Passport & Plate - "Tuscan" Besan Laddu
India | Friday, 6 March 2015 | 5 photos
1 cup unsalted butter or ghee
2 cups chickpea flour (also called gram, besan, or chana flour)
½ teaspoon ground cardamom
½ cup shelled salted pistachios, roughly chopped
1 cup powdered sugar
How to prepare this recipe
Line a 9x9-inch pan with parchment paper and set aside.
In a stainless steel or non-stick 9-inch skillet, melt the butter or ghee over low heat. Add the 2 cups of chickpea flour, and stir until they’re well mixed. For the next 15-25 minutes, let the mixture simmer on low heat, stirring every few minutes to ensure it doesn’t stick to the bottom and burn. Keep this up until the mixture turns a dark, golden brown colour and takes on a nutty fragrance (the time this takes will vary depending on your heat source and pan). Once it’s golden brown, remove the pan from the heat and let cool for several minutes.
Next, stir in the cardamom, then the chopped pistachios, and finally the powdered sugar. Combine well, then press the mixture into the parchment-lined pan. Let it cool on the counter for 10-15 minutes, then in the fridge to harden up completely. Once it’s cooled, cut the laddu into 16 squares, or break it into chunks. Enjoy!
The story behind this recipe
Six years ago, I found myself in a Hare Krishna temple in Italy, plucking something off the top of my dessert and asking incredulously, “Wait, is laddu INDIAN?”
My time as a wwoofer - a Willing Worker on an Organic Farm – led me to that moment. When I was 24, I volunteered on a farm south of Florence, and spent my days herding 80 stubborn goats around the grape-covered hills. My hosts lived in a 400 year-old stone farmhouse, and when I climbed its stairs for the first time, the heady smell of incense filled my nose. Later, after my first meal of vegetarian curry, I learned that my born and raised Tuscan hosts were also practicing Hare Krishnas.
The greatest influence this had on my life was when it came to food. My host mother prepared both Indian and Italian dishes, and one of my favourite treats was laddu. She made it by cooking chickpea flour with butter and sugar until it turned dark brown, then pressed it into a pan and let it cool. Since chickpeas are common in Italian cooking, I automatically placed laddu (despite its name) into the “Beloved Tuscan Treats” category in my mind.
One evening, we trekked up to the local Krishna temple for a festival. Amidst the colourful music and dancing, an enormous cake depicting Krishna rescuing a town from a flood was paraded out (I was thrilled to discover this religion formally involved cake). Later, after an Indian feast, the cake was cut up for dessert. My plate included some of the mythical town’s river, as well as a chunk of laddu, which I removed from the icing and held up, confused. Slowly, and to the Italians’ amusement, I came to the realization that laddu is an Indian sweet, not a Tuscan one. Embarrassing? Yes. But all that really mattered is that my host mother shared her recipe with me, and its taste will forever be a reminder of that patchouli-scented stone house in the hills.
Growing up, my Grandmother told me stories about her time as a nurse with the World Health Organization in Iran, Indonesia, India, and Ceylon. Her tales were remarkable not only because she’d travelled alone in the 50’s, but because she spoke of places so vastly different from quiet northern British Columbia where I grew up. Even before I learned Ceylon is actually Sri Lanka, I always knew I wanted to travel there; however, while I inherited my Grandmum’s love of exploring, it has been food - not nursing - that has propelled my adventures. During university, I cooked for tree planters in the woods of rural British Columbia, then earned a Masters of Food Culture and Communications at the University of Gastronomic Sciences in Italy. In 2011, I spent an entire year combining my love of storytelling and eating as Tourism Richmond’s 365 Days of Dining food blogger, a job for which 1,507 applicants competed. After 365 consecutive blog posts, I launched my next adventure, called FEAST: An Edible Road Trip. Over 5 months, my friend and I travelled to all 10 Canadian provinces and 3 territories, covering over 37,000 km from the Pacific to the Atlantic and up to the Arctic. On www.edibleroadtrip.com we shared stories of Canadian food culture, and for our efforts won a Saveur Best Food Blog Award. I’m a curious writer who’s happy in front of a camera and up for eating anything, including frozen raw caribou dipped in fermented whale fat. I’ll tell you right now, that stuff is RICH!