Happy Navaratri! We are currently in the midst of the 9 day Hindu festival of Navaratri. Navaratri literally means nine nights, and in Gujarat where my family is from, this festival is celebrated by dancing throughout the night. It is a festival in celebration of the goddess Durga and the divine energy, or Shakti, that she embodies. During this time, many people traditionally fast. The type of fasting that is done allows the consumption of fruit throughout at any time, but only one meal. The meal is supposed to be made up of permissible foods, called farar food. The root of this word comes from “phal” meaning fruit and “ahaar” meaning to eat. Thus, the diet primarily was meant to be a fruit only diet, but over time the one meal of the day began to include other foods. Farar foods are grain free and bean free and primarily are made up of pseudo grains such as rajagro (amaranth) and moraiyo (little millet) and starches such as potatoes, sweet potatoes, and water chestnuts. The farar meal, while a meal had in fasting, is often just as (if not more) rich than everyday meals. One of my absolute favorite elements of farari food is this amazing dessert, singoda nu shiro. It’s made from water chestnut flour, also called singoda nu lot and is made extra delicious with ghee and cardamom. It’s nutty, sweet, fragrant, and absolutely delicious.
I’m not quite sure what the best English equivalent of this dish is, so I went with halva. Shiro is basically flour, toasted in ghee, cooked with water or milk until reduced, then finished by caramelizing with sugar. The end results is soft when warm, but firms as it cools. This shiro, unlike the one I’ve made in the past, is not made with grain, but is made with ground, dried water chestnut flour. Water chestnut flour is very starchy, thus, when this shiro is made, the starch becomes partially gelatinous and develops a sheen. It’s a quick dessert, but is labor intensive in that it does take quite a bit of stirring and scraping the bottom of the pan to ensure that starch doesn’t burn. The steps are straightforward, melt ghee in the bottom of a pan, toast the flour until it smells deliciously nutty and starts to look like barely wet sand, then add water, cook until it reduces and thicken, then add sugar. It all of sudden loosens up when the sugar is added, and the color dramatically darkens. Then just cover, allow to cool a bit, and serve. It’s a delicious dish, and I encourage you to seek out water chestnut flour and make it for yourself to celebrate Navaratri! If you feel like dancing all night after eating it, well, I can’t blame you.
Water Chestnut Cardamom Halva ~ Singoda nu Shiro
|Prep:||Cook:||Yield: 4 small servings||Total:|
A nutty and sweet water chestnut halva, or singoda nu shiro, with aromatic cardamom, topped with pistachios and almonds.
- 120 g water chestnut flour (singoda nu lot) (1 cup)
- 2 cups water, or 1/2 cup whole milk and 1 1/2 cup water
- 3 Tbsp ghee
- 1 tsp cardamom seeds, divided
- 1 tsp ground cardamom, divided
- 3 Tbsp slivered almonds, plus more for garnish
- 200 g granulated suger (1 cup)
- Slivered pistachios, for garnish (optional)
- Place the water in a saucepan and start to bring to a simmer.
- While the water is heating, heat the ghee over medium high heat in a large saucepan. When it is fully melted and starts to shimmer, add the water chestnut flour and half of the cardamom seeds and all of the ground caradamom, and stir continuously with spatula until the mixture smells very nutty from the water chestnut flour and aromatic from the cardamom, and starts to clump together like barely wet sand.
- By this time, the water should be simmering. Very carefully, pour the simmering water into the water chestnut flour. It will likely spatter and bubble a lot due to the heat of the pan. Stir to combine. Add the almonds. Stir continuously until the mixture thickens up and leaves wide trails in the pan when the spatula is scraped. It should be the thickness of of very thick oatmeal, getting to this point takes 5-10 minutes depending on how high your heat is.
- Add the sugar and stir. The mixture will loosen up and seem more liquid. Continue to cook for about 2 more minutes. Turn off the heat, cover with a lid, and allow to rest for about 5 minutes.
- Garnish with slivered almonds, slivered pistachios, and the remaining cardamom seeds and serve.
This dessert will keep well and reheats very nicely in the microwave.