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

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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).

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Gingerbread Cake

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Gingerbread is one of them Christmastime/December rituals, something you make when you are invited to a holiday party, or throw one. It’s a purely seasonal event – both it’s making and consumption. And usually if someone asks me to make Gingerbread in any of the remaining 11 months of the year, I politely decline and make something else instead. I’m very much like Big Bang Theory’s Sheldon Cooper that way; he has a clear rule about these type of things, in that he only drinks Hot Cocoa in months that have “R” in them. Take a minute to see that it makes total sense.

Gingerbread is only for December, only when it’s cold out, and you are enjoying it with a hot cup of coffee or hot chocolate or mulled wine, doing absolutely nothing. The ultimate year end treat. Second only to Black Forest Cake, Gingerbread is one of the best things to come from Germany.

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Vegan Chai-spice Pumpkin Bundt Cake

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I wasn’t the biggest pumpkin purée fan all these years, and the culprit was definitely its association with cinnamon and “pumpkin spice”-everything. I don’t hate cinnamon but in the US, like clockwork, everyone craves cinnamon come September and it just don’t stop until New Years!. Anything made with pumpkin purée (store-bought) is just a cinnamon-scented assault.

But then I made pumpkin purée at home for the first time (thanks Instant Pot!) and ate a small portion of it warm, drizzled with coconut butter and just a dusting of cinnamon+nutmeg, and I was converted. I made pancakes with it, these brownies were wonderful too (vegan and gluten-free!), and then felt ready to graduate to cakes.

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Garlic Whipped Parsnips

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As someone who routinely dreams of sleeping on a pillow made of mashed potatoes, the carbs add up. I think they add up even if I’m innocently thinking about potatoes; one doesn’t even need consume them.

So one must look for alternatives that are lower in carbohydrates, still good with respect to fiber, and yet don’t taste like pressed sawdust. Parsnips happen to live in just that precise neighborhood, and in the winter months, are just begging to be enlisted to be whipped into perfection. Lower in calories, higher in fiber, a slightly sweet taste – if I wasn’t a potato-head I would switch to them permanently. Just kidding!

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Kesar Pista (Saffron & Pistachio) Cake

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This cake came to be because a friend happened to order Kesar Pista Kulfi (Indian ice cream infused with saffron and ground pistachios, chilled in an earthen pot) without realizing the consequences of her actions. You see, I expressed my interest to bring dessert to a Diwali party and the Kesar Pista (Kesar = Saffron, Pista = Pistachio) ice cream had already been ordered. I figured I would bake something that’ll “go” with the ice cream, but one thing let to another after I saw this loaf, and a Kesar Pista cake was born for all future parties, Diwali and otherwise.

This is a saffron- and cardamom-infused riff on the Pistachio Cake by Smitten Kitchen. I used a saffron syrup that is easily available in India and likely some Indian/Middle-eastern grocery stores in the United States, but don’t fret if you can’t find it – just infuse the milk with regular saffron. You can do so by scalding the milk (warm it in a saucepan and turn off the heat before a simmer sets in), adding 2-3 big pinches of saffron to it, stirring it gently and letting it cool completely before using in the recipe below.

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Bhadang (savory rice snack)

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Please welcome Bhadang, the puffed up cousin of the Pohyacha Chivda! The process for both these “chivda” recipes is similar – toast the puffed or paper-thin flattened rice, fry up some salty goodies, make a tempering, toss everything together – but they have distinct flavor profiles. You might say that Pohyacha Chivda is the milder, well-behaved, buttoned-up cousin with a great balance of flavors, and Bhadang is wilder, spicier (uses red chili powder instead of chopped green chillies), bolder (fried garlic!) and more rustic.

The version shown here is mild, since I am making it for a crowd, but back in India I have seen Bhadang that is fiery red and irresistable!

Bhadang employs puffed rice, or murmura, or churmura, as opposed to the flattened rice flakes used in Pohyacha Chivda. Murmura is typically the base in Bhel Puri, a popular Indian street food item! This recipe also calls for Metkut, a very special, Maharashtrian roasted-lentil and spice mixture, which may be difficult to track down in the US, and in the worst case, can be skipped. Please do not substitute with Garam masala or Chaat masala, though!

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Besan Ladoo

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Besan Ladoo (gram flour fudge) is the quintessential Indian sweet, and very popular in Maharashtra where I come from. While it is typically made all year round in India, it is one of the signature Diwali Faraal (feast) items (one of the others being the Pohyacha Chivda) that is practically mandatory in Marathi households. I attempted it a few times over the years but failed and ended up converting it to Besan Kheer (porridge) or Halva just to salvage it. This year though, I think I finally understood it.

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