On Food & Festivals: Making Gujiya and breaking barriers

From wondering ‘yeh kya hain’, the author writes about her initiation into Indian culture through this Holi favourite delicacy – gujiya.


Coming from a family that revolves around the consumption of food, my first question when I encounter an unknown festival is not, “What do you do” but instead, “What do you eat?” It’s usually closely followed by, “and how do you make that?” The preparation and sharing of special food marks not only the milestones of the year, but life’s major milestones too: weddings, christenings, and birthdays.

My first Holi, spent in Lucknow, was no exception. I’d somehow found myself at the home of my then boyfriend, but we were busy pretending to be unromantically involved so as not to scandalise his extended family. Our cover was ‘curious firangi seeks to spend Holi in authentic North Indian house’ which, as covers go, wasn’t too difficult to maintain. I am a foreigner, and I was interested to see what Holi entailed, beyond getting wet and throwing colours.

As it turned out, the preparation and then eating triangular pastries filled with milk-based goodness – also known as gujiya – is an integral part of the Holi celebration in Uttar Pradesh.

For me, this discovery was nothing short of a lifeline. At the time, my Hindi didn’t extend much beyond “Yeh kya hai?” meaning that the opportunities for meaningful interaction with a Hindi-speaking family were limited. Luckily, “What’s that?” is pretty much all you need to know in order to get by in a kitchen, so I attached myself to the least-scary looking of the sisters and began to learn.

Fast forward three years, and this Holi found me making gujiya again. Only this time it’s at home in Bangalore, and the gujiya production line is made up of me, my new mother-in-law, and my husband. (Note: the boy & I are no longer pretending to be “just friends”) This year, I’ve even graduated to being allowed to prepare the dough. Once the dough is ready, my mother-in-law shapes it into small balls, I wield the rolling pin, and my husband is in charge of adding the filling and creating the final gujiya with the help of a cutter. It’s seamless team work.

Together we made around 20 gujiya, sat on the floor together in a comfortably silent rhythm for almost an hour. In this unusually peaceful time, it occurred to me that festivals are essentially the same the world over: they’re about allowing families to spend time together. Time-intensive food – from mince pies and hot cross buns to gujiya and carrot halwa – can’t realistically be prepared on a working day, but are perfect opportunities for holiday recreation, shared family labour and reflection.

In the spirit of holiday sharing and cultural exchange, I’ve noted down my mother-in-law’s gujiya recipe. As she cooks without scales the values are approximate, but they’ve worked for me when I’ve attempted to make these alone. The filling will make around 60 individual gujiya, using a large cutter. In North India you can buy these as gujiya cutters, but in South India we found that shop assistants knew them mainly as samosa makers.

For the filling:

Three litres of milk, slowly boiled with two cups of sugar, until solid.

300 g of semolina (sooji) slowly roasted in around two tablespoons of ghee.

150 g of dessicated coconut

100g of cashew nuts, ground to a fine powder, either by hand or in a grinder

100 g of raisins

Method

Allow the milk solids to cool to room temperature

Mix all of the above ingredients to form a slightly sticky paste, using your hands and a large mixing bowl

Leave to one side.

For the Dough

We’ve tend to make the dough in smaller batches, as the gujiya taste best fresh. Once you have the filling you can keep it in the fridge for 2-3 days, removing it and allowing it to cool before using it for each fresh batch of gujiya. Below you’ll find the recipe to make enough dough for 20 gujiya.

Three cups of maida (white, refined, flour)

A pinch of baking soda

Three tablespoons of refined oil

One cup of water, at room temperature

Method

Rub the oil into the maida with your hands. This helps to make sure that the final pastry is not too hard.

Once it is fully mixed, start to slowly add the water to the maida to form dough. It requires a good five minutes of mixing and kneading before it will form a soft, reasonably elastic dough.

This dough dries out quickly, so use it quickly, and while assembling the gujiya you can cover it with a damp cloth.

To Assemble & Cook:

Depending on the size of your gujiya cutter, take a section of the dough, and roll it between your hands to create a sphere around the size of a ping-pong ball.

Add a few drops of the refined oil with your hands, and then roll to form a circle of dough.

Lay the flattened dough over the gujiya cutter, and add the filling.

Close the cutter to make the final gujiya shape, and to encase the filling within the dough.

Fry in piping hot refined oil for a few minutes, until golden brown, being careful to turn at least once.

Gift, eat, and generally enjoy!


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