Diwali is one of my favourite times of the year. For me it marks the official change from Autumn to Winter. Reminding me that Christmas is only around the corner. And so the festive spirit embeds itself inside me for the coming months.
I am not an overly religious person, but for me, Diwali has always signified a much stronger sense of letting go and cleansing of the year that has passed than the New Year that is followed by western tradition. This feeling stems from memories as a child. The togetherness I have felt as a family during Diwali over say Christmas or New Year has always been much more meaningful. This is more than likely due to the ritual we follow that makes me feel like we’re cleaning out the old to invite and make space for the new.
Diwali has always been something that was important that we celebrated between the 4 of us. An intimate celebration. I remember being excited about the fact that Dad would be home from work early that day because pooja (prayers) would have to be done around 6pm bringing dozens of fireworks with him. Meanwhile, we would light up the house. The soft, glimmering candle light from at least 50 candles scattered in every room pervaded the house. We made certain all the curtains were wide open to ensure that Laxami (the goddess worshiped during Diwali) would find our house as it would be shining so brightly in the night sky. When she found us she would bestow us with love, prosperity, health, wealth and happiness for the coming year. The first thing we would do when Dad came home was the pooja that was conducted by Mum and was finished by Dad who blessed us and then started the exchange of prasad (sweet offering during prayers) between each of us that we all took turns giving each other. With the Laxami Aarti (song sung in praise of Laxami) chiming softly in the background, we all would sit to have dinner. It was always a simple, but astoundingly delicious dinner made even more so by the peace and togetherness that the day brought. To finish we ate the sweets that I would have made especially for Diwali and we would end the night outside, together, to enjoy sparklers, Catherine wheels and rockets galore. It never felt terribly cold, even if it was October or November because the light that was radiating from the house and the happiness of being together was warming me up from the inside.
The Story of Diwali
As the story goes (when you tell it to a child)………. Once upon a time, the banished warrior Prince Rama who was married to the beautiful Princess Sita found that his wife had been kidnapped by the 10 headed 20 armed Demon King Ravana who decided he wanted to steal Sita and make her his own. Rama was determined to find and rescue his love from the Demon King. Sita had hope that her love would find her and so she left a trail of her shiny jewellry for Rama to find and follow. Rama followed the trail until he came upon the monkey king, Hanuman, who he befriended and told about his dreadful loss and the quest he was on to rescue his love. King Hanuman decided to help Rama by sending messages to all the monkeys in the world who then passed the message to find Sita to all the bears too, who then started to look for Sita. After a torturous search, Hanuman finally found Sita trapped and imprisoned on Ravana’s Island, Lanka. With the help of the monkeys and bears and eventually all the other animals in the world they built a bridge and were able to get across to fight a mighty battle to get the Princess back. With a magic arrow, Rama killed Ravana in the chest. Everyone in the world rejoiced. The banished Prince and Princess needed to make their way back to the land they had been banished from. To help them find their way back to Ayodhya, the people of their land lit oil lamps in order to welcome them and help guide them back home where they belonged.
Ever since the story of Rama and Sita finding their way home with the help of lit oil lamps, Hindus all over the world light oil diyas (clay oil lamps) on Diwali to remember the triumph of light over darkness and how the light always guides you home. I guess it is the story of Diwali that resonates with my feelings of togetherness and home during Diwali. The light always brings us together. It is not quite the same without Dad, but we still continue the ritual.
The void is greater this year. My dearest sister is not here for Diwali. She is a few thousand miles away and although it is not the first Diwali I can recall that we have not spent together, she is certainly missed.
Today as I was busy in my annual ritual of making my homemade mithai (sweets) for Diwali, I got a Skype call. All that basking in the Caribbean sun hadn’t allowed her to forget that she was missing the togetherness we share at this time of year and have done for nearly 30 years. How time flies!
As I continued my mithai making in the kitchen we chatted and she told me how she was planning to celebrate. She had already talked to Mum about what she could make and had taken some recipes. I asked her what she would make as prasad. I normally take a plate of mithai I have made and offer it as prasad for the pooja. She wanted to make halwa and had already got the recipe. As we were talking I suggested making some mithai. Although she had never made any mithai before, I had the perfect recipe for her that was extremely simple, quick and of course, delicious; not to mention a favourite of hers: a perfect last minute mithai. I decided to make it for her, to show her how quick and easy it is. It is a recipe I came across online a number of years ago. After a couple of tweaks, (not that there are many you can make considering the fact that there are only 3 main ingredients!), I came up with my favourite version and I decided to share it here, too. I am sure you will have lots of compliments and success with this recipe for years to come.
30 minute Pedas
I usually avoid microwaving anything unless absolutely necessary and even then, it is only for heating something up or defrosting. I much prefer to cook on the hob or cooker and in fact I have never cooked something from scratch in the microwave. Until now that is. This will not start my foray into microwave cookery, I can assure you. But these truly are the quickest, easiest, most versatile tasty Indian sweets that you can make and perfect for when you’re in the need to a last minute dessert or gift. Nothing shows you care as much as when you make something especially for someone.
Makes about 25-40 pieces depending on the size you make them
125g homemade ghee or if not, use unsalted butter. If you can make the ghee, please do as the toasty taste from the ghee adds a lovely slight caramelised nutty flavour dimension. (I will post instructions for how to make your own ghee for cooking soon!)
200g whole milk powder (the kind you get in Asian supermarkets most easily. In the UK East End, Natco and Nido are all suitable. Do not use skimmed milk powder)
1 tin /395g of condensed milk
Pick one of the following flavour options: plain, cardamon powder 1 tsp, vanilla extract 2 tsp, rose water 2 tsp, kewra water 1 tsp, nutmeg 1/2 tsp, cocoa 2 tbsp + 2 tsp vanilla.
For garnishing slivers of pistachios or almonds, edible glitter, other cake decorations.
Food colour of your choice (optional)
- Take the homemade ghee or butter and put it in a medium to large Pyrex bowl and microwave until melted- depending on the power of your microwave and how cold your ghee or butter is, about 30 seconds- 1.5m.
- When melted, add the entire tin of condensed milk, the milk powder and the flavouring of your choice (and colour if you are using). Stir well and put back in the microwave for 3-4 minutes depending on the power you have. Check and stir well every minute.
- After 3-4 minutes is up the mixture is ready. It should be a thick dough like consistency now. Stir well and leave to cool for about 5 minutes.
- After 5 minutes the mixture will still be hot, but you should be able to handle it to make balls. Divide the mixture into tbsp size balls, roll in your hands and place on a tray lined with grease-proof paper or foil.
- Once all rolled, make an indentation in the top of each peda which will flatten them slightly. You can use the tip of your finger or a stamp like the kind that I have used or another implement of your choice to make a design.
- Finally garnish with nuts if you are using and or other decorations such as edible glitter.
- Leave to cool and within 15 minutes they will be cool and ready to serve!
And they were a resounding success in Jamaica, too! She added her own little twist….that gene really does run through both of us!
My sister’s version- Caribbean Coconut Pedas
An excellent effort!