For millions of Hindus, Jains, Buddhists and Sikhs across the world, the fall means one thing: Diwali. The major religious festival, which is a celebration of new beginnings and lasts five days, is ushered in with a wealth of sweets and snacks.
What Is Diwali?
Although broadly Diwali is a festival of lights and marks the beginning of the new year, each culture and religion has a different reason for celebrating. For Hindus, Diwali is a chance to celebrate deities Sita and Rama arriving back to Ayodhya following their long exile; they also commemorate the day when Durga (a mother goddess) annihilated Mahisha, a demon. Sikhs honor Hargobind Singh’s release from prison in 1619, while Jains observe the day in praise of Lord Mahavira (the founder of Jainism), who reached nirvana.
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For others, Diwali is simply a time to celebrate and have fun with friends and family. During the festival, delicate lamps are filled with oil and peppered outside of houses and temples or sailed off along rivers. Religious ceremonies are performed, gifts are given, houses are decorated and cleansed, fireworks are set off, and, of course, there’s plenty of food cooked and feasted upon.
When Is Diwali?
Diwali falls on a different date every year (it’s all dependent on the position of the moon), but it’s always sometime between October and November. This year, the holiday falls on October 27.
What Food Is Served on Diwali?
Diwali is undeniably packed with food. What’s most eaten during Diwali? That honor is given to all things sweet. These mithai (aka, a cross between a snack and dessert) are often popped back throughout the day, either on their own or accompanied by a cup of chai. You’ll often see the likes of karanji (small, crescent-shaped dough pillows jammed with poppy seeds, sugar, cardamon, and nuts) and mullu murukku (ropes of rice flour and cumin seeds fried and twisted into swirls), among many others.
Ingredients that appear in festive meals include yogurt, condensed milk, beans, lentils, grains, squash, carrots, chickpea and rice flour, and semolina. Nuts and berries (like almonds, pistachios, raisins, and cashews) are also often scattered throughout many dishes, along with a slew of spices ranging from cardamom and cinnamon to saffron and rose.
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To prepare for the festival, it’s not uncommon to find family members gathering together to cook all of the beloved Diwali snacks, from the wonderfully crunchy pakora (deep-fried vegetables and meats bound by an egg) to aloo tikki (shredded potato patties that are served with hot or tamarind sauce and yogurt).
It wouldn’t be Diwali if you’re not celebrating the day with plenty of mithai and other traditional snacks and sweets. And while it’s certainly easy to purchase these snacks, it’s worth ushering in the new year by making these delightful treats at home.
These bright orange rings of sugar (alternately called jalbei, imarti, and omriti) are crafted by deep-frying vigna mungo flour (made from beans endemic to India) in swirled circles, which are then dipped in a sugar syrup.
These crispy, flaky slabs of flatbread—made from semolina, flour, and ghee—are studded with nubs of coarsely ground black pepper. The dough is rolled out and flattened into thin circles, then covered with a layer of oil and fried until a light golden color.
Gulab jamun are plump, dumpling-like sweets made from khoa (aka milk solids). The dough comes together thanks to a mix of grated khoa, flour, cardamom powder, baking powder, and ghee, then is rolled into small balls and fried until deep brown. Once removed from the oil, each gulab jamun is soaked in a sugary syrup.
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