I suck - again, no pictures! I will just have to make some of these again and photograph.
Two of my co-workers are here from India and they came up with the idea of having a big lunch to celebrate Diwali. This is a huge, multi-day festival celebrated across India; a time for big gatherings and lots of food. My co-workers missed this celebration working in Portland, Oregon, so decided to bring it to their American teammates.
When I started looking at recipes for desserts I noted that they all contained dairy products. This is pretty standard for Indian sweets, so I never have any now (oh, how I miss gulab jamun). The only way to ensure a sweet at a potluck, should I desire one, is to make them myself. Not being really familiar with any of the sweets in the recipes for Diwali I thought I'd try out the recipe for cashew cardamom cupcakes in Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World. I hadn't yet and have always thought it sounded tasty.
A couple of days before the potluck I stopped into my favorite Desi market, India-4-U, to pick up fresh kari leaves for making sambar. While purchasing these I was chatting with one of the owners, Alka, about my plans to make the cupcakes although I know they're not traditional.
She looked at me and said, "Oh, you should make besan ladoo!"
I know what besan is, but a ladoo?? Alka assured me it was easy, if time consuming, to cook the besan. She knows I'm vegan and that I have something I use where ghee is called for (hoaray, Earth Balance). She said that ghee was the only non-vegan thing in besan ladoo, so I should have an easy time of it. Besan ladoo, she insisted, we the best thing to make as a sweet for a Diwali party.
Right. Once home I stashed the kari leaves in the fridge for sambar making later and did a little research. After a few Google searches I found a recipe that sounded like the rough ingredient list Alka gave me: besan, ghee, sugar, cardamom, cashews and raisens. The only problem -- no pictures and the recipe directions ended with the notation to, "shape into ladoos".
Uhh... Google image search to the rescue! Moments later I discovered that "ladoo" meant "little ball".
As Alka had said, it was pretty easy if a little time consuming. I followed the recipe and directions exactly, substituting the amount of Earth Balance for the ghee, and after many minutes the kitchen was scented with the nutty aroma of the toasted flour. I added the sugar & cardamom and immediately found a problem.
I had a pan of toasted, cooled besan, a bunch of sugar, a fair bit of cardamom, some chopped raises & toasted cashews. It smelled wonderful, however, there was no way that it would be pressed into any kind of firm shape!
Since ghee is clarified and Earth Balance is a vegetable fat, something was lost in trying to do a direct substitution. What I've learned is that when substituting Earth Balance for ghee the amount should be doubled! This worked fine and the results delighted Indian co-workers who said I got them just right. They were thrilled to get a handmade sweet they associate with home.
Besan Ladoo -- Vegan Style!
1 cup Earth Balance
2 cups gram flour
1 cup evaporated cane sugar
1 teaspoon powdered cardamom
1/2 cup of chopped raisins and cashews
I toasted the raw cashews and set them aside. Once they were cool I chopped up these and some raisins for the 1/2 cup.
In a large frying pan melt 1/2 the Earth Balance over medium-low heat and add in the 2 cups gram flour. Keep stirring with a spoon, making sure there are no lumps, until flour has turned a rich, dark tan and smells very aromatic -- at least 10-15 minutes. Take off heat and let cool.
Once the besan has cooled add in the sugar, cardamom, cashews and raisins. Mix together so that all ingredients are well incorporated. Melt the other 1/2 of Earth Balance. Drizzle Earth Balance into other ingredients, keep mixing and adding Earth Balance until the dough can be pressed together in a small ball and retain shape when set down.
Form dough into small balls, ladoos, and plate. Should be kept refrigerated if not being served right away. Makes approximately 24 ladoos.
**Note: I am not sure at this time if I could have just toasted the gram in the full amount of Earth Balance. Since I discovered after all the other steps were done that I needed more Earth Balance, this is how the steps went. I will amend this if I discover I do not need to do the Earth Balance in two parts.