Diwali 2018


Diwali – the festival of lights, one of the key festivals for Indians and an excuse to indulge by way of food, drinks, gambling and gifts – go figure. It’s party time for weeks on end. In India there is a festive mood, open houses, food galore, fire crackers and beautifully lit up houses.


What I especially love is the fact that people from all income levels go all out and light up their houses with diyas (tea light candles made with clay). I feel nostalgic just reminiscing, and the aroma of the smoke from all the lights makes me so happy.


Here in San Francisco I have a party every year and I cook copious amounts of food and really get into the décor.  There are usually 50 people in my not so large house. I am always complaining as I plan, swearing that it will be my last time doing this but in the end it’s all so worth it and nothing makes me happier.


Planning of the party is always difficult as I try to recreate memories from my childhood in India. I spend countless hours on Pinterest, Etsy and different stores trying to find props that will fit with my vision. As we get closer the stress and the excitement builds. One of must-have decorations is Rangoli which is an art form in which patterns are created on the floor with colored powder, flowers, and rice. It is done during festivals and supposed to bring good luck.  I usually make Rangoli with colored powder but this time I used a combination of flowers and lentils. I was quite happy with the end result and it became the center piece for my dining table.

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     The whole house had lights all over and the backyard had fairy lights. We had marigolds, which is the official flower for Diwali, decorating the entrance. It was very festive and warm and reminded me of home!     The most important aspect, as you would have guessed, was the food. Typically, I spend hours debating the menu with my husband. He being a foodie himself has his own vision and somehow we have to come up with a plan that fits both our visions. The food needs to be authentic, yet different and mostly pre made which is a big challenge because some of the tastiest Indian foods are made hot right there and then. This year was especially difficult because we were embarking on an all vegetarian menu which had to wow all. The day of the party happened to fall on a religious day where we don’t eat meat. After a lot of back and forth we decided on the final menu      Appetizers   Aloo Chop: a Bihari (region of India) potato slider which is spicy and fairly complex to make  Matar ki chaat: a street food, made using dried yellow peas and slowly cooked with mild spices      Mains   Khoya Makhana Matar: fox nut (makhana) and green peas (matar) cooked with reduced milk in a tomato curry.  Dal Makhani: rich, creamy lentil dish  Kurkuri Bhindi: deep fried crispy okra cooked with ajwain (carom seed)  Paneer Adraki: an amazing paneer (cheese) dish made with lots of ginger and various spices      Sides   Dahi Vada: lentil fritters topped with yogurt and tamarind chutney  Bharwa Mirch: serrano peppers stuffed with mango powder and then lightly sautéed  Mirch Ajwain Paratha: bread flavored red chili powder with carom seeds  Pudina Paratha: bread stuffed with dried mint      Dessert   Mal Pua: deep fried crunchy fennel pancakes topped with warm sugar syrup  Rabri: thickened/reduced milk with pistachios, saffron and cardamom      A lot of my friends were initially skeptical of a pure vegetarian menu, especially since most of them crave my non-vegetarian dishes. So, I was definitely surprised and happy to hear them say that this was one of the most interesting and delicious meals they have ever had. Well, I guess the hard work paid off. Specifically, I had make a lot of the ingredients from scratch in order to make the dishes. Freshly made paneer, ghee, khoya, parathas and dahi vadas. These are things I could easily buy pre-made but there is a huge difference in flavor when they are made at home. In fact, the most popular dish of the evening was the paneer and I attribute it mainly to the fact that the paneer was homemade, which lent the dish an incredibly tender/silky texture.     Mal pua was also a big hit. It’s not a dessert you see in the US. Very simply described it’s like a crispy pancake dipped in sugar syrup. It’s typically crunchy, warm and sweet. It’s got hints of fennel seeds, cardamom, saffron, raisins and almonds. It perfectly satisfies your sugar craving on a cold rainy day but for me any day.     Overall, it was another perfect Diwali with loved ones, good food, gambling till 3am (I lost unfortunately) and fire crackers too.

The whole house had lights all over and the backyard had fairy lights. We had marigolds, which is the official flower for Diwali, decorating the entrance. It was very festive and warm and reminded me of home!


The most important aspect, as you would have guessed, was the food. Typically, I spend hours debating the menu with my husband. He being a foodie himself has his own vision and somehow we have to come up with a plan that fits both our visions. The food needs to be authentic, yet different and mostly pre made which is a big challenge because some of the tastiest Indian foods are made hot right there and then. This year was especially difficult because we were embarking on an all vegetarian menu which had to wow all. The day of the party happened to fall on a religious day where we don’t eat meat. After a lot of back and forth we decided on the final menu


Appetizers

Aloo Chop: a Bihari (region of India) potato slider which is spicy and fairly complex to make

Matar ki chaat: a street food, made using dried yellow peas and slowly cooked with mild spices


Mains

Khoya Makhana Matar: fox nut (makhana) and green peas (matar) cooked with reduced milk in a tomato curry.

Dal Makhani: rich, creamy lentil dish

Kurkuri Bhindi: deep fried crispy okra cooked with ajwain (carom seed)

Paneer Adraki: an amazing paneer (cheese) dish made with lots of ginger and various spices


Sides

Dahi Vada: lentil fritters topped with yogurt and tamarind chutney

Bharwa Mirch: serrano peppers stuffed with mango powder and then lightly sautéed

Mirch Ajwain Paratha: bread flavored red chili powder with carom seeds

Pudina Paratha: bread stuffed with dried mint


Dessert

Mal Pua: deep fried crunchy fennel pancakes topped with warm sugar syrup

Rabri: thickened/reduced milk with pistachios, saffron and cardamom



A lot of my friends were initially skeptical of a pure vegetarian menu, especially since most of them crave my non-vegetarian dishes. So, I was definitely surprised and happy to hear them say that this was one of the most interesting and delicious meals they have ever had. Well, I guess the hard work paid off. Specifically, I had make a lot of the ingredients from scratch in order to make the dishes. Freshly made paneer, ghee, khoya, parathas and dahi vadas. These are things I could easily buy pre-made but there is a huge difference in flavor when they are made at home. In fact, the most popular dish of the evening was the paneer and I attribute it mainly to the fact that the paneer was homemade, which lent the dish an incredibly tender/silky texture.


Mal pua was also a big hit. It’s not a dessert you see in the US. Very simply described it’s like a crispy pancake dipped in sugar syrup. It’s typically crunchy, warm and sweet. It’s got hints of fennel seeds, cardamom, saffron, raisins and almonds. It perfectly satisfies your sugar craving on a cold rainy day but for me any day.


Overall, it was another perfect Diwali with loved ones, good food, gambling till 3am (I lost unfortunately) and fire crackers too.