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When you are first introduced to Indian food it's not uncommon to be surprised when dessert arrives at the table. Indian sweets bear little resemblance to traditional Western desserts and not having a point of reference can make it hard to decipher what's on your plate and how to eat it.
While it’s easy to be perplexed about that plate of diamond-shaped barfi or a bowl of syrupy gulab jamun, an adventurous foodie quickly discovers the addictive quality of Indian sweets. Just one bite and those fragrant and exotic Indian desserts suddenly become something you crave, especially during festive occasions like Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights that takes place during the new moon between October and November.
Traditionally, most Indian sweets aren’t baked, instead they are cooked on the stove top or over an open fire. What are they made of? Well, it depends on the region but the usual suspects are milk, chickpea flour, semolina, coconut and rice. On their own these ingredients may not sound too appetizing but a knowledgeable cook can easily transform them into delectable sweets flavored with cardamom, saffron and rose water.
Milk is incredibly important in India, especially for making desserts. Whether tuned into cheese dumplings, fudge, pudding, ice cream or sauce, milk takes on countless forms to satisfy even the most discerning palate. Below you’ll find a list of the most commonly enjoyed Indian sweets during Diwali.
10 Indian Sweets For Diwali Explained
1. Gulab Jamun
Often referred to as Indian donuts, gulab jamun are deep-fried dumplings that are soaked in a sugar syrup laced with rose water. Intensely sweet, just one small dumpling will be enough to satisfy your craving (unless, of course, you have a major sweet tooth).
courtesy Hari Prasad Nadig
Sweet, sticky and irresistible, jaleebi are deep-fried Indian sweets that are soaked in sugar syrup. The batter is commonly made of chickpea flour and the yellow color is derived from saffron or - sometimes - artificial colorings.
courtesy Shalin Jain/Flickr
A creamy Indian rice pudding laced with cardamom, kheer is often prepared with sliced blanched almonds and raisins. It is commonly enhanced with saffron for very festive occasions such as Diwali or weddings.
courtesy Pritya Books/Flickr
These ball-shaped sweets are often made of either chickpea flour, semolina or ground coconut depending on the region. The batter is cooked into a paste and rolled into balls once cooled.
courtesy Basheer Olakara/Flickr
An intoxicatingly aromatic dish of cottage cheese dumplings steeped in cardamom-infused milk syrup. Rasmalai hails from West Bengal but is enjoyed throughout much of India.
courtesy Amy Stephenson/Flickr
Usually cut in a diamond or square shape, barfi is a fudge-like Indian sweet made with condensed milk and sugar (but not only!). Coconut, almonds, pistachios and edible silver leaf are common additions.
courtesy Wilson Hui/Flickr
7. Kesar Peda
Basically Indian milk fudge, pedas are made with condensed milk, ghee and dehydrated milk. It used to be a time consuming process but thanks to instant powdered milk pedas are extremely easy to make.
8. Boondi Ke Ladoo
These boondi are similar to the ladoos mentioned above with one exception: they are deep fried. Small drops of a batter are dropped into hot oil then soaked in a simple syrup and formed into balls.
courtesy Jason Lam/Flickr
9. Agra Ka Pehta
A specialty of the city of Agra, whose claim to fame is the Taj Mahal, these translucent soft candies are made with a local gourd and are often flavored with spices and rose water.
Intensely sweet and dense, kulfi is to Indians what gelato is for Italians. Since it is not churned, kulfi freezes as a solid mass so it is best to let it sit for a minute before being devoured.
courtesy Jason Lam