For me, my mom’s two desserts are sublime and her chef-d'oeuvres: gulab jamun and jalebi. I don’t know what it is with her gulab jamuns, but I cannot eat anyone else’s. I don’t care if it’s a fancy Indian restaurant or homemade by someone else’s mother, I will pass. Most likely they’re soggy, burnt or just taste a little weird.
For those who have do not know and have lived a pallid culinary existence, gulab jamuns are Indian sweets. Balls of milk and flour are deep fried like doughnuts until they are nicely browned. Then, they are saturated with a thick saffron sugar syrup. Did you feel your arteries clog as you read that? My mom’s gulab jamun stay crisp, but absorb the right amount of syrup. You can eat them warm, so the syrup just oozes out. Else, you can eat them cold and bite into crystallized sugar.
In my house, we have a “no fry zone”. We're super health-conscious and we really don’t fry anything. I actually bake sweet and savories. However, I had always made gulab jamuns under my mom’s supervision. I attempted to make them on my own as a newlywed. I made them for my mother-in-law, on the last day of her visit. The outcome wasn’t as spectacular as I expected, but she was very gracious and appreciated the effort.
The other specialty my mother used to make was jalebi. These are another one of those Indian sweets that have zero health benefits. The creation process is much like a funnel cake. The batter is drizzled in a circular pattern right into hot oil. When it fluffs up perfectly, take it out and plunge it into the sticky saffron sugar syrup for a long soak. (BAAAM!!)
I haven’t eaten a memorable jalebi in years. My mom stopped making them in the ‘80’s when she lost her special bottle for making it. She tried other bottles and tips, but it would either glop or get stuck in the tube. Then we were lost. We tasted fluorescent orange and neon yellow concoctions made by others, but it wasn’t right. Actually, often it was too sweet, too soggy, too crisp or too thin - sorry excuses for jalebis.
I remember being 10 years old and telling my friends how many I could eat. “I could eat this many jalebis!” with my arms outstretched. Then someone would top me. “Oh yeah, I could eat that whole house full of jalebis!” I replied.
Maybe because I revere my mom’s versions, I haven’t attempted to do these at home. I’m more likely to make my proven successes such as sev-kheer and carrot halva.
One my last visit to Mumbai, my father-in-law ported home a batch of ghantiya and jalebi. “I bought this for you! This is the traditional breakfast for Gujaratis! ” I stared at the sticky sweet circles and didn’t know what to do. Firstly, in my Gujarati household, we always had cereal or eggs for breakfast. No one was making hot jalebis for breakfast. Secondly, how could I eat these since I have declared I will never eat another’s but my mother’s? I thanked him and said, “I love ghantiya.”
Thanks for indulging my memories. I’ve been on a low-carb diet and now these carbelicious desires are manifesting themselves into my blogs!