Jalebi
Nothing says Diwali more than colourful displays of sweets Image Credit: pexels.com

It’s that time of the year again, when we collectively brush away all guilt while indulging in sweets with abandon. Diwali might mean a lot of things to a lot of people – gifts, new clothing, lamps, rangoli or patterns with coloured powder, and family time. But there’s no argument that one element tops it all, and it’s the sweets that accompany all the festivities.

Both in India and certain areas of the UAE, streets bustle with sweet shops’ display of boxes piled high with varieties upon varieties of colourful ‘mithai’ in different shapes, sizes and flavours. Hot, crisp and sugary - everything flies off the shelves. Family recipes for sweets get passed down. The preparation and distribution of sweets is the ultimate expression of love during the festival of lights.

Diwali lights
Lamps, rangoli and sweets make up the festive spirit Image Credit: pexels.com

Overindulgence is all too easy when you’re spoilt for choice – one more piece of the cashew barfi, or another syrupy gulab jamun? A fudgey melt-in-the-mouth bite of peda, or crunchy golden jalebis fresh off the flame?

So it’s safe to say the words ‘Diwali’ and ‘healthy’ might not sit too well next to each other. But fret not – we’ve discovered it’s still possible to keep to your diet plan and fitness goals through it all. Because once the fairy lights are taken down, you still want to fit into those pants.

Diwali lights
Diwali, the festival of lights Image Credit: pexels.com

We asked sweet shops and restaurants around the UAE to provide us with a few recipes that incorporate some healthier ingredients in contrast to their traditional versions. And they catered, using everything from multigrain flour instead of refined flour, to jaggery and honey instead of sugar. What they all have in common though is that they don’t compromise on flavour.

So what are you waiting for? Diwali’s almost upon us, so get your aprons on:

RECIPES

Anjeer or Fig Barfi

Anjeer barfi
Anjeer barfi Image Credit: Courtesy of Chhappan Bhog

Prep time: 10 mins

Cooking time: 50 mins

Makes about 16-20 pieces

Ingredients:

2 cups+300gm figs chopped

6 tbsp ghee

3 tbsp jaggery (if you prefer a sweeter taste, add more)

1 tsp liquid glucose (you can substitute with honey)

5-6 almonds

5-6 pistachios

5-6 cashew nuts

1 pinch cardamom powder

Method:

1. Boil the dried anjeer (figs) with hot water for 20-25 minutes, then grind to make a paste and set aside.

2. Melt ghee in a non-stick pan and add the anjeer paste to it.

3. Cook the anjeer paste on low heat, stirring continuously, till it starts to melt.

4. Add the jaggery and mix till well blended.

5. Add the liquid glucose and continue to cook, stirring continuously, for 15-18 minutes.

6. Add dry nuts and mix well.

7. Transfer the mixture to a greased aluminium tray and spread it evenly. Leave to cool to room temperature to set.

8. Cut into squares and serve.

Recipe courtesy: Chhappan Bhog

Zardaalu Paak

Zardaalu Paak
Zardaalu Paak Image Credit: Courtesy of Kamat Shireen

Prep time: 10 mins

Cooking time: 1 hour

Makes 40 squares

Ingredients

350gm dried apricots

90gm almonds

260gm cashews

50gm pistachios

200gm ghee

90ml honey

130gm raisins

Method

1. Chop the dried apricots into small pieces.

2. Roughly chop the almonds, cashews and pistachios, then dry roast in a pan for 2-3 minutes and set aside.

3. In a non-stick or heavy bottom pan, add the ghee and let it melt.

4. Add in the finely chopped apricots and mix well.

5. Keep stirring and mashing the mixture on a low heat, until it forms a sticky dough.

6. Add in the chopped nuts and honey, and mix well with a spatula.

7. When everything is well incorporated, spread it evenly onto a greased plate and smooth out the top.

8. Let it set for 15 minutes, then slice into squares and serve.

Recipe courtesy: Kamat Shireen

Date and nut ragi gujiya

Date and nut ragi gujiya
Date and nut ragi gujiya Image Credit: Shutterstock

Prep time 15 mins

Cooking time 30 minutes

Makes 8-10

For gujiya dough:

150gm ragi or multigrain flour

1 tbsp fine semolina

½ tsp salt

1 tbsp ghee

75ml hot water

Method

• Mix the ragi flour and semolina in a kneading bowl.

• Add the salt and ghee to hot water and stir to mix.

• Incorporate all the liquid to the flour using a fork

• Knead this dough till smooth. Let the dough rest for 20 mins, covered and in a cool place.

For the filling:

1 tbsp almonds

1 tbsp cashew nuts

1 tbsp pistachio

1 tbsp walnuts

1 tbsp raisins

½ tsp nutmeg powder

1tsp cardamom powder

125gm dates, chopped

½ tsp saffron soaked in 2 tsp warm milk

Method

• Add all the nuts, spice powders and a pinch of salt to a food processor and blitz till the texture of large crumbs.

• Add the chopped dates and saffron milk and mix well.

To assemble the gujiya:

• Roll out the dough to a large sheet. Cut out round cookie-shaped pieces using a 1.5 – 2 inch round cookie cutter

• Spoon the date and nut filling into the centre of the cookies.

• Fold the pastry over the stuffing and crimp the edges or press tightly and seal the edges with a fork, to form crescent-shaped dumplings.

• The gujiyas are traditionally deep-fried in oil. For a healthier twist, bake them in the oven at 175C for 35-40 mins. Brush the pastry lightly with ghee before baking. Remember to flip over the gujiyas at the half-way mark to ensure even cooking.

These date and nut gujiyas will hold for a week in an airtight container.

Recipe courtesy: Chef Sandeep Ail from Punjab Grill Abu Dhabi

Amritsar Barfi (Besan barfi)

Amritsar Barfi (Besan barfi)
Amritsar Barfi (Besan barfi) Image Credit: Courtesy of Chhappan Bhog

Prep time: 10 mins

Cooking time: 30 mins

Makes about 20-24 pieces

Ingredients:

½ cup (125gm) ghee

2 cups (200-210gm) besan or chickpea flour

1 cup honey (if you prefer it sweeter, add more)

Water, as required

6 green cardamoms or 1 teaspoon cardamom powder

5 almonds - sliced or chopped

5 pistachio – sliced or chopped

5 cashew – sliced or chopped

Coconut flakes and rose petals, to serve

Method:

1. Whisk some ghee with the besan. This mixes and breaks down the lumps that are formed by mixing dry-wet ingredients. Also, your besan is then nicely incorporated with ghee.

2. Now heat a pan/kadai, add the besan-ghee mix and start roasting over low-medium flame.

3. Keep whisking the roasted besan till it gives out a nutty flavour and also becomes richer in colour (slightly dark orange-brown).

4. Meanwhile, in another pot heat together honey and water to make an alternative of a sugar syrup.

5. Now add the roasted besan to the honeyed syrup, along with cardamom powder, almond, pistachio and cashew, and turn the heat to medium.

6. Keep whisking this mixture unless the texture begins to harden a little.

7. Turn off the heat and transfer the mix to a greased pan.

8. Add chopped almonds on top and leave to set outside, or keep in the fridge for 30 minutes to set.

9. Once set, slice the besan barfi and sprinkle coconut flakes and rose petals.

10. Serve immediately or store in an air-tight container.

Recipe courtesy: Chhappan Bhog

Gud Papdi

Gud Papdi
Gud Papdi Image Credit: Courtesy of Kamat Shireen

Prep time: 10 mins

Cooking time: 2 hours

Makes 40 pieces

Ingredients

200gm ghee

300gm wheat flour

250gm jaggery

20gm chopped almonds

20gm chopped cashews

Method

1. Add the ghee into a pan and let it melt until it reaches a medium heat.

2. Once the ghee comes to temperature, add in the wheat flour and cook on a low flame.

3. Keep cooking the flour until it is slightly darker in colour and releases a nutty aroma.

4. Turn off the flame and place the pan on a trivet.

5. Add in the jaggery and keep mixing well to combine, as it slowly melts in the residual heat.

6. Immediately pour the mixture into a greased dish and spread it out evenly.

7. Garnish with the chopped almonds and cashews before leaving it to cool slightly.

8. While still fairly warm, slice into pieces, in order to avoid the mixture crumbling.

9. Once sliced, let the gud papdi cool completely before serving.

- Recipe courtesy: Kamat Shireen