IT's been 22 years since I left school but my good friend Sharon still remembers the dainty ghee balls I used to bring to school after Deepavali every year. Being true Malaysians, we always shared cakes and biscuits after our respective celebrations with friends. Pineapple tarts and love letters were abundant after Chinese New Year and I always got my fill of the many deliciously buttery cookies and dodol every Raya. Deepavali treats comprised mainly of muruku (there are three or four varieties), candy and ghee balls.
Delicious food -- isn't that the point of all celebrations? Ok, maybe not but they're a huge part of the festivities.
So anyways, back to the ghee balls. Thanks to Sharon, I don't think I can ever celebrate Deepavali without making at least one batch of ghee balls. Not that she comes knocking for some each year (am sure she might if she didn't live so far away) but her remembrance of the ghee balls from many years ago made me realise how important is in keeping traditions alive. I mean, cookies and cakes are fine but Deepavali will not be Deepavali without the traditional Indian delicacies, as sweet or oily as they may be.
Aesthetically, ghee balls aren't appealing. They are pale and don't come in fancy shapes. Round white balls of flour is what they look like. Actually round white balls of flour is exactly what they are: mung bean flour + ground cardamon, sugar + salt mixed with hot melted ghee.
Of course, hardly anyone grinds their own mung beans, cardomon and sugar anymore. Not when there are pre-mixes readily available. Pre-mixes that, with a little tweaking, tastes fantastic.
With my Baba's Ghee Urundai (ball) pre-mix in hand, I was all set to make my ghee balls while I watched the latest season of Entourage. Oh yeah. One great thing about making this dessert: you don't need to be stuck in the kitchen making it. Once you've mixed the ghee and the flour together (this part is tricky, read on), you can get comfortable in front of the telly and proceed to roll the balls. Perfect for multi taskers and TV addicts!
Now, with the pre-mix, all you really need to do is add some (almost) boiling melted ghee to the flour and you're ready to roll. I like to flavour my ghee balls with some nuts and raisins so there is just one extra step involved. Still, its a cinch.
Here's what you need:
One 450g packet of Ghee Urundai mix
1 tbsp chopped blanched almonds (chop really small)
1/2 tbsp chopped raisins (again, chop very small)
1/2 cup + 1 tbsp melted ghee
Lightly fry the chopped nuts and raisins in 1 tbsp ghee. Remove and set aside. Transfer the flour into a mixing bowl. Add the nuts and raisins. Heat the melted ghee in a small pan until it begins to boil. The heat of the oil is very important: if its not hot enough, your balls won't come together easily and if its too hot, you will not be able to shape the balls properly either.
So how hot should the ghee be? Well, no need for thermometers. As the ghee begins to boil, drop a teaspoonful into the flour. It should sizzle hen in contact with the flour. If it doesn't its not hot enough. If the flour browns after the ghee touches it, the oil is too hot. Let it cool just a little. Ok?
Pour the hot ghee onto the flour and mix. The idea is not to form a dough but to dampen the roasted flour enough so that you can press it into small balls. Time to roll, now. Set yourself down comfortably for this may take a while. Pop in a good movie or tune into your favourite TV channel.Also, make sure you bring with you the flour you set aside and a tray or large plate for the completed ghee balls. Don't take too long as you have to toll the balls while the flour is hot. (yes, your palms have to be quite resilient).
Gather a small ammount of the flour (depending on how big you want your balls to be) into your palms and start rolling the flour into a ball by pressing it between your palm and your fingers. Apply pressure but be careful not to press too hard or it will crumble.
After rolling, coat the ball lightly in the flour and set aside. Continue with the rest of the flour.