Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Pedas for Ganesha: Indian Milk Fudge

Ganesha, the elephant-headed God, is perhaps the most famous from among the pantheon of Hindu deities.  Traditionally, Ganesha is considered the God of knowledge and is prayed to at the start of any new venture.  Every year, the birthday of Ganesha – termed Ganesh Chathurthi --  is celebrated with great pomp throughout India.  This was one of my very favorite times of the year as a child growing up in India.  The monsoons would have come to an end.  My birthday would be right around the corner.  We’d even have several days off from school.  On the morning of Ganesh Chathurthi, we would wake up early and head to the local clay artist who would have set aside a lovely clay Ganesha just for me.  We would bring home this colorful statue with great pomp – I even had a little parasol just for this occasion, so that I could hold it over Ganesha’s head as we walked him home under the scorching Indian sun.  This same ritual would be playing out all around us, as our friends and neighbors also brought home their own special Ganesha statues to install at home.  Traditionally, this would be followed by 3 to 10 days of prayer.  At the end of this period, the Ganesha statue would be taken to the local lake and allowed to dissolve.  As the clay sculpture of Ganesha dissolves, he is thought to melt away all the misfortunes of his loyal devotees.

In Bombay, in particular, Ganesh Chathurthi was celebrated with great fanfare.  In the months leading up to day, almost every temple would commission local artists to create humongous Ganesha statues – the larger the temple, the larger the statue and the more elaborate the display.  After months of seeing these temporary installations being secretively built behind burlap scaffolding, during the week of Ganesh Chathurthi, the drapes would finally be lifted and we would be allowed to wander, awestruck, through the ever-more elaborate sets.  This would all culminate with the city awarding prizes to the temples with the best displays.

Closer to home, other festivities would be brewing.  As is evident from his big belly, Ganesha is considered to be quite the gourmand, so one of the mainstays of this festival is the range of delicacies prepared by my mom and my friends' moms, alike.  
Even today, though I have moved far, far away from these scenes of my childhood, the memories of those celebrations are still fresh in my heart.  While I don’t necessarily have the time to prepare elaborate delicacies before heading out to work in the morning, I do still try to make something special in the kitchen to mark the occasion. A few months ago, I came across several recipes for microwavable Doodh peda, a type of dense Indian milk fudge.  I have since been able to adapt this recipe for just such an occasion.  So, although my ramblings about my childhood memories have been long, this recipe is anything but complicated or time-consuming.  It literally comes together in less than 10 minutes but tastes like you have been reducing milk over the stove for hours and hours.

So, in honor of today’s celebration of Ganesh Chathurthi, I give you this super simple Doodh peda or milk fudge recipe.  With its short, short ingredient list, and the ease of zapping it up in a microwave, I have a feeling that this recipe is going to make into my own fledgling list of kitchen traditions.

Microwaveable Doodh Peda or Milk Fudge (makes 2 dozen)

1 14 oz. can of sweetened condensed milk
2 C non-fat dried milk
1 stick of unsalted butter
4 pods of green cardamom, peeled and finely ground
A pinch of saffron (optional)
Nuts (optional for garnish)

Place butter in a large microwavable bowl and microwave for about a minute, until butter is melted
Stir in dried milk and condensed milk until well mixed
Place bowl on a plate, and heat in microwave at full power for 4 minutes in 1 minute intervals
After each minute, remove from microwave and stir well
Watch carefully so that the mixture doesn't bubble over while heating (but in any case, that's what the plate beneath the bowl is for)
Once mixture is thickened to a fluffy ricotta-like consistency, add cardamom and saffron.
Mix well, and spread on plate to cool for about 2 minutes
Once it's cool enough to handle, make 1 inch balls and flatten out slightly to form a thick disk
Garnish top of disk with nuts or more saffron
Store for up to a week in the fridge