Ushering In Diwali On A Sweet Note
Diwali is here! A festival that fills the hearts, both young and old, with great exuberance, when everyone seems to be a part of the gaiety and the whole atmosphere turns festive with homes and shops adorned with colourful lanterns of all shapes and sizes, buzzing with people shopping like there is no tomorrow. Markets are flooded with crackers, sweets, clothes and gift hampers, dry fruits and nuts, chocolates and greeting cards. House and shops are scrubbed and and often white washed, and kitchens bustling with people churning out sweets and snacks to eat and share during the five-day festival.
Sindhis celebrate Diwali with much pomp and fanfare. While oil lamps (diye) are lit and homes are decorated with flowers and light ropes, lanterns and marigold-mango leaf torans for all five days, but a special pooja ritual is done on the third day of Diwali when Goddess Lakshmi is worshipped.
A special mud structure called Hatri is decorated with vermilion swastika and other paraphernalia like marigold flowers, Mitero, Phulan ji lai (murmura chikki) etc are placed inside hatri. A bowl filled with raw milk is kept near this and a silver coin embossed/engraved with image of Goddess Lakshmi is placed inside it. Few grains of rice, sugar, few cloves and petals of flowers are put into the milk bowl and clay/mud lamps are lit around it. A pooja thali is decorated with kumkum, Supari, marigold flowers, betel leaves etc and prayers are sung in honour of the Goddess of wealth.
Sweets are exchanged after seeking blessings and gifts from elders. The most popular sweets during Diwali are Varo (dry fruit praline), Kaju Katli, Bhughal Mawo and assorted lai/ Tulashakri (murmura chikki, puffed channa chikki, peanut chikkis made using sugar syrup).
In many Sindhi homes, Sata Bhajyun or a mix of seven vegetables is cooked for the occasion while others enjoy festive foods like dal pakwan, ladhi chaawaran among others during the day. A lavish spread is also cooked for dinner, especially to allure the taste-buds of the special guest i.e. the son-in-law.
Post dinner a small stalk of jowar is taken by each family member and a criss-cross cut is made at one end. A blob of cotton is placed inside that cut in such a way that it can act like a wick. This wick is placed on the tip of the jowar stalk and then dipped in mustard oil and lit. The burning stalk is then placed outside the home, resting along the wall. Sparklers, flower pots, rockets and many different types of crackers are burnt before calling it a day.
Since there is a ritual to send sweets and gifts to the married daughters and sisters during Diwali, and then again for siyaaro (warming, rich food made from milk, khoya and nuts like khoya, dharan jo khor, majun mithai, poppy seed halwa etc) many prefer to combine both rituals and hence the above mentioned sweets along with Varo, a dry fruit and nut praline are also made during the festival.
Varo basically is a sweet made from caramelised sugar (praline) mixed with dry fruits. The thickness of this brittle varies from 3/4th of an inch to 1/4th inch depending on your preference.
Recipe for Varo
Sugar 250 gms
Water (2 tbsp) or oil (1 tbsp)
A small cup of sliced dry fruits/nuts (Almonds, cashew nuts, unsalted pistachio, dried coconut, dried dates)
Poppy seeds 2 tbsp
Green cardamom 2-4
1. Slice the nuts and dry fruits and dried coconuts. Rinse poppy seeds and strain.
2. Grease a flat plate with little oil.
3. In a thick bottom pan mix sugar and water/oil, cardamoms seeds and mix well. Keep stirring the mixture, making sure, no lumps of sugar are present.
4. As soon as the sugar melts, add the strained poppy seeds. Stir well.
5. Switch of the gas when the syrup color changes to amber.
6. Immediately put all the sliced nuts and mix rapidly.
7. Spread the mixture on a greased surface.
8. Let it cool down completely.
9. Break it into pieces using pestle.
10. Could be stored for few weeks in an airtight container.
Alka Keswani is a microbiology graduate, a hands-on mom and food blogger. Besides contributing articles to various magazines and newspapers, she has also co-authored a food section in ‘We The Sindhis’ book. Her blog Sindhi Rasoi won the Best Regional Food blog in 2013 and Best Vegetarian food blog in 2014 at the Food Bloggers Association of India awards. She also manages another blog called Recipeonclick for non-Sindhi recipes.
Follow Alka on Twitter @Sindhirasoi