City-born Chef Vikas Seth speaks about his favourite sweet during the harvest festival – and why it is worth the try, the extra richness (oodles of ghee that is) notwithstanding
As told to Madhulika Dash
Khajoor is to Amritsar what Ghevar is to Rajasthan. It’s an all important sweet and you would find it to be a part of every big and small occasions – be it a wedding, naming ceremony of a new born, welcoming a dear guest or even treating friends and family to your new home. For most people in Amritsar it literally means ‘joy’ in bold – and it is relished as one, irrespective of how heavy this flour- based sweet is
But the best time to enjoy Khajoor, that many friends have seen and called mini ghevar (which I disagree given that this Amritsar speciality is a lot dense than the honeycomb light peer from Rajasthan), are the winters. A time when everything rich, heavy and sweet gets digested in a jiffy. In fact, it is one of the best ways to fight the bone chilling cold of this culinary town. All that ghee that is lavishly poured on to khajoor keeps you warm, energetic and happy. Perhaps the reason that every shop in every lane in Amritsar starts making its very own version of the khajoor (which interestingly is in the colour and sweetness) during the months of December to February, with major supply coming during the festival of Lohri. In fact, during the run down week of Lohri, you would see every shop making it live for everyone to see, get enticed and buy. After all, it is a sweet that travels well. And it did, in the past from the bylanes of Amritsar to the homes in Lahore.
It is said that the brethren on the other side were so fond of the sweet that every winter they made a trip to taste this sweet decadence and even carry a batch home. In fact, the maida khajoor is said to be a favourite of royals as well. Folklore has it that the association of this winter sweet with Lohri was started by his the Patiala dynasty, who found it a fantastic way to keep their relationship with their nobles, people and neighbours, sweet (no pun intended).
And yet, fascinatingly, for all the love in the past and the present that this deviously simple dish of maida, sugar and ghee has earned, Khajoor (which till date is mistaken as dates), remained the privy of the denizens of Amritsar. In fact, you would not find it anywhere else in Punjab (erstwhile or the present) – and the reason for this could be in the technique itself. Khajoor, much like Ghevar, is a result of absolute patience and love. Each batch of this sweet is made from a thin batter that is poured into a mould placed on a vat of hot ghee (though a few have started using oil today). As the batter sizzle, ghee/oil is ladled on to the mould in regular interval. The pace builds up as the batter starts cooking and the web-like combs start appearing on the top.
Watching it is almost trance like as the maker continuously pours more clarified butter on top till you see a golden colour emerge. And still when Khajoor is demoulded – and here is the benchmark, if done well, it mechanically slides off the mould. With all the ghee-bath, Khajoor, right off the pan, is little soft, but by the time it cools down to a handle-able consistency (which is warm), it takes on this bite-able texture with a crunch.
Think milk cake, only dense and with a little crunch on the top. Exactly the way I like eating Khajoor – though it tastes just as good when it is cold.
The beauty of Khajoor is that even with all that ghee poured onto it, it isn’t dripping with fat when you eat it – there is some semblance of the richness but that is reserved for the tongue to feel. The rich ‘homey’ taste with the right amount of sweetness makes it an absolute delight, even for first timers. In fact, it is the single reason, other than the spurt of happiness it leaves you with, that this age-old sweet is still a favourite. And Lohri becomes an excuse to eat it to your heart’s content – don’t worry even the biggest appetite stops at two (or three at max).”