Sunday, November 11, 2012

Gulab Jamun (milk balls in cardamom syrup)


While growing up in Kenya, I had the pleasure of experiencing the myriad of delectable treats that the Kenyan Indian community is well known for. I was fortunate that we had an Indian neighbour,whose wife-Fauzia-was an expert cook. She shared many of her recipes with my mom who taught me most of what I know when it comes to cooking. Now when I was still too young to step up to the stove and cook,and my mom would have one of those days when she didn't feel like cooking (yes, we've all had those), whenever we wanted a treat we would head up to a part of the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, called Ngara. Ngara is a business district that is known for three things-its textiles, and the Indian spice and sweet stores (mithai stores). I would patiently wait for my mom to shop for her textiles and spices knowing that the promise of a sweet treat lay ahead. And whenever I walked into the sweet shops, my head would swirl. So many choices! different shapes,colors, textures...what was a girl to do?!? The store owners were always so nice and let me have samples of whatever sweet tickled my fancy. As if to reward me for my patience, my mom would sit and watch quietly, giving me time to indulge my senses. I would later leave the store all smiles, clutching on to my little white box filled with goodies.

Fast-forward "n" years later, those nostalgic moments in time came rushing back to me as I sat at my kitchen table last week daydreaming. I immediately knew what had to be done. I headed straight for my pantry and what do you know...I had all that I needed to make this sweet treat whose recipe I am about to share with you. I hope this treat brings you as much joy as it did for me as a child and still does to this day :)
Deep pan for frying (like a wok)
3 green Cardamom pods and ghee (both can be found at any Indian grocery store or online. Try )
-1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons powdered Milk (I used Nido brand found in the international section of the grocery store).
-1/4 teaspoon baking soda (NOT baking powder).
-1/4 cup all-purpose flour.
-1 tablespoon of ghee at room temperature.
-1/4 cup of milk to knead the dough (might use 1 tablespoon more or less when kneading the dough).
-2 cups vegetable oil for frying the gulab jamuns.
TO MAKE THE SUGAR SYRUP:                                                                  
-1 - 1 1/2 cups  of granulated sugar depending on how sweet you'd like your syrup (I used 1 1/4 cups).
-3 green cardamom pods

-In a mixing bowl, mix the milk powder, baking soda and all-purpose flour and use your whisk to combine them well.
-Add the ghee and whisk again,making sure it is completely combined into the dry ingredients. 
-Slowly pour in the milk little by little and stir as you pour it into the dough.
-Now rid the whisk of any dough that's stuck to it, put the dough back into the bowl and use your clean hands to knead the dough for a few minutes until the dough is nice and smooth.
***Prepare your syrup before you begin frying dough****
In a medium-sized heavy bottomed saucepan, add the sugar, water and the cardamom pods and bring to a simmer on medium heat. Do not stir as the syrup will crystallize. Occasionally, lift up the saucepan and slowly twirl the pan to mix up the contents. Keep doing this until the sugar is completely dissolved. Do not let the syrup boil over. Turn off the stove and let syrup sit and slightly cool. You want to make sure that the syrup is still warm when you add the gulab jamuns into the syrup.
-In a separate deep frying pan, add the cooking oil and turn the heat to medium. Let it heat up as you make your dough balls.
-Form small walnut-sized balls by taking a pinch off of the dough and rolling it into a ball between the palm of your hands. Try and make these balls as smooth as possible. If you notice any ridges or cracks on the little ball of dough, pinch the crack together to close it up  and keep rolling the ball between your palms until it is nice and smooth. Place the finished ball on a clean, flat surface. Repeat this until all the dough has been formed into balls. Do not make your balls too big as they will get bigger once they are placed in the cardamom syrup.
-Test the heat of your cooking oil by taking a small piece of dough and dropping it in the oil. If the dough rises up too fast, then the oil is too hot. In which case you will need to reduce the heat slightly.
-Drop 5-6 of the dough balls into the heated oil at a time.The ball should stay at the bottom of the oil for at least a minute before rising up or the outside of the ball will be done and the inside wont be cooked through. Use your strainer to constantly move the balls around in the hot oil so that they cook evenly all around. You are looking for an amber brown color before you can remove the ball from the oil.
-Once the balls are cooked, remove them from the oil with the strainer and place them on a plate lined with paper napkins to absorb excess oil.
-Let the balls sit and cool for a few minutes (8-10mins).
-Meanwhile, check to see if your cardamom syrup is still warm. If not, heat it on the stove for a few minutes.Once the balls have cooled, gently place them in the warm syrup and let them sit and absorb the syrup for at least an hour.They will increase in size and get nice and tender by the time the 1hr is over.
Your gulab jamuns are now ready to serve. They crumble in your mouth and release the flavors of the milk, cardamom and sugar combination which is just out of this world! Enjoy!