Easy and Wildly Inauthentic “Tilgul” (dairy-free, gluten-free sesame energy bites)

(jump to recipe)

Every other year or so I have attempted (and failed at) “Tilgul” – a sweet treat made with sesame seeds (“Til”), jaggery (“Gul”), coconut and a whiff of cardamom, sometimes rolled into balls (“Laddoos”), or formed into bars. There’s many different kinds too, with different levels of complexity (and corresponding failure rates). Some varieties are fudge-y and moist, while others are crunchy and almost brittle-like.

No matter the way, I find it tricky to make Tilgul at home especially with the variation in the jaggery available in the US. It seems to have a lower moisture content sometimes, and other times it liquifies too fast and hardens into a rock. It’s not that my Tilgul attempts have been complete disasters, but they haven’t been as perfect as they should be, or could be (unless you call dismantling it and eating it like granola with your cereal a success).

I do intend to make authentic Tilgul and make it right the next time my Mom visits me later this year, but until then, I needed an alternative to get my Tilgul fix for Sankrant! Sankrant, or “Makar Sankrant” as it is called in my home state of Maharashtra, is one of the few Indian festivals that follow the solar calendar (as opposed to the lunar calendar which applies to most other Indian festivals, such as Diwali) and as such, is usually on the same day every year (January 15th). Some years it’s on the 14th of January. It is celebrated all over the country with different names, marking the end of winter and beginning of longer, brighter and warmer days!

Sankrant is celebrated by sharing Tilgul, a delicious sesame and jaggery based treat, and thankfully this year, my brain made the connection between Tilgul and energy balls/bites that are ever so popular these days. Tilgul is a type of Energy Ball – it gives you a quick boost of sugar (from the jaggery), and warmth from the sesame seeds and cardamom.

I figured I can make energy balls/bites with most of the same ingredients as Tilgul but in a slightly different format (using tahini, a thick sesame paste, for the sesame seeds, molasses for the jaggery) and have “Tilgul” ready to eat in a matter of minutes! All the while keeping things dairy-free, gluten-free and refined sugar-free! This way I don’t have to worry about jaggery temperatures and the perfect planetary alignment!

The recipe below is essentially for date, coconut and tahini (or peanut butter) based energy bites with a Tilgul twist. You can of course use this as a template and change the flavor profile by skipping the cardamom and adding cinnamon or nutmeg instead, or coating the bites in finely chopped pistachios instead of lightly toasted sesame seeds, or even shredded coconut.

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Clockwise from top: ground cardamom powder, molasses, shredded unsweetened coconut (dry), tahini (sesame paste), pitted dates, lightly toasted sesame seeds

I started with a base of dates for sweetness so I can avoid adding refined sugar in another form. Dates also lend a great body and structure to these bites.

To this I added a heaping quarter cup of shredded, unsweetened coconut (at first) and tahini. You can use smooth peanut butter instead of tahini (I keep switching between various nut butters and tahini for these bites) but it will have a more peanut-y taste rather than a mild sesame taste. Still delicious.

Process these in a food processor until the mixture is fine and homogenous, about 1 minute. Add cardamom (or your choice of spice) and molasses (or your choice of liquid sweetener, such as honey, agave, or my favorite, date syrup, for some more refined sugar-free goodness)!

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Add molasses or any other liquid sweetener to taste, such as date syrup, or honey, or agave nectar

Pulse until everything comes together into a mass that seems sticky enough to mold into balls but not so wet that it doesn’t leave your palms. If it seems too wet, add some more coconut flakes. If it seems too dry and tending to separate, add some more sweetener (liquid). Pulse for few more seconds until you get the desired consistency.

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Mixture is ready to be shaped into balls

Using a spoon or cookie scoop for uniformity, shape the mixture into small balls – as listed below the recipe should make 8-12, depending on the size you choose.

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Using about a tablespoon (or smaller) of mixture, shape into a small ball.

While they are still glossy and slightly wet roll them around in lightly toasted sesame seeds (placed in a shallow bowl) to coat evenly.

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Gently roll around uniformly in lightly toasted sesame seeds.

Refrigerate for 30 minutes before serving!

These keep well refrigerated in an airtight container for up to a week.

There you have it – now you don’t have to wait to perfect your Tilgul making skills to eat something that tastes almost the same, and as a bonus, is really good for you!

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Lightly toasted sesame seeds taste really good here, but you could also roll these in coconut shreds as these have enough tahini in them to bring out the sesame flavor.
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These would also look pretty coated in powdered pistachios or almonds!
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May each healthful li’l bite brings you sweetness and warmth this year!

I would encourage you to adapt these to your taste – may I suggest chopped apricots and cashew butter as one of the combinations? Or how about pistachios with some rose essence for a fragrant, Mediterranean treat? – and your dietary restrictions (use date syrup instead of molasses or honey for a different taste and lesser sugar)! The combinations are endless, and I’m sure I’ll be coming back to these in a few months with a new one.

• Recipe •

Easy and Wildly Inauthentic Tilgul (DF, GF Sesame Energy Bites)
Makes 10-12 Tilgul Ladoos or energy balls/bites

12-15 dates, pitted, whole or roughly chopped
1/2 cup unsweetened coconut flakes or shreds
3 tablespoons tahini (well-stirred) or smooth peanut butter
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom powder
2 1/2 to 3 tablespoons molasses, or date syrup, or honey
1/4 cup lightly toasted white sesame seeds

Place dates, coconut flakes and tahini in the work bowl of a food processor and blend until uniformly mixed and no large pieces of dates remain. Add cardamom and molasses, and pulse few times to combine, until mixture has come together into a sticky mass that can be easily shaped by hand. If it seems too wet, add a tablespoon or two of coconut flakes. If it seems a bit too dry, add a teaspoon or two of the molasses.

Place toasted sesame seeds in a shallow bowl.

Transfer date mixture to a medium ball and scoop out balls (using a spoon or cookie scoop for uniformity). Shape into smooth balls and while still soft and wet, gently roll around in the lightly toasted sesame seeds to coat as uniformly as possibly. Repeat with remaining mixture.

Chill for 30 minutes before serving.

Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 10 days.

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