Gujiya, malpua & Holi must-haves : The Tribune India

Gujiya, malpua & Holi must-haves

Gujiya, malpua & Holi must-haves

Gujiya and malpua have varied versions in different parts of the country, while bhaang ki thandai is a must on the Holi platter. ISTOCK

Rahul Verma

NARAYAN SINGH came into our lives when I was a small child, and unveiled a culinary world I knew little of. Our three-member family in a village in Muzaffarnagar was vegetarian, so he would prepare the usual dal-roti-sabzi for us every day. Once in a while, though, his soul would yearn for something non-vegetarian, and he would go to a dark and remote corner of a field, light up a wood-fire and — while I watched avidly — rustle up a dish of mutton or chicken curry.

But on occasions such as Holi, he was the avowed king of the kitchen. He would roast semolina with dried coconut, khoya and sugar, and keep the mix aside. He would then knead a heap of flour into a smooth ball of dough and break it into little balls. He rolled out a ball like a roti, put the mix at the centre, and folded it, twirling the edge into little waves or curls. These were then deep-fried and stored in large canisters we called kanastar. That was my introduction to gujiya, a sweet traditionally linked with Holi in many parts of India.

The sweet, prepared in a season that is usually pleasantly cool, and with ingredients that don’t spoil easily, stayed for days — despite my many frequent raids.

Gujiya, as we know, has different names in different parts of the country. Odisha and Maharashtra know it as karanji; in Bihar and Jharkhand, they call it pedukiya, and in Bengal peraki; in Andhra Pradesh, it is known as kajjikayalu. Because of its crescent-like shape, it is also known as chandrakala. The stuffing varies, too. Raisins, dry fruit, sesame or fennel seeds and cardamom powder add to the flavours of suji, khoya and coconut. The karanji of Maharashtra uses fresh coconut, which gives it a spurt of juiciness, and poppy seeds, which add to the texture of the filling.

Gujiya, which puffs up like a poori when it is being fried in hot oil, has to be prepared with considerable care. The maida has to be kneaded with a generous amount of ghee to give it the right texture. When you roll out the dough like a roti, the middle part should be thicker than the sides, so that the stuffing does not spill out when it bobs up in the oil. And the edges have to be sealed well, usually with a bit of water, to ensure that it keeps its shape. Gujiyas are often sweetened with sugar syrup, which, when lifted with a fork or a spoon, should be as thin as a wire.

A simpler sweet to make is the malpua. This is another Holi speciality, and again has versions across India. All that you need for this is some maida, apart from sugar and oil. You make a thin batter with maida and water, add sugar to it and a few fennel seeds for flavour, and then shallow fry it — making sure that the sides are brown and crisp, and the centre is soft and creamy. Some do not add sugar to the mix, but place the malpuas in sugar syrups once they are done, or smear them with large dollops of rabri.

Many believe that malpuas come from a Vedic sweet called apupa, prepared with barley or rice flour and sweetened with honey. Food historian KT Achaya writes that in Buddhist times, it was cooked with broken rice and called kanapuvam. “A Sanskrit version of the name is pupa, which is reflected in the pua and malpua of modern Bengal,” Achaya writes in ‘A Historical Dictionary of Indian Food’.

Another Holi must-have is bhang ki thandai, for which ground leaves and flowering tops of cannabis are mixed with milk or yoghurt and sweetened. Since the festival embraces spring and bids goodbye to winter, sherbets or thandais symbolise the advent of warmer times. I find that some intrepid souls even like to add a bit of thandai to their golgappas!

What I like best about festive foods is the fact that adventurous chefs always like to tweak the ingredients or methods to inject newness into old methods. Take the gujiya, for instance. Chef Ashwani Singh, who heads ‘Cook pro 6’ of the YouTube channel Hmmlife, prepares the sweet in the traditional way — with a filling of khoya flavoured with saffron and dry fruit, or with green cardamom, nutmeg and mace — but also experiments with interesting fillings. Some of his gujiyas are filled with sweet potatoes and khoya, which, he says, give a different texture to the stuffing. And Rahul Dua, who runs the Gurugram-based food delivery service Bhawan, often stuffs his gujiyas with stewed apple, and occasionally with gulkand, a preserve of rose petals that paans are often sweetened with.

Tradition, clearly, likes to keep its doors open. Narayan Singh had quite an open mind, too. I can see him now — years since he retired to the big sky with his karchi — stewing apples and roasting sweet potatoes for the gujiyas of another time.

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