If Diwali could be captured in a mithai, look no further than the Sindhi kitchen. Their festive sweet treats, usually made with mawa or khoya, are loaded with dry fruits and some have savoury ingredients like sev and puffed rice, giving them a complex texture.
Almonds, pistachios and walnuts, which are used to make chikki, laddoos and halwa, signify prosperity. During festivals they are reserved for Lakshmi puja, served to guests and given as gifts to married daughters. “In my childhood, dabbas with dry fruits would be hidden and kept away from us. We were always told yeh mehmano ke liye hai (they are for guests),” says Jyoti Vishnani, who specialises in Sindhi food and is the executive chef at Sula Vineyards in Nashik, Maharashtra.
Sindhis are fond of mawa or khoya, which is cooked with sugar and continuously stirred till it acquires a deep caramel hue with a fudgy texture, says Vishnani. The mawa is used to make barfis, halwas and milk cake. Desiccated coconut too is a Diwali favourite—it is combined with the mawa for barfis and laddoos. Mildly savoury ingredients like sev, channa and puffed rice are cooked with caramelised sugar to make laee or Sindhi chikkis. “Laee is central to Lakshmi puja,” says Vishnani. “The slightly salty sev and channa along with sugar plays with your palate. We love this combo.”
Sev is also used in a prized signature Sindhi mithai called sev barfi or Singhar jhi mithai. It is cooked with mawa and formed into bite-sized square-shaped fudges.
One of the most popular sev barfi in Mumbai is sold at Tharu Sweets in the Sindhi-populated neighbourhood of Khar west. The brand is 100 years old, starting life in Karachi in undivided India. Their Diwali showstoppers include pista halwa, pista barfi, maajn laddoo (loaded with dry fruits and poppy seeds) and, of course, sev barfi. “Now, there are many versions of the sev barfi. They are flavoured with chocolate and is also available as a layered sweet where the base is sev and the top is mawa or vice versa,” says Vishnani.
The profusion of dry fruits is an influence of Arabs and Persian food in the erstwhile Sindh region. They have baked biscuits like nankhatai studded with cashew nuts. Vishnani says that married daughters are gifted dry sweets like laee, nankhatai and atta laddoos as they travel well and last long. Exchanging sweets in this manner is customary during Diwali.
Kheer or khirni, made with vermicelli, makes an appearance too. If you visit a Sindhi household, khirni is served during the Diwali feasts. It is made with sabudana (sago pearls) too and, more recently, makhana (foxnut) has started to replace vermicelli, says Vishnani.
She shares a recipe which is her modern take on a traditional ladoo with ingredients central to the Sindhi festive mithai dabba. She calls it Diwali bomb.
1 cup puffed rice
100g anjeer (fig)
2-3 green cardamom
100g mixed dry fruits
50 ml ghee
10g khus khus (poppy seeds)
100 ml milk
Heat ghee in a pan. Add khoya and khus khus. Cook till it changes colour. Add blended anjeer, khajur and cardamom seeds. Add a little milk and cook till the mixture leaves the sides of the vessel. Cool and roll into ladoos.
Roast puffed rice and keep aside.
Make caramelised sugar and drizzle it over the laddoos. Roll the ladoos in the puffed rise so that they are evenly coated. Serve and say Diyaariye juun lakh lakh vadhainyun. It is Sindhi for 'many good wishes on Diwali.'