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White girl makes mithai

May 6, 2010

gulab jamun, rasgullaOne of the things I love most about New York is the diversity.  You can take a train down to Brighton Beach and be surrounded by Slavic signage and if you get into kiting troubles on the beach your savior, tugging hard on the boardwalk’s electric cabling might explain “Russian no afraid electricity”.  In the midst of Chinatown’s frenzy of cheap knockoff handbags marketed to tourists you can find plenty of local oddities  that you might be daring enough to taste – in a (never to be repeated) fit of adventurousness I once tried jellyfish salad.   Looking in the windows of the jewelery stores and sari shops of Jackson Heights you can hear the Bollywood music so clearly in your mind that it’s a suprise to discover that the men walking down the sidewalk are neither shirtless nor surrounded by singing girls and brightly colored flowers.

So I soak up all this foreign life and food and feel like I’m pretty cosmopolitan.  And sometimes I try to recreate ethnic eats in my own kitchen: when it comes to Indian food I’ve made pretty good saag panner and have a few great recipes from my dad for curries.  Recently I decided to try my hand at making Indian sweets (or mithai) since the syrupy, sweet dough balls and creamy rich white nibbles are really  my favorite part of any Southeast Asian meal.  To be honest I was a little intimidated by the thought of trying these at home.  Fortunately when I want to cook Indian food I know where to get authentic help: Manjula’s kitchen is full of recipes and also videos showing Manjula’s techniques for all your favorite dishes.   She’s the one who taught me my saag panneer.  Its kind of like having your own Indian grandma in the kitchen with you – or at least as close as the internet can get to it.

In a fit of ambition I made four kinds of sweets: Bengali Rasgulla, Ras Malai, Sandesh and Gulab Jamuns.  The first three all use homemade panneer as a base (the same indian cheese used in savory dishes, here just sweetened and/or smothered in sugary syrups.  Paneer is easy to make you just add lemon water to warm milk and cook until the curds and whey separate and then strain the water out of the curds to make a nice solid block of cheese).  The Gulab Jamoons are a different typology, more an indian version of donuts, deepfried and then drowned in sweet syrup.  The syrups are awesome too: laced with lots of cardamom – which has become my new favorite spice.  When I finished up and started tasting I was moderately pleased: these were certainly not perfect, but the flavors where there.  Even Noerah had to admit that my Indian sweets were “not bad for a white girl”.

gulab-jamun indian sweets

ras-gulla indian sweets

-by Talia

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9 Comments leave one →
  1. May 6, 2010 1:09 pm

    I made Gulab Jamuns once — based on a recipe from a Canadian-Indian friend of mine. They were fabulous. So delicate and perfumey sweet. This post is making me seriously hungry.

  2. May 6, 2010 2:44 pm

    I so want to go to Brighton Beach… and these sweets look really fab! I’ve yet to make paneer, but it’s on my list. Ahh, the never-ending-and-steadily-growing list…

    • May 6, 2010 3:51 pm

      Brighton Beach is fun! And lots of great russian food.
      As for the paneer: its an easy one… not that that helps when the list is so long… mine is too! Anyway, at some point I want to do a post on making all these dairy items.

  3. May 6, 2010 4:38 pm

    Hahah! I cracked up when I saw the title of this post. You go, girlfriend! That is so awesome that you made all those Indian sweets. I am incredibly impressed. My family is Indian and I am from New York so I can relate to this post in so many ways. I LOVE the diversity of New York — you can experience so many different cultures there and try so many different types of foods, it’s really incredible. Ahh, now I miss NY…again! And yes, I love Manjula’s website too. The videos are super helpful. I think all the sweets you made look fabulous, gulab jamon, rasgullah, ras malais, and sandesh?!?! That is amazing!!

    • May 7, 2010 10:40 am

      Thanks! I’m glad to be able to impress you w/ my first attempt… and to be able to make you miss New York: you’ll have to come visit soon! An Indian friend of mine recommended Manjula when I asked him how he made saag paneer, at first I thought he was just being too lazy to give me his recipe, but now I’m so glad to have found her!

  4. May 6, 2010 8:03 pm

    Thanks for this sweet recipe. I am really enjoy to reading your blog. This looks delicious. I have written some similar sweet recipe on my blog. But your recipe is too good. Thanks once again.

  5. May 6, 2010 11:52 pm

    “Not bad for a white girl”? Are you kidding me? When I first saw your photo, I thought it was of sweets at a restaurant. I had no idea they were homemade. They look FABULOUS. You should be justly proud. 😉

    • May 7, 2010 10:42 am

      Thanks Carolyn!! I’m pretty proud of them, I am. but if I thought they were perfect I wouldn’t have a reason to keep making them again, and I really do want to keep doing that!

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