I grew up with a deep desire to learn about the traditions and culture that my parents left behind when they emigrated from India. I had always experienced an "Indian-ness" to my everyday American life: We spoke almost exclusively in Gujarati at home, ate daily home-cooked Indian meals, and always seemed to be planning our next family vacations to India.
Despite this exposure to my cultural heritage, it always seemed hard to fully experience and understand Indian holidays as a kid growing up in the U.S. For example, my parents would share the most joyous childhood memories of celebrating Diwali, the four-day festival of lights that culminates in the celebration of the Hindu new year, but recreating those memories in our American lives was a different story.
Often celebrated in late fall, Diwali would seem to slip by as I would watch neighbors gleefully prepare their tables for Thanksgiving gatherings. My mom would always say that Diwali is about family and community, and because we were not surrounded by others celebrating Diwali, it was hard to make it feel festive. I still craved it.
I rallied my mom and the rest of my family to seek ways to celebrate, and we did the best we could. My mom would make special meals and teach us prayers. We would connect with family in India to wish them a happy new year. Some years, we would spend hours designing rangoli patterns (made with colorful powders and flowers) on the floor. Other years, we would light rows of diya, clay tea lamps. Despite our best efforts, my family's festivities seemed to pale in comparison to the stories that my parents shared of their Diwali memories growing up in India.
I carried nostalgic Diwali dreams in my heart until 2010 when I finally had the chance to visit my family in India during Diwali. To state it simply, it was everything that I thought it would be! Family and friends would drop by and share sweet treats and savory snacks. The kitchen was forever bustling with my grandmother, mother, and aunts crafting new treats each day. Fire crackers were lit each night and could be heard for hours. It was nothing less than magical. I finally had the chance to create my own Diwali memories that matched those I had only heard about as I was growing up.
The most special moment of this unforgettable trip was making ghughra with my mom, aunts, and grandmother. Ghughra is a traditional Gujarati pastry that is typically served during Diwali. It is a fried pocket of dough filled with milk powder, ghee, sugar, nuts, and cardamom. The pocket has a signature fold that is tough to master (trust, me I am still trying). Although I had eaten ghughra before, I had never actually made them.
We all sat around the table in an assembly line, with my mom and aunt rolling out the circles of dough, and my grandmother and me stuffing and folding them to get them ready to fry. It was like magic to watch these women gather around a table, working in harmony and knowing exactly what to do — and I tried my best to keep up. Making ghughra with the women in my family fulfilled a yearning that I had had since I was a kid.
It was exactly these moments that inspired me to create Malai and share the stories and traditions of my childhood through the form of dessert. I hope that some will feel that same nostalgia when eating a scoop of our ghughra ice cream, and for others, I hope that they can create new memories with us as they redefine what the holiday season means to them.
Crunchy Ghughra ice cream balls
- 1 pint Malai Ghughra ice cream
- 4 digestive biscuits or graham crackers
- 2 tablespoons ghee or melted butter, divided
- 1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
- Using a small ice cream scoop or teaspoon, scoop out 1-ounce balls of ice cream and place on a parchment lined baking tray. Freeze until solid, about 4 hours.
- While the ice cream is freezing, crush digestives or graham crackers until they are coarsely ground. Heat 1 tablespoon ghee in a medium pan until melted. Add crushed cookies and toast over medium-low heat, stirring continuously, until golden brown in color — about 4 minutes. Take off heat and let cool completely. Pour into a shallow bowl.
- When ready to assemble, melt the second tablespoon of ghee and pour into a small bowl. Remove balls of ice cream from the freezer and dunk into ghee and quickly roll into the cookie crumb mixture, ensuring that all sides are evenly coated. Return to the parchment lined sheet and repeat. Serve immediately, or let freeze until ready to serve.
This story was originally published on Food52.com: The Indian-Inspired Dessert I Make to Celebrate My Hybrid-Culture Diwali