Indian food! We immediately think Spices, Tandooris, Curry! But, did you know that India is the largest consumer of Sugar!? The Indian craving for something sweet with each meal and every occasion, has produced a mind-boggling variety of sweets and desserts. If you have a sweet tooth, you should consider turning to Indian cuisine to satisfy your cravings. The full-blown sugar-laden treats provide a delicious sugary fix.
Indian sweets and desserts are an intrinsic part of Indian cuisine and culture and Mithai is an indispensable part of every wedding banquet, festival and celebration. From the North of the country to the South and from the West to the East, each region has its own sugary or syrupy speciality.
Many Indian desserts are fried, made with sugar and milk. Some are made with condensed milk for extra thickness. The types of dessert are unique to a region. In the eastern part of India, for example, most are milk based products made from Chena or cottage cheese. In the coastal areas of the South and the eastern parts of the country, ingredients such as coconut and jaggery add unique flavours. In the North desserts and sweets tend to be more dry and are flavoured with almonds and pistachios, spiced with cardamon, nutmeg, cloves and decorated with gold or silver leaf (varq).
From the sweet and creamy Kheer (made with rice, sabudana, sevai or makhana) to silver-topped treats like Shahi Tukra and the legendary Sandesh and Rusgulla or cooling Kulfis and Shrikhands, which double as desserts, these are some pan India and international favourites!
For those of you who have never tasted these heavenly concoctions, here are some desserts and sweets popular across India.
Kheer (Indian Rice Pudding)
Let’s start with this traditional cardamom-scented Indian rice pudding. Kheer owes its richness to milk which has been slowly reduced to half over a slow flame to produce a thick, creamy base. Served on all auspicious and festive family occasions, it is cooked with rice, sevai, sabudana and topped with blanched almonds and pistachios.
Sandesh and Rusgolla
Bengalis love their sweets. The Eastern part of the country is renowned for its legendary sugary confections. Besides sugar, the date palms that thrive in the tropical climate provide a delicate sugar called nolen gur;a light liquid jaggeryduring the short winter season which is also used to flavour the sandesh and lately also the rusgulla.
A melt-in-the-mouth, almost patented Bengali confection, Sandesh is a soft fudgy sweet made from chena or cottage cheese.
Rusgulla or Rosogolla
Rusgulla or Rosogollais a syrupy dessert made popular all-over the world by the Bengalis. Made from balls of chena simmered in sugar syrup it is a burst of chewy heaven! No Bengali festival or celebration is complete without the Rusgulla.
Gajar ka Halwa- Punjabi style carrot halwa
A winter warmer, Gajar ka Halwa flavoured with aromatic cardamom and rose water, this sweet Indian dessert is made from a blend of nutty ghee, milk, cream, sugar and grated carrots. The grated sweet carrots are sautéed in pure ghee, simmered in milk till soft and absorbed, flavoured with cardamom and, sometimes also with saffron, it is topped with almonds and varq. Cooked with love and patience, it is best served hot and is also delicious cold.
Shahi Tukra or Royal Toast
Shahi Tukra which is similar to the Hyderabadi Double ka Meetha is a very popular and rich Indian bread pudding. The recipe, which has its roots in Mughlai cuisine, is believed to have been invented out of a way to use up unused bread.
There are 3-steps to preparing Shahi Tukra; preparing the rabdi, toasting or frying the triangles of bread and preparing the sugar syrup. The fried triangles of bread are dipped in the sugar syrup, soaked in the cardamom flavoured and saffron infused rabdi, topped with nuts and refrigerated. It is a very sweet and rich dessert.
Kulfi is a popular frozen dessert that is sinfully rich, dense and creamy. It is made more delicious with the addition of fruits and nuts.
Rich folden brown fried khoya balls, dipped in saffron and cardamom infused sugar syrup, is delicious piping hot ! Khoya is a rich curd made by reducing milk for several hours. Gulab Jamun is a festival favourite.
Deep fried balls of khoya, some flour, sooji and baking powder are soaked in a thick sugar syrup. This syrup is different from the usual sugar syrups….a mixture of water and milk is added and flavoured with cardamom.
Soft balls of chena or paneer (paneer is a type of soft, crumbly cheese native to India) like rusgullas are soaked in sweetened and thickened milk and served chilled, garnished with roasted almonds and blanched and sliced pistachios.
Kaju ki Barfi
Kaju ki Barfi is a childhood favorite! These diamond-shaped pieces made with cashew nuts and milk, topped with silver varq, are irresistible and rich. Usually packed in boxes and exchanged as a sweet gift on special occasions such as Diwali it is hard to stop at one!
The cashews and milk are blended together and mixed with sugar. Cooked together over medium heat, the dough is rolled out over a greased surface and covered with silver varq and left to cool. Cut into those diamond-shaped pieces and voila! your Kaju ki Barfi is done!
Laddusare very popular ball-shaped sweets. Made from gram flour, semolina and sugar mixed together with cardamom, pistachios, rose water and other ingredients as per the region, they are fried in ghee and offered and served at all festive and auspicious occasions in India. A box of laddus could be a religious offering, a peace offering, a felicitation. Laddus are offered to gods and goddesses as a sign of devotion.. The most famous are the quarter kg laddus from the Tirupati Temple in Andhra Pradesh and Boondi laddus from the Shirdi Sai Temple in Nasik.
I have kept the mouth-watering syrup drenched and syrup oozing Jalebis for the last! A drool inviting sugary confection, a plate of piping hot Jalebis partnered with ice-cream or rabri is an unbeatable combination!
Made from the simplest of ingredients, this traditional yet ever popular deliciously sweet sugar hit could be termed India’s favourite sweet. Eaten for breakfast, at teatime or after dinner as a dessert, it is a must at every festival or celebration. The technique and dexterity with which the jalebis are made are also awe-inspiring and fun! One taste will surely make you a fan and a devotee for life!
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