Tiranga Shrikhand Bars (frozen yogurt bars)

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Ever since my friend Shruti told me how to make shortcut Shrikhand (a sweet and creamy dessert from my home state of Maharashtra in India, made with hung yogurt, sugar, ground cardamom and saffron) using Labneh, I must have made it dozens of times. It comes together in no time – whisk together Labneh (extra thick middle-eastern yogurt cheese aka yogurt that is the consistency of cream cheese) and sugar with a pinch of ground cardamom and saffron, and chill in the fridge for a bit. That’s it!

I make it quite frequently to go with elaborate Indian meals – meals that have 7 or 8 other components as it is. So making the shortcut version is an easy win, especially if you make the mango version of it, called Amrakhand (Aam = mango), with mango pureé subbing for half the sugar. I’ve had this idea of converting Shrikhand to a bite-size, easy to freeze format, so that its easy to get a quick taste of it occasionally without investing any time/effort. I thought it would be a great idea to try a “Tiranga” (Indian tricolor) version of it to celebrate the upcoming Indian Republic Day (January 26th).

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Sweet Pongal (Sakkarai Pongal)

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Sakkarai Pongal is a rice and lentil pudding sweetened with jaggery, spiced with ground cardamom and tempered with cashews and raisins, a Tamil delicacy made for its eponymous festival, Pongal! This is the sweet variation of Ven Pongal, which is savory (tempered with cashews and black peppercorns), and usually made all year round.

It’s a warm, sweet and comforting pudding, and can be made as simple or as decadent as you prefer, simply by adding more ghee (clarified butter) and dry fruits and nuts. A friend of mine made this for Makar Sankrant/Pongal over a decade ago, and it still remains one of my favorite Indian desserts of all time!

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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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Vegan Rose and Pistachio Cake

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As much as I love vegan cake recipes, many times they involve strange ingredients (like flax eggs instead of regular eggs, or things like tapioca starch, and so forth). It’s most likely my ignorance on the matter because folks make wonders with these things, but my problem with them is the fact that they are substitutions, and not organically vegan.

I usually draw the line at using an extra banana or two instead of eggs in a banana-based baked good, like a banana bread, or a double chocolate banana bread, or pancakes and waffles, but beyond that I don’t find it appealing at least at this point. Which is why I was so happy to find this inherently vegan cake recipe in a handout I got at a cooking class somewhere in the Caribbean, and then spotted a variation of it on smitten kitchen!

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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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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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