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Traditional Indian Sweets – With A Twist

Posted: September 17, 2012

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Traditional Indian sweets though scrumptious are often labour-intensive and calorie-laden. How to make Indian sweets easily, quickly and healthier?

By R&R, the authors of Tadka Pasta

Every year, as Fall sets in, overworked Indian-American moms like us get busy cleaning, shopping, as well as pottering around in the kitchen, concocting secret recipes for meringues and marshmallow peeps for Halloween, not to mention traditional Indian sweets like phirnis and barfis for festivals like Dushhera and Diwali.

These celebrations seem to take over our calendars, owing in most part to the ritual of dispensing sweet assortments that has come to rule over the years. Our kitchens bustle with cake pops for goodie bags, sweet treats for teachers, mithai for the puja and warm desserts for dinner guests.

Thankfully, with the advent of the Internet, age-old grandma’s recipes for that incredibly delectable, perfectly viscous kheer, or those laddoos with a light saffron tinge and just-so rotund shape, are only a few clicks away. One doesn’t have to be Saroj Kering or Sanjeev Kapoor to whisk up desserts like a genie blessed with a magic pot and a silver spoon.

Traditional Indian sweets: The stuff of nostalgia

The festive season typically sparks off an overwhelming sense of nostalgia in us. The sights of glimmering diyas and well-adorned Gods; the intoxicating aromas of coconut milk, sugary thick Milkmaid, neatly trimmed squares of jaggery melting away in a cauldron with equal parts of water, and fresh cardamom ground in the brass mortar-and-pestle; the sounds of sacred bells and prayers competing with one another, each equally strident and powerful in a way that makes one’s hair stand on end. They all imbue our senses with a longing for home that will possibly only wane with the turn of the season. Momentarily, we do end up wallowing in the wistfulness of the moment, and try to re-create some of the trimmings just so we can assuage our yearning hearts a little.

Thankfully, with the advent of the Internet, age-old grandma’s recipes … are only a few clicks away.

With the heavy impact of TV superchefs – Paula Deen’s weakness for rich buttery desserts cooked slowly and effortlessly, and Sandra Lee’s obsession with all things quick, easy, and semi-home made (which is really more in line with wanna-be Super Moms like us), we’d like to believe that there is no one way to make or bake.

Further, armed with little scraps of paper tucked in our recipe books that have logged the littlest of details – like a dollop of ghee at the end that could do wonders for a certain type of halwa – and inspired by colourful platters of pista, almond and cashew-infused delights that stare back at us from a little flickering screen on an online Haldiram’s sweet shop, we are eternally re-thinking and re-aligning our methods of cooking during the festive season.

How to make Indian sweets at home – faster!

Our mission really, is fairly straightforward, but not as easy as pie, or even cake. Influences of the Western, time-respecting culture has provided myriad, wondrous possibilities to quickly turn-over the making of an Indian dessert and we’d love to trim the time spent toiling in front of the hot stove.

Further, even when we are tempted to indulge, the thought of sweating it out on treadmills plagues us enough to find ways to go easy on the fat content of our creations. Also, all those candies and sweet treats infused with food colouring and additives that come home in bagfuls during Halloween, for one, give us ample reason to infuse nutrition in everything our kids eat – even if it is a dessert made especially for one of our festivals.

Influences of the Western, time-respecting culture has provided myriad, wondrous possibilities to quickly turn-over the making of an Indian dessert…

What, then does our kitchen smell like at this time of the year? There are teasing whiffs of a carroty crush, melting and caramelizing alongside balmy, comforting milky broths, the delicate zest of split cardamom pods mingling softly with the golden richness of ghee.

It’s a pretty simple game plan. We forgo our well-loved cast-iron kadhai for the slick convenience of the microwave. No special ingredients, no complicated gimmicks, just wholesome pantry ingredients that work together to bring us a nut-speckled, moist and toothsome fudge confection. After all, it is the enormity of the venerable, warm concept of “homemade” that binds us to our past, and could even open up vistas for handing-down a delightful little tradition to our little girls.

Microwave Carrot Kalakand Recipe

Ingredients (Makes 16 pieces)

1 teaspoon + 1 tablespoon ghee, divided

2-3 Carrots – Washed and peeled

½ cup –  Ricotta cheese or finely mashed fresh paneer

½ can – Condensed milk/Milkmaid

A pinch of salt

1 tablespoon – Milk powder

2 tablespoons – Chopped walnuts

¼ teaspoon- Cardamom powder

¼ cup – Slivered pistachios


Line the bottom of a small (about 9” by 6”) tray or thali with parchment paper or foil and grease well with 1 teaspoon of the ghee.

Cut the carrots into large chunks and process in a food processor until finely crushed.

Measure out ¾ cup for this recipe and reserve the rest for another use.

Heat the remaining ghee in a large, microwave-safe bowl, add the mashed carrots and mix well. Microwave for 1 minute to soften the carrots slightly.

Add the ricotta cheese/paneer, condensed milk, salt and milk powder to the carrots, stir well. Microwave the mixture for about 5 minutes, stirring well after every minute. The mixture will become thick and come together.

Quickly stir in the walnuts and cardamom.

Spread the mixture in the prepared tray, press down and smooth the top. Allow to cool completely.

Cut the kalakand into neat squares and garnish generously with slivered pistachios.

Note – Since microwave ovens vary in their cooking power, you may need to adapt the times mentioned above to suit your appliance.

Now dear readers a giveaway for you!

Just leave a comment below telling us one trick that helped you with a difficult/time consuming dish.
The best comment wins a copy of Aditya Bal’s cookbook The Chakh Le India.

Please note: Only 1 comment per person. The book can only be sent to a valid address in India. Giveaway closes on 9 AM IST 24th September 2012.

So what are you waiting for? Comment away!

UPDATE: Giveaway Closed.

And the winner is Shruthi for her tip for making besan laddus quickly and easily!
Congrats Shruthi! And thanks everyone for sharing your tips!

Carrots image via Shutterstock

About The Author: Tadka Pasta is a food blog by two Indian foodies steeped in kitchen poetry.

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