I have a real weakness for crispy sweets. And at the top of my list is an exquisite, lacy, sesame-seed-and-cardamom-sprinkled delicacy that's perhaps not very well-known outside Maharashtrian and Konkani homes: Chavde, or Mande.
In my childhood home, sweet-making was a joint endeavor between my parents and I can still see them as they made Chavde together. Mom rolled out the wafer-thin discs of dough and dunked them in frothing oil, Dad sprinkled them with a scented, sugary mixture, then folded them rapidly before they had a chance to cool down-- a job that required asbestos fingers.
As the chavde cooled, they would -- like magic-- set into a crackling, crispy, delicious but not cloyingly sweet snack.
Chavde are popular eats at Ganesh Chaturthi, India's celebration of the elephant-headed god's birthday which falls-- today! Chaturthi is always celebrated with plenty of food, a lot of it sweet, including the wonderful Modak. I have written before about my love for this colorful, raucously vibrant festival that sometimes lasts as long as 20 days, so I'll spare you a repetition.
Instead, I'll leave you with a recipe that's not only delicious but also completely vegan and therefore -- as I like to say -- one no God could resist. Even better, it's one that you can make in under an hour, honest. The only skill you need is an ability to roll out the dough into a thin disc. And don't even worry about making it perfectly round because once it's all folded up, who'll be the wiser?
Enjoy, and a Happy Ganesh Chaturthi to all my readers!
(Makes 10 pieces)
For the dough:
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp salt
1 tbsp vegetable shortening (use one free of transfats)
Place the ingredients in a bowl or in a food processor. Knead into a pliable, soft, elastic dough that's not too hard but doesn't stick to your fingers either. If you're kneading this in a food processor, pour the water in with the blades running until a dough ball forms.
Place the dough in an air-tight container and set aside for at least 15 minutes.
For the stuffing:
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1 tsp powdered cardamom
1 tbsp sesame seeds. Toast these in a dry skillet over the lowest heat setting, stirring frequently, until they just start to change color. Turn off the stove and allow the seeds to cool.
2 tbsp shredded coconut
Place all the ingredients in a bowl and mix well. Here's an idea, not traditional-- add some nuts to this mix. Pistachio or blanched, thinly sliced almonds would be divine.
In a small wok or a skillet large enough to fry the chavde, heat enough oil to deep-fry. You want your oil to be at 350 degrees which is pretty much a perfect temperature for frying and one at which the food won't absorb much oil.
Divide the dough into 10 pieces.
Roll each piece into a smooth ball and, using just as much flour as you absolutely need, roll into a really thin disc, around 5-6 inches in diameter.
Place the disc into the hot oil and fry either side for about 15 seconds or until the disc is all bubbly and beginning to stiffen ever so slightly. You do need to get a good feel for this-- if you take out the disc too fast it won't be cooked enough. But if you leave it in the oil for too long, it'll stiffen up before you have a chance to fold it.
Place the disc on a plate covered with a kitchen towel to absorb any oil. I also keep another towel handy to blot away any oil on the top. Working fast, sprinkle about a tablespoon of the sugar mixture over one half of the chavda, then fold over the other half to form a semi-circle. Spring a couple more teaspoons of the sugar mixture over half the semicircle and fold over once more.
Set aside to cool, preferably on a rack. You have to let the chavde cool thoroughly for the crispy, crackly texture.