghee or oil when you make roast the besan in a microwave, as it the mixture does not need to be stirred all the time while roasting.

As a result of being low fat, the laadus retain their shapes better and do not “sit” – a literal translation of Marathi - लाडू बसले :) 

You can cut out or cut down cane sugar from the laadu by using Splenda or sucralose in this laadu, as it can be mixed just as you would mix the powdered sugar. You can make the laadus with only Splenda, but it leaves an unpleasant aftertaste and lacks the full body that sugar gives.

But there’s something for this in my bag of tricks! 

Some powdered sugar completes the taste left a little lacking by the substitutes –after all you make these once a year for Diwali, which of course is unimaginable without these besan laadus. 


2 cups laadu besan (this is coarse chick pea flour – also known as laadu besan)
¾ cup refined organic coconut oil – this works just as ghee does- except for the flavour – but if you ignore that, you wouldn’t know it’s not ghee!
2 cups powdered sugar  - I used a mixture of ¾ cup powdered sugar and ½ cup Splenda powder (sucralose) but you could vary the proportion.
1 tsp powdered cardamom


In a microwave proof bowl, melt the coconut oil. Add the besan and mix well with your hand till you get a mixture that looks like breadcrumbs.

Place the bowl in microwave and set on maximum temperature for 1 minute.

After 1 minute take out bowl form the microwave and mix thoroughly. Repeat this 2-3 times, taking care to mix thoroughly each time, until the mixture has cooled considerably.

The microwaves cook the insides of the besan mixture, so the besan actually gets roasted more than it shows form the outside. Hence, it’s important to stir and mix thoroughly and making sure that the temperature’s come down considerably before placing the bowl back into the microwave.

At some point, the mixture becomes lighter as the besan gets dehydrated and becomes more fluid. This is also when it starts to ooze out the oil.

From this point onwards, you should keep a keen look out for the colour of the besan, especially from deep within the mixture.

After about 3 - 4 minutes, you should get the besan roasted to a darker shade of golden brown.

Remove the bowl and continue to stir the mixture, as it continues to cook in its own heat.

When the mixture cools down add the powdered sugar and Splenda and the powdered cardamoms.

Mix well and roll out small laadus. These laadus don’t need refrigeration and last well for a few weeks.

Friday, 8 July 2016

Fruits of labour

Fruits of labour

You shall eat the fruit of the labour of your hands; you shall be blessed, and it shall be well with you. (Psalm 128:2)

I can never make a potful of varanphal without remembering this psalm. Not only does the idea of “fruit” echo with this Marathi dish with such a quaint name (varan as in a daal lentil soup and phal as in fruit), but it also resounds with the same feeling of blessedness.

The psalm describes the blessedness of the virtuous, who enjoy the fruit of their past labours in the present, and are also assured of their future welfare.

In the same vein, varanphal is made in my family usually when we are back after a long, hard day at work when we need a hearty and wholesome meal quickly.

The blessedness comes from the righteous feeling of having put in an honest day’s work. It comes from the pleasure of tucking into a bowlful of hot varanphal topped with some ghee toop or phodni when you are cold, hungry and tired.

The height of bliss is when you feel the warm, silky phals sliding effortlessly down your throat and into your gut and lasts their whole evening, fortifying you for the morrow when another hard day awaits you.

Varanphal (Dal Dhokli or Chakoli) 

This dish is comforting in more ways than one! It saves you the hassle of making a full meal by incorporating dal, roti and subzi -all in one.

You can even make this using pasta, as I have, with lasagne sheets or even short cut pastas like macaroni.

1 cup well cooked toor dal (or masoor)
A ball of firm dough, made with atta salt and a little ajwain/oregano – enough to make 7-8 rotis
1½ cups mixed vegetables evenly cut- carrots, beans, potatoes, pumpkin, eggplant, peas
1 medium onion, chopped
½ cup raw peanuts
¾ cup chopped tomatoes
1 tsp lemon juice or tamarind extract as per taste
1 tbsp sugar or gur or suitable amounts of sweetener
1 tsp Garam Masala, Goda Masala or Sambar masala
Red Chilly powder to taste
3 tbsp oil
1 tsp mustard seeds
A pinch of hing
7-8 curry leaves
2 tablespoons chopped coriander to garnish
1 tbsp grated coconut (fresh or desiccated)
Topping - extra oil for tadka or ghee


In a large thick bottomed pot, heat the oil and add the mustard seeds to splutter. Add the onions and curry leaves and cook for a minute or so, then add the vegetables and the tomatoes a minute later.

Let the vegetables sauté for a few minutes and add the garam masala/sambar masala/goda masala, hing, chilly powder. Mash the cooked dal and add it to this mixture and add about 4 cups water. Let the dal boil for some time and add the salt, lemon/tamarind juice and sugar/gur and let the dal simmer.

Roll out a large chapati and cut it into 2 inch squares (or any bite size shapes) with a knife or a fluted pastry cutter.

Drop these pieces into the boiling dal, making sure they don’t stick to each other. This daal needs to be fairly thin and watery, as the dough pieces are going to thicken it. The varanphal also thickens on keeping.

Mix once, making sure the pieces do not stick to the bottom, and let the dal simmer while you make the other chapattis in a similar manner and add the squares to the boiling dal. Make sure each time you add the pieces of a chapati, you stir the mixture to loosen any pieces sticking to the bottom.

Once all the dough is in, adjust the taste and water again. Let it simmer, covered if the pot is large enough, till all the dough pieces are cooked well and float onto the top.

Garnish with coriander and grated coconut.

Serve hot with ghee or some extra phodni, pickles and papad.

This also tastes great the day after.

Friday, 1 July 2016

The Magic of Seven

Seven-cup Burfi or Vadi

For long I have resisted the seven-cup vadis or burfis vadis for varying reasons. I have been put-off by the sheer quantities –imagine using up a whole cup of ghee and three whole cups of sugar.

Or I have thought them to be too commonplace - a food bloggers’ fad like the Tangzhong water roux that every blogger worth their salt seems to have mastered. 

Sometimes the vadis seemed gimmicky and less onerous - didn’t a classicist have to do it the right way, the hard way? 

So despite having had occasional debacles with vadis / burfis over the years, I have not succumbed to the seven-cup magic.  

Speaking of debacles - these have ranged from episodes when a prematurely poured vadi mixture has resolutely refused set, to occasions when a zealously stirred aggregate has overstayed in the pan and crossed the crystal boundaries into a state of crumbly no return. 

Not that the family ever complains, for irrespective of whether the vadi mixture cloys to the tray, crumbles hopelessly or cubes correctly, it is sure to be polished off – scraped off the tray by a spatula, popped into the mouth as a perfect plaque or eaten out of a bowl with a spoon.

For a while now, I have tried to rationalise my resistance – the vadi or burfi may not be extraordinarily rich – the cup measure is indicative. I can always use a very small cup. It’s also the usual ratio of 1: ¾ measure for a sweet to set.  

It’s not a gimmick – ultimately there is some skill involved in knowing just when to remove the mixture from the heat – and in the same token, if skill was involved then surely every blogger worth their salt must have been tempted to demonstrate their prowess. 

So convinced was I by my own reasoning, that I was just waiting for an opportunity to make these vadis, and this morning, an hour before we started for the airport to see off a “barat” or a groom’s party, I had this urge to make something sweet to mark the momentous occasion! 

The seven-cup magic made the joyous occasion even sweeter – and I have been charmed for life by the vadi. 

Seven-cup Vadi/Burfi 

This is a vegan version. The refined coconut oil I use works exactly like ghee, and is absolutely aroma or flavour free.


1 measure besan (chickpea flour)
1 measure loosely packed grated fresh or frozen coconut mixed with 2 tablespoons almond meal
1 measure coconut milk (you can use dairy milk)
1 measure refined coconut oil melted (you can use ghee) 
3 measures sugar
1 tsp crushed cardamom


Grease a thali or tray with some coconut oil.

Heat a heavy bottomed pan and add the besan and a tablespoon of coconut oil and roast for a few minutes. Once the raw smell disappears, add half of the coconut oil and roast a little more, but don’t let the besan brown. 
Next add the coconut milk, sugar and the grated coconut and almond meal. Keep the pan on low heat and mix well and stir well.

After a few minutes, the mixture starts to bubble and thicken. Add the remaining coconut oil and the crushed cardamom to the mixture. Mix well and continue to stir until the mixture starts to leave the sides of the pan. Switch off the heat and continue to stir for a minute and then gather everything into the centre of the pan and tip it into the greased thali or tray. 

This process should take about 25 minutes.

Spread the mixture in the thali or tray using a spatula. When cooled down sufficiently, score cuts into the mixture with a sharp knife. You can do squares or diamonds. When the mixture cools down completely, cut out the vadis or burfis. 

Store the vadis/ burfis in an airtight box.

Friday, 17 June 2016

Mindfulness and Bashi Bharun Sheera

Banana Sheera

Posting on the blog after a very long hiatus! Happy to be back here. 

My lunch today was this sheera with limbacha loncha, a childhood favourite of mine. 

I click this picture, cleverly dodging the dog who is going berserk sniffing and afterwards continue to sit alone at the table relishing the warm sheera. 

Recently my daughters and I have talked about mindfulness and I want to practice mindfulness while eating. 

We hardly eat at the table, and never when alone. Eating without talking, reading, watching TV a unique experience.

I pay full attention to the food, how it looks, how it smells, the muscles one uses to raise it to the mouth, the texture and taste of the food, the juxtaposition of the sweet and the sour, savoury pickle, the signals the brain sends to the stomach and vice versa.

It’s these very attributes of food that create memories and magic. 

I can’t stay in the present for long. 

Out of habit, I think of how blissful it was for kids to come home ravenous from school to the prospect of this kind of “madhlya velcha khaana”. 

There is also this memory of Aai sitting by my side during childhood illnesses, and her soothing singing -

पडु आजारी, मौज हीच वाटे भारी

I was especially fond of the lines – 

मिळेल सांजा, साबुदाणा
खडिसाखर, मनुका, बेदाणा
संत्री, साखर, लिंबू आणा…

Another image that flashes in the eye of mind, is one perpetuated in popular Marathi literature– of a wife dutifully starting a cup of tea for her weary husband just before he came in from work – and, after taking away his “coat, topi and chatri”, proffering a steel tatlee or bashi of sheera served with a limb-lonancha to him. 

There is a brief moment of sheepishness on remembering that I used to be fascinated by this image of the wife, before I actually became one.

Back to the present, the sheera – the taste, texture, aroma, flavours…. the dog (and me) so covetous, the flashing images, the sweet memories, the entire experience seems so corpulent. 

I am confused. This is not mindfulness - my mind harks back to the past.

But I contain myself. 

If focusing on one's awareness of the present moment while calmly acknowledging and accepting one's feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations is not mindfulness, what is! 

Banana Sheera

The vegan version made with refined coconut oil and ripe banana was practically indistinguishable from its non-vegan counterpart, the Satyanarayanachya prasadacha sheera. 


2 cups coarse rava or semolina
A pinch of salt
About 3 tbsps organic and refined coconut oil 
A handful of cashews, raisins and almonds 
One large or two small ripe bananas, peeled and roughly chopped
1 ½ cups sugar (you could take more, but I like the sheera less sweet)
2 – 3 tbsp coconut cream (I used canned coconut cream)
About 2 cups boiling water
1 tsp crushed cardamom 


In a thick bottom pan melt some of the coconut oil and lightly fry the dry fruit and nuts. Remove onto a plate. Then add the rest of the oil and roast the rava or semolina till golden brown. Add a pinch of salt. When the roasting rava lets out a nice aroma, add the chopped bananas and roast well. Then add the coconut cream and roast for a few more seconds until it is absorbed into the rava. 

At this stage the rava becomes very light and crumbly. 

Then add the boiling water and mix well. Add a little more water if you want the sheera to be soft. Cover and cook for a few minutes. Then add the sugar and mix well. Add the fried dry fruit and nuts and the crushed cardamom. Cover again and let the mixture cook well. 

Serve hot or warm. And don't forget that lemon pickle or limbacha loncha.