Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Diwali, via the Silk Route

Happy Diwali! This is a really fun, festive time to be in back home, with lights, color and good food everywhere. Growing up in India, I would eagerly await the arrival of all the gift boxes laden with sweets and dry fruits, and tuck in merrily without a care. Oh to have the metabolism of a teenager again :(
As I've grown older, though, my palate has gradually moved away from the candy-like sugariness of many Indian sweets, towards those with interesting flavors and textures. And as I reflect on my favorites, I realized that many of their ingredients - almonds, pistachios, saffron - came to India from outside, back when caravans traversing the Silk Route dropped these off and picked up ivory, textiles and spices in exchange.
So as a nod to the people who brought me my favorite once-foreign-and-now-quintessentially-Indian foodstuffs, I decided that my Diwali sweet for this year would be baklava. To give it an Indian flair I used our classic badam-pista (almond-pistachio) combination in the filling, and flavored the syrup with cardamom and rose water. The results are delicious! Even though baklava is not a traditional Indian sweet, it fits in perfectly with an Indian meal. I might even try a version with a saffron syrup next time. Now if only the caravans had brought filo pastry with them, I could have learnt how to make that in the kitchen of my grandmother as well...!

Recipe: Almond-Pistachio Baklava, adapted from here.

I halved the recipe and used an 8" square pan, since baklava is quite rich and a small piece is enough to satisfy even a pretty sweet tooth. I used only blanched almonds and pistachios in the filling, in equal quantities. I replaced the cinnamon in the filling with freshly ground green cardamom, and infused the syrup with cardamom pods instead of a cinnamon stick. I added some rose water to the syrup as well.

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