The days were short in December, but it wasn’t really winter. I mean, we went ice skating at Bryant Park, which felt all wintery and quintessentially New York. . . but we checked our coats before hitting the oddly water-logged rink, and we skated in short sleeves.
This week, though, the reality of winter-time really set in: it’s dark, and it’s bitterly cold. In our 4th floor apartment, we are assaulted by dry heat 24 hours a day, and Kishmish had the first nosebleed of the season. (Two of them, actually.) Ah, winter!
I happen to love the snow and slush, so the fact that it’s all cold, wind, and gruesome nosebleeds — with no hint of precipitation — is a real let-down.
So let me tell you a funny thing: a few days ago I spotted some sesame seeds hiding away in the back of the freezer, and I told Kishmish and Pista that we’d make something yummy and new over the weekend with sesame seeds and gud. I literally cannot remember the last time I made these laddoos — it might not be since we lived in Mumbai. It’s not that they are that difficult to make, and it’s not even that I don’t like them. I just had sort of forgotten about them.
Making these sweets basically involves a few simple but attention-heavy steps: you dry-roast sesame seeds on a pan (I use a flat cast-iron pan) until they crackle; you melt down the gud (jaggery) with a little ghee, to keep it from sticking; you add the roasted sesame seeds; and you let the whole mixture cool just enough to allow you to handle it and form into small balls.
[In fact, you don’t have to create little balls. . . . One of the first times I went with Ankur to visit his parents, his mom made this sweet. She forgot about the mixture while it was cooling, and she dropped the pan on the table after dinner with an annoyed apology. The sugary sesame seeds had solidified into a brittle mass that she really (understandably) didn’t want to deal with. Ankur and I sat after dinner talking, planning, and chipping away at the brittle sweet with a sharp knife. It wasn’t bad at all; in fact it’s a nice memory for me when I get to thinking too much about food presentation….]
Anyway, about the winter. It’s been cold and dark at night, and I thought we’d make til gud laddoos on Saturday. Then, I noticed all my Punjabi friends on Facebook wishing each other Happy Lohri, and then I realized — this Friday (January 13) was Lohri/Makar Sankranti! This is a holiday that’s traditionally celebrated by (among 10,000 other things) making sweets from jaggery and sesame seeds and sharing with friends. You know, I spend so much time being skeptical of all kinds of traditions — particularly all the food-related customs and mandates to eat these things in the winter or those things when it’s hot out. “Don’t eat yogurt at night.” “Have some ghee with your bananas!” “Drink milk if you are eating a lot of mangoes.” “Chew on some ginger if you have a cold.” Etc., etc…. But it was so weird how we were inclined to eat this particular sweet on this particular weekend, and how we all enjoyed them so much! So for all of you celebrating. . . Happy Lohri!
Til Gud Laddoos (Sesame Seed Sweets)
I did refer to my Rajasthani Cookbook Desert Delights when checking my memory for ingredients, but the amounts for ghee, gud, etc. are all my own. Often, people make this with peanuts, too, but I prefer sesame seeds alone!
- 3/4 cup sesame seeds
- 1 tsp ghee*
- 1/2 cup chopped gud (jaggery)
- 1/4 – 1/2 tsp cardomom powder – optional (I used a bit more, but it’s to your own taste.)
Dry roast the sesame seeds on a very hot pan, moving them around so they get a little brown, but definitely not burnt. They will crackle a little and give off a nice aroma — that let’s you know they are cooked.
In a large pan (I use a non-stick pan), melt the ghee. Then add the chopped gud and melt over a very low flame. It’s easy to burn the sugar, and you want to avoid that.
Once you have a melted, caramel-like mess, add the sesame seeds, and mix well. Keep stirring until the mixture comes together and begins to leave the sides of the pan. At the very end, add the cardomom powder, if you want to include it.
Pour the hot mixture out on to a metal sheet, or some parchment paper. Allow it to cool a bit.
The moment it is cool enough to handle, start rolling the mixture into small balls. It works best to start at the outside of the mixture, where it is coolest, and work your way towards the middle.
The laddoos will continue to cool and harden a bit more. When they are completely cool, you can store them in an airtight container. I think they will keep for a long time, but I never make large batches, so I don’t know.
*Regarding the ghee: These are traditionally made with ghee, but if you are avoiding ghee for any reason (including the fact that it’s non-vegan) I think a little sesame oil would work nicely here. It’s more for its cooking properties than flavor anyway.