A month to three weeks in advance — that’s how early one needs to plan a Diwali feast, according to Dubai-based health food blogger Kamakshi Gupta. If you’ve slipped on the planning, don’t fret as Gupta shares her favourite Diwali recipes, and easy additions to that family meal.
— Earliest Diwali memory: Running around in my mum’s kitchen as her little helper. She use to make coconut barfis (fudge) and I use to help her put them into festive boxes for friends and relatives. Everyone looked forward to having them. My mum’s barfi, and my aunts kaju katli (cashew fudge) are my favourite desserts.
— Relevance of the Diwali feast: Sweets play an important role but when I prepare sweets I think of two things: least amount of time in the kitchen and healthier versions. The chia pudding is an adaptation of my mum’s kesar kheer (saffron pudding). I’m a healthy cook but a lazy one. I want maximum nutrition in minimum time.
— Planning the Diwali menu: [It needs to be planned] a month to three weeks in advance. I find cutting down on a few dishes does the host and the guests good. Frankly, Indian spreads are often too lavish and I have been guilty of the same in the past. So step one would be to plan a menu that has enough dishes, but don’t go overboard.
Step two is to have some dishes that can be prepared a day advance such a sweet potato tikki (fritters) or spinach tikki. Similarly, chutneys can be prepared a day in advance.
I like having a bigger set of starters and finger foods which are easy to nibble on while catching up with friends and socialising and then the just having two or three proper mains — a meat dish, vegetarian and lentils.
— Dealing with Diwali overindulgence: Starters should have dips, marinated veggies and meat; Indian spiced salads with lentils and tamarind chutney packs in all the flavours and is a nutritious option. Limit fried foods.
Swap processed sugars with unrefined sources such a dates, maple, honey or coconut sugar.
Lastly, portion control. My little one goes all out enjoying festive sweets and sometimes that’s okay too. I have learnt how to portion control.
— Dealing with the Diwali morning after: Sleep and coconut water.
What’s on the Diwali menu?
Gupta suggests some menu must-haves for an easy Diwali feast:
- Tikkis or Indian fritters are a good addition and don’t need to fry them. Lentils, spinach, sweet potato etc, the options are plenty.
- A cold chickpeas salad with Indian spices and chutneys (great option for vegans/vegetarians).
- A simple starter with good quality fresh paneer always does the trick.
- Meats and vegetables that are marinated in Indian spices and pan cooked or grilled.
- Spicy prawns in South Indian marination — takes 4 to 5 minutes to make a batch.
- Baked sweet potato cubes with labney and pomegranate molasses.
- Main course could be staples such as biryani or curry and rice.
Two recipes to try
Saffron and cardamom chia seed pudding
Gupta says this healthy Diwali dessert takes five minutes to put together.
She says: “The pudding has such strong traditional flavours of saffron and cardamom, treasured spices in the Indian cuisine. This dessert works so beautifully for busy modern times because it has traditional classic flavours, takes only a few minutes to put together and uses superfoods like chia and coconut.”
1/2 cup chia seeds
1 cup unsweetened almond milk
1 cup light coconut milk
Few strands of saffron (15 to 18)
Six pods of cardamom
1-2 tablespoons maple syrup or honey
Toppings: crushed cashews and pistachios, or fruits like mango
- Pan roast the strands of saffron.
- Once cooled, hand grind it using a mortar pestle.
- Finely crush the cardamom pods using a mortar pestle.
- In a bowl, add the chia seeds, and then add all other ingredients except the toppings.
- Whisk the mixture.
- Cover the bowl and let the saffron chia pudding soak at least three hours in the refrigerator, but preferably overnight.
- Next morning before serving, add more almond milk to thin out the pudding as desired
- Finally top with crushed nuts and drizzle some honey on top.
Note: For a more decadent version, take a dessert bowl, add a layer of chia seeds, then top with thick vanilla flavoured yogurt, then add chia pudding again. Finally top with nuts and honey. This is like a chai parfait.
Vegan date, cashew and coconut energy balls
She says: “Sweetened with dates, these energy balls are loaded with good fats and unrefined sugar. I have used fresh coconut instead of the desiccated version in keeping with the traditional way of making Indian sweets.”
1 cup dates
1 cup cashew nuts
1/2 cup fresh grated coconut
½ teaspoon vanilla essence or vanilla bean paste.
1 tablespoon neutral chocolate powder + some more for dusting
Desiccated coconut (for rolling the balls)
- Deseed the dates, then soak the dates in water for one to two hours. Drain and pat them dry.
- In a food processor, throw in the cashews and the grated coconut. Blend until you get a crumble like texture.
- Then add the dates, vanilla essence and chocolate powder. Pulse and stop repeat until you get a sticky mixture. Make sure you stop often, scrape the mixture from the sides and pop it into the middle, then blend again. This helps mix everything well and prevents overheating of the blades.
- Grease your palms with a drop or two of coconut oil and then place one-tablespoon mixture between your palms.
- Make balls.
- Roll them in a mixture of desiccated coconut and chocolate powder. Keep these in the refrigerator and consume within three days.
— Kamakshi Gupta is a Dubai-based health food blogger and is usually found sharing her kitchen escapades on @Kamis_plate on Instagram.