When it comes to Diwali, it isn’t just mithais that are a favourite but sweet-savoury breakfast too, says Chef Yogender Pal, Executive Chef, Park Hyatt Hyderabad as he gets nostalgic about one of his favourite breakfast on this day
By Madhulika Dash; Pictures & Recipe Courtesy: Chef Yogender Pal
Come Diwali, and the first winter dish that often wafts out of Chef Yogender Pal’s kitchen is a bowl of warm Khus Khus ka halwa. A personal favourite of the chef, the beauty of this halva, says Chef Pal, is its very interesting taste and texture. It looks more like a chia pudding than a conventional halwa, with that predominant nutty, crunchy taste. And the best part is that even when loaded with dry fruits that halwa still is sublime in its mouthfeel.
But what has turned the making of this halva into a ritual in the Pal’s home – “I make it every Diwali, he says – is its association with home and celebration. Growing up in the colonial town of Kasauli, says Chef Pal, “I am used to a year around diet of fried food and sweets. In fact, since khus-khus grows abundantly in Himachal Pradesh, its usage in our food is akin to panch-phutan in Odisha – we put it in our breads, curries, dal, even make chutneys out of it.
And yet, when Diwali comes nothing announces the arrival of happy times like the aroma (and sound) of roasted khus-khus followed by the clanks of fresh babru being woked out of the kadai. It is like Christmas for our senses, especially if you consider the weather outside, which unlike the plains takes on a more Wuthering Heights kind of gloominess.”
Then a plate of warm halva and hot babru, a black gram stuffed kachori-like fried bread, smells and tastes like a feast for the palate and the soul. In fact, the first few bites of the ghee-laced halva is just the booster dose you need to get up and go out on the bone chilling nights to burst crackers. For me, what acted as cherry on the cake was that it was my grandmother who every year would make this treat for me, even when I became a chef.”
It was in the old-world style kitchen of her grandmother that Chef Pal first learnt the taos of a good khus khus ka halwa, which often has the temperament of going towards the extreme. In fact, recalls the seasoned culinary mind, “when I first decided to take on the task of making the halva by myself, I was nowhere close to what my mother made or my grandmother. It was a lesson in patience and understanding the wisdom behind the ingredient that eventually helped me master the dish – and of course multiple making sessions, “ says Chef pal, who rates the art of slow roasting the seeds as one of the keys to get that rich, sweet treat right.
But how was the pairing of babru and halva created? The answer to this, continues the chefs, “lies in our ancestor’s deep understanding about local ingredients and the know how to harvest the necessary nutrients for wellness. Take the case of Khus Khus. Once the privy of the plains, the seed is grown widely in Himachal Pradesh today – and is a valued ingredient in the kitchen not only as a flavourant but also for its inherent properties. The oil seeds has a garam taseer and micronutritionally rich making it one of the finest antidote for winters, especially the one we experience here. And the best way to get both is by roasting the seeds which releases the oil and jogs the nutrients for easy digestion.”
The halva however takes this know how a notch further, says Chef Pal, “as with the dish we also add milk, ghee, jaggery and a handful of dry fruits thus fortifying the dish with more carbohydrates, fats and of course protein – the three component that would keep your body warm, bones well oiled and repair any form of wear and tear in the body. The milk calms the mind. The pairing with babru, one of the regular breads, is of course for the taste and textural contrast and the additional energy reserve that this carb-rich dish gives. But at the end what makes it one of a favourite meal, especially dinner, is the sense of happiness. No matter how English the weather is outside, a meal like this would make you instantly happy – and joyful.”
No wonder the chef even today insist on starting his celebratory week by recreating this old favourite.
Poppy seeds 500 gms
Ghee 150 gms
Milk 1 litre
Jaggery 200 gms
Roughly chopped cashewnuts 30 gms
Roughly chopped raisins 25 gms
Roughly chopped almonds 25 gms
• Roast the poppy seeds to a golden brown
• Add the milk and cook till the time poppy seed is cooked
• Add jaggery and then fry the cashewnuts, raisin and almonds till they are crisp
• Cook till the required consistency is reached.
• Serve hot with babru.
Whole wheat flour 500 gms
Sugar 50 gms
Green cardamom pd 10 gms
Oil For frying
Baking pd 5 gms
• For Babru mix all the ingredients except for oil, make a soft dough.
• Keep it overnight in a warm place to ferment
• Make the roundels and keep it on a oiled plate
• Spread the roundels on your palm by pressing it then fry it on a medium heat.