In Indian culinary culture, there is no such thing as a dessert course, and people tend not to eat desserts, or even chocolate, on a regular basis. However, Indians, like everyone else, do need the sweet taste, one of the six tastes of Ayurveda, in their diet. This should of course, mostly be obtained from naturally sweet foods such as ripe fruits, ghee, basmati rice, milk, honey, and certain vegetables. However, we all like the ‘other’ kind of sweet foods on occasions; these are the ones created with some kind of added sugar. Generally, Indian people eat desserts at social events such as dinner parties and weddings, but they also make confections, known as barfi, to offer as celebratory gifts for acknowledging key milestone in life, such as when when a baby is born. Additionally, they make batches of them to offer visitors along with a masala chai during festivals such a Diwali.
The sweet taste
In Ayurveda, and therefore in Indian culture (Ayurveda is one of the very foundations of Indian culture) the sweet taste, known as MADHURA, is associated with love, affection, happiness, giving, and the celebration of life. I am not a sweet- toothed person; this is probably because as I mentioned, as an Indian family, we didn’t eat desserts at home when I was growing up, like many of my English school friends did. I suppose I didn’t acquire a taste for anything too sweet as a result of this. However, whilst I get much of the sweet taste from the above-mentioned foods, I also love baking, cooking, and offering sweet somethings to family and friends; it’s my way of honouring my culture, and my own desire to nurture, and show my love. Spending time and effort making food for others is my idea of the perfect gift.
Barfi is the name for popular Indian milk -based confections that are usually bite- sized, and typically contain ground nuts and spice flavourings such as cardamom. They are wonderfully dense and filling, so a small square, or ball- shaped barfi is all one needs to satisfy the taste buds. The very few ingredients offer wholesome nutrition, with added sugar kept to a minimum, because of the sweetness of the milk, ghee, and also the creaminess of the nuts. My mother has passed on her passion for cooking to me, and we are both forever creating or finding new recipes to try. She told me about this very easy recipe she read in an Indian magazine, for barfi made with ground almonds that are rolled into large cherry-sized balls.
A perfect sweet offering
I made some with her, and added a twist with finely crushed cardamom seeds, and then coated half of them with toasted desiccated coconut, and the rest with crushed pistachios, topped with pretty little pink rose petals. They all looked, and tasted divine, and they’re perfect bites to eat along with a mint tea, or coffee, and importantly, they are nutritious, and grounding. The best bit for me, is that they allow me to satisfy my cultural love of making sweet offerings for others, and sharing the sentiment of gifting my affection with confection! The size of these is ideal for me too; they offer just a teeny tiny bit of sweetness that delivers on every level. I think you’ll love the ‘madhura’ taste of these almond confections; make them for others to eat when they visit, or to offer as a gift when you visit them- either way, your friends and family will taste the loving sentiment contained in every mouthful.
Ingredients to make around 12 barfi:
100g ground almonds
A small tin of sweetened condensed milk (you’ll only use 4 level tablespoons)
1 tsp coarsely ground cardamom seeds
A good tbsp ghee
2-4 tsp toasted desiccated coconut
2 tsp coarsely ground pistachios
Tiny dried pink rose petals for decorating (I buy mine from Waitrose)
Put the ghee in a medium frying pan, and once heated, turn down to the lowest setting, and add the ground almonds. Stir really well continuously with a small wooden spoon for around six or seven minutes until the ghee is incorporated, the almonds are ‘cooked’, slightly evenly golden, and have a bit of a bite when you taste them. Now move the frying pan away from the heat, and sprinkle the cardamom seeds evenly over the almonds. Next, take a level tablespoon of the condensed milk from the tin, and pour it into the mixture, stirring well before adding the next one. After you have added all four tablespoons, the ingredients will start to come together and resemble a thickish, soft and smooth marzipan. Once you are happy with the texture, put it back on a very low heat again, and stir continuously for one minute or so. Switch off the heat, and remove the paste to a plate with the spoon. After around five minutes it should be cool enough to handle. Now give it a slight knead, and make small balls roughly the size of a large cherry. Try to make them all the same size, adjusting the amount of paste you take accordingly. The best method is to flatten each ball into a disc with your palms, and press it a couple of times, then roll it back into a ball shape, smoothing it with your fingers, so there are no cracks. After you have made all the balls, put the toasted coconut, and the ground pistachios on separate small plates. Starting with the coconut topping, take one ball at a time, hold it above the plate in one hand, gather a little of the coconut with the fingers your other hand, and lightly sprinkle it all over, turning the ball as you sprinkle. Sprinkle half of the balls with coconut, and the other ones with pistachios. Make sure you don’t coat the entire surface, as the two toppings are more decorative than anything, so they shouldn’t overpower the almond taste of the barfi. Gently place a rose petal or two on top of each of the pistachio- covered barfi.
Store the almond barfi in an airtight box in the fridge, but remove an hour before you want to eat them, so they are at room temperature.
They should stay fresh for a week or so.