Come end of September and its time of autumn festivities for Indians.Hindus all over India celebrate Navratri (nine days of fasting & feasting),worshipping Goddess Durga in nine pristine forms,each form depicting a virtue . Ramlila is a traditional, nine or ten-day long drama staged during these days in northern india to portray the life events of Lord Rama and his victory over the demon king Ravana.The last day which is a celebration of this triumph is observed as Dusherra.
Year after year we looked forward to Ramlila days. There would be a nip in the air,schools would be off and bazaars all geared up to witness the hustle and bustle of upcoming festivals.Quite a lot of big and small fairs dotted our town,each locality showcasing its grandeur through decorations,much pomp & show,some having lighted displays,other luring crowds with musicals.Before you go into thinking about a fairyland, the ramlila grounds were dusty and crowded, cramped shoulder to shoulder with people,with flashy neon or fluorescent light banners and the music shows – a cacophony of loudspeakers which sore your ears few minutes into listening but, in those days I LOVED all of that. My enthusiasm could be might low if I visit the fair now but in those days,every evening, dressed our best,we left the house together to visit a new ramlila ground.
Walking through the dimly lit,narrow roads and holding each other’s hand, carrying goodies in the other, we would come back home around midnight from the last day at ramlila,after having witnessed the demon effigies burnt to ashes and the fireworks that followed to cheer the triumph of good over evil.Legs aching due to long waits in the queue for almost everything but stomachs stuffed to content with piping hot jalebis fresh from the halwai stalls and our hands full with knickknacks bought from the toy stalls – bubble guns, imitation bows & arrows, helium balloons, pinwheels and candy.All we chatted about were the rides at the fair and how to make next few weeks to Diwali fun!
Sometimes I feel how growing up, for us the means of entertainment were so uncomplicated.I remember playing on terrace for hours with tiny earthen pots and tea cups bought from the potter stalls at ramleela, on few days we played cricket for hours in the aangan (yard),on most evenings we wandered miles and miles in the park chasing butterflies and bees or hopelessly trying to create colorful illusions with pinwheels. Festivals like Holi, Dusherra and Diwali were longed for, for months. Mum tells me that I had quite a keen interest in all things culture and mythology.
No computer, no DVDs, no play stations, no just dance, no karaoke. Entertainment did not come out of LCD screens, it was way real. Sorry for sounding like a grandma but I dare not talk about the simplicity of those days!
Jalebi is the one of the popular mithai which was popular in my part of town on Dusherra, which falls on 3rd Oct this year.For me on this day nothing else will suffice as dessert if it’s not jalebi. Comparable to a funnel cake but eggless and fermented, jalebi is a crisp, deep-fried maida (flour) batter,soaked in sugar syrup long enough to sweeten it but not let it turn soft. The sugar syrup may or may not be flavored with cardamom, saffron or rosewater. As the fermented batter is piped into the hot oil, it swells and comes sizzling up,changing its color to golden. The crisp concentric fried batter are then dunked in warm sugar and served with cold unsweetened milk or rabdi. However, my favorite way to serve hot jalebis is with dahi (plain unsweetened yogurt).
Ingredients (Makes 20-25 Jalebis)
For the Jalebi
- 1 cup maida (all-purpose flour)
- 1.5 tbsp cornstarch
- 1.5 tbsp besan (fine ground gram flour)
- 1 tsp yeast
- 1.5 tbsp melted ghee (use any neutral oil for vegan version)
- 2 tbsp whole milk plain yogurt, at room temperature (skip for vegan, see notes)
- 1/8 tsp saffron powder (crush a few saffron threads between palms)
- 1-2 drops orange food color(optional)
- 1/4 to 1/3 cup luke warm water + 2-3 tbsp warm water for dissolving yeast (adjust water quantity for right consistency)
- Canola/Sunflower Oil for frying (You can add 1-2 tbsp ghee to it for a nice aroma)
For the Sugar Syrup
- 1.5 cup granulated sugar
- 1 cup water
- 1-2 green cardamom pods, cracked open or 1/4 tsp green cardamom powder
- 1/4 tsp saffron threads
- 1 tsp fresh lemon juice
- Optional Flavorings – rose water, kewra (screwpine water)
In a small bowl, add of scant pinch of sugar and 2-3 tbsp of warm(not hot) water, dissolve yeast and let sit for 5-8 minutes. Let the yeast bloom (you should see froth on top).If the yeast does not bloom, discard and start the batch again.
Meanwhile, in a large bowl, sift the maida, besan and cornstarch. Add the saffron powder.Using your finger, lightly mix the ghee and yogurt with the flour. Add the bloomed yeast mix, orange food color and slowly add luke warm water to make a smooth,lump free batter. Be doubly sure that the batter has no lumps, it is a very important step. Add the water a little at a time and incorporate.The consistency should be like a thick pancake batter. Cover the bowl with a cling film and set aside in a warm place to ferment for 2-3 hours. (The batter will ferment quickly, about 1-2 hours during summer months but could take longer during winters) Do not disturb it during fermenting.
10-15 minutes before you are ready to fry the jalebis, in a medium,wide pot, bring the sugar and water to a boil. Once the sugar syrup is boiling, reduce the heat, add the cardamom and let simmer for 7-8 minutes so that the syrup thickens up a bit. We are not looking for any string consistency here but if you take a tiny drop of syrup in between your thumb and pointer finger, it should feel sticky and not watery. Once the sugar has simmered and thickened, add lemon juice, stir and put off the heat.Wait for 2-3 minutes and then if you are using saffron or cardamom powder or any other flavorings, add it to the sugar syrup. Let sit near to where you will fry up the jalebis.
Use the widest pot or wok or pan that you have in your kitchen to fry the jalebis. I use my 12″ skillet.Pour 1-2 inches of oil in it and let heat up on medium heat.
At the end of two hours, the fermented batter will not exactly double up in volume but you would see that it is much more light and fluffy than what we started with. Once fermented, do not mix the batter much. We want it to remain airy and fluffy. Just cut and fold once or twice using a spatula (just the way we handle cake frosting) and pour it into a squeezable bottle with nozzle. Try to squeeze the batter out of the nozzle, it should come out like a tooth paste from a tube. (see notes for other ways of checking batter consistency). If you feel that the batter is thick, add a little water for the right consistency or if the batter is thin, add a couple of tablespoons of flour and mix gently so that there are no lumps.
To test the right temperature of oil, drop a small quantity batter in the oil, it should come up sizzling to the top but without changing color (if batter changes color, reduce heat and let the oil temperature reduce a bit). Squeeze the batterout of the nozzle, applying constant pressure and making 3-4 concentric circles in the oil and sealing them in the middle.Work from outside towards inside. It takes time and experience to get proper shape and it gets better and better batch after batch. Do not fry more than 4-5 jalebis in a batch. Once you have piped the jalebis in hot oil, in 2-3 seconds they will come floating up, flip and let turn golden on the other side too. Once golden, take out of from the hot oil, tilting the spider or frying spoon so that excess oil is drained.
Add the fried jalebis to the warm (not hot)syrup. Let soak for not more than 25-30 seconds and take out again tilting the ladle to drain excess syrup else they will break and turn soggy.
Fry up all the jalebis and soak in syrup. Serve warm with cold unsweetened yogurt.
Few Tips and Notes:
Indian Cooking especially mithai (sweets) making rides on a lot of approximations and tips and tricks learnt through experience. In our homes, rarely gadgets are used to test the oil or sugar syrup temperatures or times.Lets say we trust our sight and smell senses more when cooking. Mithai making is an art and gets better with practice. Here are few of the things I have learnt from mum and my own trials.
- In case you are making the jalebis for vegans, skip the yogurt in the recipe and use a little more water to get the right consistency of the batter.
- Addition of lemon juice to the syrup prevents crystallization of sugar as well as lends it a mild tart flavor which is typical to jalebis.
- Adding food coloring to the batter is a choice, if you do not want,skip it. I like to add color because my mum always does and I think it looks nice to the eyes.
- Usually the batter gets a little runny after fermentation, so its better to keep it on the thickish side before you set it out to ferment. You can always add water later to get the right consistency.
- One of the ways to check the consistency of batter is to take a large quantity in your hands and try to drop it in the bowl from a height, about 1-2 feet, it should fall is continuously, similar to how a lace or ribbon flows.
- You could use a Ziploc bag with a hole cut up at the end to make the jalebis, but I find using the squeeze bottle much easier since if you keep on pressing the Ziploc bag, after a few batches, the hole becomes large in size and the jalebis become very very thick.I find the ziploc method quite messy too. The squeezable bottles are available in baking aisle for a couple of dollars. They are much expensive to buy online. But trust me, really easy and work with. Attaching a nozzle to a piping bag works fine too, just keep in mind that the thickness of the jalebis will depend on the nozzle size. Do not use a very big size nozzle since the jalebis will not cook properly inside once fried.
- While frying, if the temperature of oil is too hot, the jalebis will come up sizzling, the batter will tear or have bubbles all over, it might every scatter in the oil and jalebis will turn over crisp and not absorb syrup properly. If the oil temperature is too low, the jalebis will remain flat and raw inside. Once you start frying, it will take you 1-2 minutes to know the right temperature of oil, the jalebis should come up within few seconds (2-3secs) of piping into oil and swell as you fry but at the same time do not get too brown. Don’t worry I also had few over brown ones, so you will know when its right.
- Getting the right shape of the jalebis takes time, they do not have to be precise and perfect but as you make more and more, you will get a hang of it. Just keep in mind to squeeze the bottle/piping bag batter with a constant pressure and work in concentric circles, outside towards inside. Again, practice will help.However, whatever shape they come out,they will taste good.
- The right texture of the jalebis is crispy on outside, if you take a bite, you will notice the tubular crossection filled with syrup. Without getting more technical,just know that they are not meant to be soft.
- You will have leftover syrup after the jalebis are soaked. I usually dunk baked bread croutons/slices in them and serve as a snack. You could refrigerate it and use to make gulab jamuns if you like. Also, it can be used in smoothies or for making beverages too.
- Jalebis can be stored for 2-3 days. Do not refrigerate. Just store at room temperature. I however, do not recommend or prefer storing them. Make small batches and serve rightaway.