So, recently, I chanced to watch Iranian-American stand up comedian Maz Jobrani on Showtime. Usually for me, stand up comedy shows are not too fun to watch. They go so fast from being funny to grossly obscene that one just thinks- I guess you’re really not that funny without supporting yourself with the crutch of profanity. But the good thing about the couple of Iranian comedians that I have seen (Omid Djalili is another one) is that the dirty language is really not as bad.
But with these comedians you know you can expect a lot more of the racial/ethnic/cultural differences jokes. Which I relate to and enjoy a lot so it works for me :).
I really enjoyed that his routine was not about cliches and stereotypes, but about people who are either exactly like me, or I actually know them! Even though he was talking about Iranian culture and people most of the time, but it was exactly like us and our family and our events! Also, his wife is Indian-American, so maybe that also forms another connection.
One of the things that he talked about was that even though the general perception around the world about us is that we’re terrorists and bloodthirsty radical Islamists who are angry all the time and out to kill all the ‘pagans,’ we actually love to laugh. And not only that, but we love to dance!
I heard that and I thought, that is so true! And even though that’s what we are and that’s how it’s been all of our life, I never thought to put the two together! Both these ideas are on such opposite ends of the spectrum, that you would never even think them about the same person. And yet there it is. We love to dance.
He went on about how people will just start dancing to the beat of people clapping (right???!!!!) and demonstrated what the dancing looks like. In Peshawar we (jokingly) call it ‘shooing the birds away,’ because that’s what it looks like we’re doing. And you just go around in a circle, shooing birds away endlessly. With a twirl thrown in here and there. And it’s great! It’s so fun because anyone can do it, and everyone joins in, and the circle keeps getting bigger and bigger. And even with a step as simple as that, people come up with the funniest moves! I am literally going over all the funny ones I’ve seen on weddings over the years in my head right now, and it’s making me laugh while I write… at one wedding, some of the men took the colored cloth napkins from the table and started using them as accessories in the tradition of the local folk dances with scarves! And the people who are lacking in rhythm but very eager to participate nonetheless are lovingly referred to as ‘showing their happiness’ instead of dancing!!!
While traditionally, people get all the dancing done and over with on the day of the mehndi, not us Peshawaris. Every day is dancing day. Why waste a day of everyone being together, all dressed up and awesome Pashto music? Mehndi, baraat, valima, we dance on every single day.
So when all the negative connotations around ‘Muslim,’ ‘hijabi,’ ‘beards,’ ‘Peshawar,’ and ’Pakistan’ are flying around, I feel like the entire conversation can be changed by the simple reminder- we love to dance.
And you can’t talk about weddings without talking about gulab jaman!!! Utter decadence!!! Arguably the favorite sweet of Pakistan. I suppose rivals would be barfi and laddoo perhaps? Kids’ favorites for sure. My husband will even eat them with kheer, sheer khurma and (since yesterday) ice cream!
I enjoy them on their own, but since growing up, I never enjoyed them as much as the ones that I make at home now. I always loved gulab jaman in a warm syrup, but I didn’t make the most of being able to eat them all the time in Pakistan.
I’m not a huge fan of mithai in the US; it’s too hard, or grainy and sugary, or that rosewater!!! I really miss the smooth, creamy, decadent taste of Pakistani mithai. I really craved mithai after coming to America, and I’ve mastered a few of my favorite ones! So, we’ll start at the top, the best loved mithai of all- gulab jaman. If only I had known earlier how simple they were to make!
I’ve tried a few recipes, and I’ll give you my favorite one. And you know you’re at Zabiha Bites when a recipe comes with great troubleshooting tips! Initially, my beginner’s luck was yielding great results… until I started messing them up, and if I hadn’t then I wouldn’t have been able to give you any pointers! So… make the most of my mistakes! But the funny thing is that my husband preferred even my ‘learning curve batches’ to canned and store bought gulab jaman!
These gulab jaman are so perfectly, unbelievably delicious, that they are easily better than any you have ever had. Smooth, golden and melt in the mouth.
Decadent Gulab Jaman Adapted from Manjula’s Gulab Jamun Recipe.
- 1 cup milk powder (I use Nido- and I’m making no claims about any other brand)
- ¼ cup all purpose flour (plain flour, maida)
- 3 tbsp unsalted butter at room temperature
- ¼ cup whole milk at room temperature
- Pinch of baking soda
- Oil for deep-frying
- Slivered Almonds/Chopped Pistachios/Shredded Coconut for garnishing
- 2 cups water
- 2 cups sugar
- 4-5 ground green cardamoms
- Drop of orange food color (optional)
[I save a little here and use only 1½ cups of water & sugar, but it’s good to have them completely drowning in the syrup.]
- Put the water, sugar, ground cardamom seeds and food color in a saucepan. Stir to dissolve all the sugar and bring it to a boil.
- Let the syrup boil for a minute, then remove it from the heat.
- Set aside and keep warm.
- In a bowl, mix milk powder, flour and baking soda.
- Add the butter and mix well.
- Now add milk and knead to make a soft dough. The dough will be sticky.
- On no account and at no point should you add water to the dough or to your hands.
- Immediately divide the dough into about 20 equal portions and roll them into round balls.
- Heat the oil a little in a deep frying pan on medium heat, and then turn the heat to low. The frying pan should have at least 1½ inches of oil. To test if the oil is the right temperature, place a small piece of dough into the oil; it should take a minute to rise. If dough rises faster, oil is too hot; if dough just sits without rising, then the oil is not hot enough.
- Deep fry in batches, moving them around continuously while frying.
- Note: the gulab jamun will expand in volume, so give them enough space.
- While frying keep rolling the gulab jamun around so they are evenly browned. It should take about 7 minutes to fry the gulab jamun. Fry until the gulab jamun are browned to your liking. Gulab jaman can vary in color from light golden brown to a dark brown. It depends on your own preference.
- Drain on paper towels before putting them in the warm syrup.
- The gulab jamuns should sit in the syrup for at least 30 minutes prior to serving. Garnish with your choice of nuts.
Here’s a little video clip of deep frying the gulab jaman:
- There are two things that are most important. First, the gulab jamans should be soft, and two, they should be completely cooked through. The first depends entirely on the quantity of the baking soda. Too little baking soda, and they will come out hard. Too much, and they will fall apart as you fry them. I can’t say much, but I can say that a ‘pinch’ in this recipe is less than ⅛ of a teaspoon.
- To make sure that they are cooked through, fry each batch for at least 7 minutes. The temperature of the oil is very important. Basically, I fry them on low, and maybe raise the heat around the 5th minute slightly to get them to brown. When you first add them to the oil, they should not change color at all. If they are starting to brown, then the oil is much too hot. Remove the pan from the heat and fry for a few minutes. Return to the stove on low heat and continue frying. Remember! Low, low, low! When you first add the balls to the oil, there is hardly even a crackle or a fizz. The oil is just barely heated up.
- Very importantly, gulab jaman cannot be made while attending to other tasks. You have to be completely dedicated to making them from start to finish in one go without interruption. If the baby is crying or someone is calling or the sky is falling, then forget it. Do not start making them unless someone else is around to take care of everything else that might need your attention.
- The smoother the balls are, the smoother they will fry up. Any cracks in the balls will show up after frying too. If your dough seems to be drying out, then grease your hands a little with butter. This will prevent cracks from forming in the balls.
- If you leave a batch to fry later, then sitting will cause the baking soda to act up and you might lose the batch completely as it will become too soft and fall apart.
- If you want more than this recipe makes, then don’t double the recipe. As I said, sitting will cause the gulab jaman to get softer and softer. Make 2 batches instead.
- For all the above reasons, work quickly. After making the dough, quickly make the balls and fry them up.
- To make sure that they all come out an even size, I use the larger head of a melon baller to measure out the balls. (Makes around 22-24; I don’t remember exactly.)
- It’s probably best to stay between the color range of golden brown to medium brown. Frying for too long may result in a harder, dried out shell.
- Can you substitute baking powder for baking soda in this recipe? If using baking powder, you would use about ¼ teaspoon but be warned- the result will not be the same. I have noted that baking powder gives the gulab jaman a thick crust and a weird aftertaste (even though I use aluminum free baking powder). Conclusion: baking powder is not recommended for this recipe.
- Follow the recipe exactly. This is not one to fiddle around with. (Room temperature butter means room temperature- not melted in the microwave.) If you can’t follow a recipe word for word, then try making something else for dessert.
The test for the perfect gulab jaman- an even crumb and completely cooked through, without the dreaded hard center. Warm them up a little before serving!
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