The weather is changing very fast. The unmistakable nip in the air is very much there. Stepping outside the house also means dressed in a few more layers than earlier. The leaves of the trees that line the roadside are fast changing colour and falling to the ground. The days are so much shorter now. Yes, ‘the season of mists and mellow fruitfulness’ is very much here.
Back in Assam, this would also mean the time for many festivities, Durga Puja being one of the main ones followed by Diwali. Durga Puja is the worship of the ten armed goddess Durga. The statue of the goddess slaying the monster is basically a symbol of good triumphing against evil. The festival is also a good excuse for socialising and merrymaking.
And as always, food also occupies a great part in the festivities. One of the sweets prepared during this time and looked forward to with great gusto is the Jilapi, or as it is more commonly known, the Jalebi.
Jalebi is a very popular sweet in the Indian sub continent. It is deep fried and made from a thick batter piped into hot oil in spirals or pretzel shapes and then soaked in a sugary syrup. It has a crisp exterior and has a chewy texture. The syrup is sometimes flavoured with saffron, lemon juice and rose water. They can be served warm or cold.
During Durga Puja, the sweet shops would have a steady flow of customers lining up for the freshly made warm jalebis. By the roadside, one can also spy a crowd gathering around the vendors , who are busy preparing the jalebis over open fires.
I still remember vividly the anticipation with which we would look forward to the arrival of the pack of juicy jalebis. The grease and the syrup used to seep through the paper bags, but we couldn’t wait to get our hands on them. Of course, we had to wait till ma divided them equally among us siblings; no one wanted a third world war to break out! Yes, what fond memories! Durga Puja was not Durga Puja without these spirally sweets.
We now live far, far away from Assam, away from the buzz of the festivities that I had grown up with. The rush to the Puja pandals to offer prayers, taking in the heady smell of burning incense and the light from the glowing earthen lamps; admiring the larger than life statues of the goddess, the chanting of the priests; dressing up in new clothes; the balloons, the plasticky and cheap toys which were all a part of the Puja scene; the communal feasts, the loud songs blaring from the loudspeakers- the list goes on and on. Ever so often, all those fond memories from not so long ago would pull at the hearts strings and make me smile.
And then, with all those memories ringing in my ears, I gave in and made jalebis. To be honest, I have never made them before, so had to do a bit of research. Almost all the recipes that I came across required the batter to be fermented for quite a few hours. I mished and mashed a lot of ideas and came up with the following recipe. It does not require long hours of fermentation. What it does require is a bit of organisation, and one is all set to enjoy freshly made warm, sweet jalebis. I made them quite small, approximately 2 inches; there were more like mini jalebis, that you could pop into your mouth in one or two goes.
I haven’t got any picture of the process as it was a bit tricky piping, frying, soaking etc with a single pair of hands.
for the batter-
2C +1 tblsp plain flour
1 tblsp gram flour/besan
2 tsp sugar
2 tblsp ghee, melted
1 tsp fast action dried yeast
1 and 1/4 C warm water
for the syrup-
a pinch of saffron strands
1 tsp lemon juice
Oil for deep frying
- In a bowl whisk together the two flours, sugar and yeast.
- Add the water and whisk thoroughly , there should be no lumps.
- Whisk in the melted ghee. Keep aside.
- To make the syrup, place the sugar and water in a saucepan over heat and simmer till a single thread consistency is achieved. ( When you put a little of the surup betwen the tips of your thumb and forefinger and try to join the tips together and take them apart, the sugar will stretch as a single thread)
- Add the saffron and lemon juice, stir and take off from heat.
- Heat the oil for deep frying in a wide pan. Keep the sugar syrup close by.
- Place the batter in a plastic bag, and twist the open ends to form a cone shape.Snip the end so that there is a small hole.
- Pipe swirls of batter into the oil and fry till they are golden, not browned.
- Remove from the oil with a slotted spoon and soak in the sugar syrup for a couple of minutes. Remove from the syrup and serve warm or cold.
My two cents-
- Do not keep the batter for a very long time before frying.
- Many recipes add food colouring to the batter. I didn’t add any and let the natural darkness from the sugar in the syrup (I used demerara sugar) and saffron do the job.
- Regulate the heat of the oil so that it is somewhere between low and medium. If it is too hot, the jalebis will burn in the blink of an eye. At times, I even turned off the heat while piping, if I felt the oil was getting too hot.
- I made a few at a time, as they brown very quickly.
- I made mini jalebis, which would be perfect for bite sized desserts.
They were sweet, crisp on the outside and juicy on the inside, just as I remembered them to be, and the small size definitely helped.
Here’s wishing all those who celebrate, a very happy Durga Puja from us and greetings for the festival season!