Monday, September 5, 2011

2. india: gulab jamun

I've always been fascinated with India. It's an enormous country and Pakistan's neighbor, so it's a wonder I haven't been before [taking into consideration the political and religious context of the two countries, it's not really surprising, but from a purely geographical standpoint, somewhat so]. When one thinks of India, one typically thinks spices, the Taj Mahal, bright festivals and Bollywood, large families and sweltering heat, monsoons and mangoes, and a multitude of incredible food.

Having never been, I have the same idea in my mind. And I'm sure even when I am to visit, it'll be pretty accurate. But I also know there's more to a country so large than just what you'd glean from a superficial trip. Richness in people, history, culture, all unique throughout the vast expanse of the peninsula, makes for one rather diverse place. One that I don't think any outsider will ever really come to understand. One that I don't think many Indians themselves ever really come to understand.

Still, I do know that Indian food is my favorite type of cuisine in all the world. Of course, the amount of food from India that I haven't eaten is enormous, since so much Indian cuisine is itself regional, but I'd never, ever, pass up a good masala dosa or samosa or palak paneer or tandoori chicken.

But even more so than the meats and veggies, the mithai. Luckily for me, although I'll never find masala dosa in Karachi, India and Pakistan share a lot of the same dessert. Mango lassis, kulfi, jalebi, laddu, to name a few. Sugar syrups, sticky fingers, cold ice creams, the familiar tastes of pistachio, mango, almond, saffron, and rose water. These are the tastes I grew up with, visiting Pakistan in my youth with nothing but Heidi under my arm and a sweet tooth large enough to take down empires.

[You'd think that two countries with such impeccable taste in food would be able to set aside their differences over a some malai kofta, a towering plate of naan, a steaming bowl of chicken chettinadu, and cold glass of lassi. Nevertheless, I'm optimistic about the future.]

And yet, to this day, nothing quite beats gulab jamun.

I have literally never met a soul on earth who does not love gulab jamun. And if I have, the sole reason is that they've never tried it. But I mean, let's be real: you can't really go wrong with little balls of dough [carbohyadrates!], deep fried in hot oil [fats!], and left to soak in cardamom-infused sugar syrup [more carbohydrates!]. You just can't.

These gorgeous photos come from Matt, who had the incredible opportunity to spend 10 weeks in India this past summer. Safe to say, he's now more fluent in Hindi/Urdu than myself.

Mom and I have been working on this recipe for, literally, years now, and eventually, we've perfected it. Unfortunately for you all, though, it's not one that I'm going to be sharing - it's kind of like our little secret. You know, like that apple spice cake your grandmother learned from her grandmother and consequently taught your mother, and it's so absolutely amazing that when you make it for friends and they ask you for the recipe, you shake your head in mock-sadness and tell them it's not for sharing? Same situation here. So, my apologies, but this one's not for sharing!

I actually prepared these to take to Jesse's goodbye party this past weekend. She'll be heading off to Tunisia for the academic year, and is absolutely in love with these things, so obviously the natural course of action was to make her some as a little goodbye present. Luckily, she loved them, and so did everyone else, and so it was quite the success.

In retrospect, it was only natural that my second journey around the world would bring me to this beautiful country. One day, I hope to visit it myself. If not to experience the richness of its people, culture, and history, then at least for its mithai shops.

I think that's pretty good motivation in and of itself.


  1. Im sure they taste delicious.Make them when you come home.They're typically garnished with gold/silver leaf which is very expensive but I'll tell Shaista Khala to get me some from Dubai.

  2. Thank you so so so SO much for making these! :) They really are one of my favorite desserts! I'll definitely have to give making them a try!

  3. @Mom: Sounds good. Excited for the garnish!

    @Jess: You're so welcome, honey! Definitely try them out, and let me know how it goes :)

  4. Oh, they look so good, I was almost pawing at my screen. I live in Delhi, the land of gulab jamuns, but I find myself craving yours. :)

  5. Thank you so much for taking the effort - and the time - to perfect, and share, this recipe. I'm not much of a cook but I followed your recipe and the gulab jamun turned out to be delicious - better even than I've ever had at any Indian restaurant! Many, many thanks Sabeen!


  6. @Nithya: That's such an honor to hear from a resident of Delhi! Seriously! Thanks so much!

    @Anonymous: I'm so, indescribably, utterly flattered. Thank you SO much! I'm so glad it turned out well for you! Still smiling from your comment :)

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