Diwali: A festival for the taste buds

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

The Indian celebration for Diwali features rich savoury and sweet dishes. Enjoli Liston gets ready for the feast

Diwali is my food highlight of the year. Celebrated by Hindus, Jains and Sikhs, the festival of light falls on 26 October this year and is a wonderfully chaotic event filled with family, friends, prayers, loads of fireworks and – my favourite bit – a huge amount of feasting.

Just as each faith has its own reasons for celebrating Diwali, each family has its own traditional Diwali foods. The universal turkey-and-sprouts fare traditionally served for Christmas dinner has no equivalent in the five days of Diwali festivities. But celebrations do have at least one thing in common – plates brimming with delicious treats are never far. Leicester and London host some of the largest Diwali celebrations outside the Indian subcontinent, making this the perfect time to sample a huge variety of Indian cuisine at its best, whether you celebrate Diwali or not.

"As in most Indian homes, food is at the centre of our culture and family get-togethers, and as such, it forms the focal point for Diwali celebrations," says Karam Sethi, co-owner and head chef of Trishna, an upmarket London Indian restaurant linked to the eponymous seafood specialists in Mumbai.

In previous years, Sethi's Diwali specialty at the restaurant has been raan – a leg of lamb marinated overnight using whole spices, Kashmiri chillies, yoghurt, ginger and garlic that is initially cooked over coal "to give it a smokier flavour", then finished off in a low oven for around six hours. Sethi, who grew up in Britain, describes this dish as a northern specialty inspired by the cuisine favoured in Delhi, where his parents are from and where much of his extended family remains.

But as new generations of Indian families grow up in the UK, Western tastes are increasingly reflected in the changing landscapes of Diwali food. This year, Sethi has decided to add a new twist to his fare by incorporating autumnal British ingredients into his menu, achieving unusual dishes such as tandoori red leg partridge, guinea fowl tikka and peri peri grouse (Goan food has a strong Portuguese influence). "As winter draws in and nights get darker in the UK, these kinds of food have a warming and celebratory feel about them which is perfect for Diwali," he says.

Although eating out is popular during Diwali, families mostly prepare food at home ready for guests to pop in to chat, exchange gifts, play cards and watch colourful firework displays. At Sethi's parents' home in Finchley, lamb is also a favourite ingredient in his other signature Diwali dish – biryani. "Biryani is considered to be a very lavish dish when it's done right," he says. "In India, cooks would normally put a whole goat in with the rice, but a leg of lamb is good enough for us.

"When we cook the biryani we seal the top of the pot with dough to keep the rice moist. It comes out of the oven looking like a huge balloon and when you cut that open, the smell is unbelievable. There will literally be a jostling queue at the table for it."

In testament to the diversity of Diwali celebrations, Sethi's meaty meals are completely different to the sumptuous vegetarian fare on offer at my parents' house, where my mum – who is Gujarati, Hindu, originally from Mumbai and a strict vegetarian – is head honcho in the kitchen.

After the pooja ritual in the morning, huge saucepans are filled with steaming toor dal, garam masala-spiced aubergines, cauliflower saak (fried with mustard seeds and chilli powder) and plenty more. Simple to make in large quantities and easy to keep warm, these are perfect for providing a steady stream of food for the always-indefinite numbers of guests and they easily succeed in pleasing the carnivores of the family, my brother and my British-born dad.

One restaurant that knows how to achieve delicious food on an enormous scale is Shayona, which specialises in a wide range of regional Indian cuisine. It is located opposite the Shri Swaminarayan Mandir, an elaborate Hindu temple in Neasden in north London, which is expecting more than 60,000 visitors over two Diwali days this year. In Hindu households, specially prepared food (Prasad) is always offered to the deities first and this year the Neasden temple will be serving a world-record breaking 1,200 vegetarian dishes for the gods, making the elaborate darshan (display of the deities) a breathtaking sight.

Shayona is mainly frequented by Hindu devotees and Diwali is its busiest time of the year. "We expect to serve nearly 30,000 people in one-and-a-half days of celebrations at the temple," the head chef Sunil Kumar says. Although the restaurant itself will be shut for the holiday, it will provide Mumbai-style street food from stalls outside the temple, including more than 3,000 dhabelis (veggie burgers) and 3,000 portions of pau bhaji (a Gujarati dish of thick vegetable curry garnished with raw onion and coriander eaten in a bread roll – one of my mum's favourites).

But the ultimate pièce de résistance of all Diwali cuisine has to be the towering arrays of neon-coloured sweets. In the three weeks leading up to Diwali, Shayona estimates that it will have sold around 25 tonnes of handmade sweets, from year-round favourites such as barfi (made from condensed milk and sugar, it comes in hundreds of different varieties) and jalebi (deep-fried batter soaked in sugary syrup) to Diwali specialties such as suterfeni (sweet shredded dough topped with pistachios) and ghoogra (crescent moon-shaped dumplings with a sweet cardamom-spiced filling). With so many delicious dishes to try, it's a good job Diwali goes on for five days.

Sweet treats how to make suji halwa

"Sweets are the absolute must for Diwali," my mum says. My aunt Renuka prepares this fragrant dish as an offering for the Hindu deities, which also makes for a delicious blessing for us when the prayers are finished. There are hundreds of different kinds of halwa (carrot is very popular), but this is our favourite.

Serves 6

Preparation time: 10 mins
Cooking time: 20 mins

Ingredients

175g ghee (found in most supermarkets)
175g fine semolina
150ml milk
25g chopped almonds
1/2 tsp ground cardamom
100g caster sugar
(25g desiccated coconut and 50g of soaked sultanas are optional)

Method:

Melt the ghee in a frying pan over a low heat. Add the semolina and stir continuously for 10 minutes. Add the water, then add half of the cardamom and almonds (plus all of the coconut and sultanas, if used). When the water is fully absorbed, add the sugar, remembering to stir continuously. When the ingredients are fully mixed, remove from heat. Sprinkle the rest of the almonds and cardamom on top; serve warm.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Arts and Entertainment
Babysitter Katie and Paul have terse words in the park
tvReview: The strength of the writing keeps viewers glued to their seats even when they are confronted with the hard-hitting scenes
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
American singer, acclaimed actor of stage and screen, political activist and civil rights campaigner Paul Robeson (1898 - 1976), rehearses in relaxed mood at the piano.
filmSinger, actor, activist, athlete: Paul Robeson was a cultural giant. But prejudice and intolerance drove him to a miserable death. Now his story is to be told in film...
Sport
England’s opening goalscorer Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain battles with Scotland’s Charlie Mulgrew
FootballEngland must learn to keep possession and dictate games before they are exposed by the likes of Germany and Brazil
Life and Style
Make-up artists prepare contestants for last year’s Miss World, held in Budapest
fashion
Sport
Wigan Athletic’s back-of-the shirt sponsor Premier Range has pulled out due to Malky Mackay’s arrival
Football
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    Recruitment Genius: Chef De Partie x 2

    £16000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This charming and contemporary ...

    Recruitment Genius: Membership Sales Advisor - OTE £20,000 Uncapped

    £15000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The fastest growing fitness cha...

    Recruitment Genius: Personal Trainer - £30,000 OTE Uncapped

    £15000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The fastest growing fitness cha...

    Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Advisor / Administrator

    £13000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

    Day In a Page

    US immigration: President Obama ready to press ahead with long-promised plan to overhaul 'broken system' - but will it get past a Republican-controlled Congress?

    Immigration: Obama's final frontier

    The President is ready to press ahead with the long-promised plan to overhaul America's 'broken system' - but will it get past a Republican-controlled Congress?
    Bill Cosby rape allegations explained: Why are these allegations coming out now? Why didn’t these women come forward earlier? And why has nobody taken legal action?

    Bill Cosby rape allegations explained

    Why are these allegations coming out now? Why has nobody taken legal action? And what happens next for the man once thought of as 'America's Dad'
    Four years of excruciating seizures caused by the 1cm tapeworm found burrowing through a man's brain

    You know that headache you’ve got?

    Four years of excruciating seizures caused by the 1cm tapeworm found burrowing through a man's brain
    Travelling to work by scooter is faster than walking and less sweaty than cycling, so why aren’t we all doing it?

    Scoot commute

    Travelling to work by scooter is faster than walking and less sweaty than cycling, so why aren’t we all doing it?
    Paul Robeson: The story of how an American icon was driven to death to be told in film

    The Paul Robeson story

    How an American icon was driven to death to be told in film
    10 best satellite navigation systems

    Never get lost again: 10 best satellite navigation systems

    Keep your vehicle going in the right direction with a clever device
    Paul Scholes column: England must learn to keep possession and dictate games before they are exposed by the likes of Germany and Brazil

    Paul Scholes column

    England must learn to keep possession and dictate games before they are exposed by the likes of Germany and Brazil
    Michael Dawson: I’ll thank Spurs after we win says defender as he prepares to return with Hull

    Michael Dawson: I’ll thank Spurs after we win

    Hull defender faces his struggling former club on Sunday ready to show what they are missing. But he says he will always be grateful to Tottenham
    Frank Warren column: Dr Wu has big plans for the professionals yet he should stick to the amateur game

    Frank Warren column

    Dr Wu has big plans for the professionals yet he should stick to the amateur game
    Synagogue attack: Fear unites both sides of Jerusalem as minister warns restoring quiet could take 'months'

    Terror unites Jerusalem after synagogue attack

    Rising violence and increased police patrols have left residents of all faiths looking over their shoulders
    Medecins sans Frontieres: The Ebola crisis has them in the headlines, but their work goes far beyond West Africa

    'How do you carry on? You have to...'

    The Ebola crisis has Medecins sans Frontieres in the headlines, but their work goes far beyond West Africa
    Isis extends its deadly reach with suicide bombing in Kurdish capital

    Isis extends its deadly reach with suicide bombing in Kurdish capital

    Residents in what was Iraq’s safest city fear an increase in jihadist attacks, reports Patrick Cockburn
    Underwater photography competition winners 2014 - in pictures

    'Mysterious and inviting' shot of diver wins photography competition

    Stunning image of cenote in Mexico takes top prize
    Sir John Major: Negative West End portrayals of politicians put people off voting

    Sir John Major hits out at theatres

    Negative West End portrayals of politicians put people off voting
    Kicking Barbie's butt: How the growth of 3D printing enabled me to make an army of custom-made figurines

    Kicking Barbie's butt

    How the growth of 3D printing enabled toy-designer to make an army of custom-made figurines