Anyone who's moved to a new country knows that sometimes you really miss the little things from the place you once lived. On Sunday afternoon when I pondered my mountain of work and craved a Home Country treat, there was only one thing for it. So I did what I do best, I procrastinated and embarked on making home made jalebis.
Jalebi, pronounced ja-lay-bee, is a sweet of fried spiral batter soaked in syrup, a bit like loukoumades if they were curly instead of round. It's a sweet that is popular in the part of the world I come from, and its popularity means it features as part of many happy memories. After a long day shopping at the markets, we would go find someone making jalebis and order a kilo of hot, sticky jalebis to eat with a cup of tea. At birthday parties my mother would string up individual jalebis dangling down from the washing line and hold a competition to see who could eat theirs without their hands.
Last year at the Home Country wedding I went to, when we were all deflated from last second wedding planning, nothing perked up the team's spirits like a big plate of hot jalebis. This time at my friend's wedding in India, I sat in her house on the morning of her wedding and there they were again, jalebis for breakfast although these were a 5 star version I'd never seen, soaked in saffron laced syrup and dusted with ground cardamom.
I had worked all of Saturday and I knew both Sunday and Monday would get consumed by work, so I thought why not have a break? Jalebis are a favourite of children, and I thought it would be really sad if my own future children wouldn't be able to enjoy the hot jalebis I ate as a child.
Here is my recipe:
1/2 cup of plain flour
1/4 cup of yoghurt
Water as needed
pinch of salt
1.5 cups of sugar
1.5 cups of water
Optional: pinch of saffron, ground cardamom
Mix the flour, yoghurt and salt together. Add water until you get a mix that pours easily, like cream. Leave to stand for half an hour. In the meantime, boil the sugar, water and saffron (if using) for 15 minutes. Test a little bit with a spoon, let it cool and see how it feels between your fingers. You're aiming for a sticky syrup a bit like melted honey. It should not be hot sweet water, that would be a disaster. Turn off the heat.
Take a frying pan and fill until there is about an inch of oil on the bottom and heat over a medium heat. Pour some of the batter into the plastic bag (a thick bag works better than the supermarket type) and tie a rubber band on the open end. Cut a hole in one corner of the bag and keep it sitting in a mug with the cut off corner facing up. This makes it easier to control, otherwise you'll have batter pouring all over your kitchen.
Now for the fun part! Test the oil is hot enough with a drop of batter. It should bubble up but not burn in a few seconds. Hold your bag over the oil and gently squeeze, pouring messy spirals into the oil. This video will demonstrate how, though you don't have to make joined up spirals, you can make them one at a time.
Fry until golden brown, remove from the oil and dump in the syrup. Allow them to soak for about 15 seconds and remove onto a plate. If you leave them to soak and soak they'll get bloated and soft. Jalebis should be juicy and a little crunchy. Sprinkle with ground cardamom if using.
Mmmmm! How delightful. By the way you can buy these in the Asian shops downtown, but there is nothing like the real thing fresh from the pan and ready made jalebis are bright orange because they add colour to the syrup. Hooray! My future children won't grow up not knowing the joy that is a hot jalebi!
Tip: If you end up with more jalebis than you can eat, my mum drops the leftovers into custard before it sets. Delicious.