Photo by Matt Armendariz
Maybe it’s the colors, maybe it’s the spices, perhaps it’s my obsession with yoga, but I’ve always been fascinated with Indian culture. So it’s only natural that at the tip top of my travel bucket list is an edible journey through the country, exploring the regional cuisine — hopefully with a few stops for some downward dogs along the way.
To be honest, that Big India Trip was part of my pre-30 bucket list. And seeing as how The Big Day is coming up in a few weeks (eep!), I don’t think it’ll happen. Life kinda gets away from you like that. But it will this year. I’ll make it be so, gosh darn it.
Since I can’t make it to India before the ol’ three-oh, I might as well make something so that my tastebuds can take the journey. So to toast this birthday month (yes, I celebrate for a whole month, and so should you!), I’m going to be making these gorgeous Indian donuts called gulab jamun. (It’s prounounced GOO-lahb JAH-moon, for the record.) I wrote about them for LAist in honor of my friend and Food Network Star Aarti Aarti Sequeira, who also used to write for our site. The recipe comes from her new cookbook, Aarti Paarti: An American Kitchen With Indian Soul.
She gives her gulab jamun— which she and Nathan Lyon made for her book party — a modern twist by drizzling them with chamomile cardamom syrup. They’re the perfect treat for any special occasion, and are often served at weddings, birthday parties, and holidays.
So rather than running from this landmark birthday that admittedly has me a bit freaked out and questioning EVERYTHING, I’m going to run towards it with these ooey gooey, delicious donuts in hand. (There’ll likely be a cocktail or two, too. Let’s be real.)
1/2 cup nonfat instant dry milk powder
3 tablespoons all purpose flour
1 tablespoon grated lemon zest
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon distilled white vinegar
1 tablespoon melted ghee or unsalted butter, cooled
2 to 3 tablespoons whole milk
Sunflower oil for deep frying
For the chamomile cardamom syrup:
1/4 cup granulated sugar
2 cups water
4 chamomile tea bags
4 green cardamom pods, crushed open but left whole
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon minced pistachios
grated lemon zest
vanilla ice cream
In a large bowl, stir together the milk powder, flour, lemon zest, baking soda and a pinch of salt with a fork until well-combined.
Make a small well in the ingredients, and add the vinegar and ghee. Stir until the mixture takes on the texture of sand, 1 to 2 minutes.
Now add the milk in a thin, slow stream, stirring all the while with your fork. The mixture will first look like wet sand, then come together and come away from the sides of the bowl into a loose dough that somewhat resembles cottage cheese. The dough should be soft, light and pretty delicate, but not too sticky; add a few pinches of flour if it’s sticking to your fingers too much.
Don’t dilly-dally; this dough dries out quickly! Divide the dough into 8 equal portions. Roll them into small balls, about 1 inch in diameter. They’ll look a little puny to you, but don’t worry—they will swell in both the oil and the syrup. Place them on a plastic wrap-lined plate. Top with a lightly dampened paper towel, then with another piece of plastic wrap.
Pour oil into a small, heavy-bottomed Dutch oven to a depth of 2 inches. Heat the oil over low to medium-low heat until it registers 325ºF on a deep-fry or candy thermometer (if you don’t have one, then drop a small piece of dough into the oil—it should sink to the bottom, then pop to the surface in about 15 seconds).
Meanwhile, line a plate with a double layer of paper towels.
When the fat is at the right temperature, use a slotted spoon to carefully drop four of the dough balls into the pot. As soon as they pop up to the surface, use a spider or slotted spoon to keep them gently moving and rolling in the hot fat so that they brown evenly. Cook in this way for 2 to 3 minutes, until they’re a light mahogany or acorn color. Scoop them out with a slotted spoon and lay them on the paper towel-lined plate. Repeat with the remaining balls of dough, making sure that the fat returns to the correct temperature before adding the dough.
For chamomile cardamom syrup:
In a small saucepan, combine the sugar, water, tea bags and cardamom pods and bring to a boil over medium heat, uncovered. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer for about 3 minutes. Push the tea bags to the side, and lay the fried doughnuts in the syrup. Stir to ensure the doughnuts are well doused in the syrup and simmer, partially covered, for 5 minutes, until they swell and soften. Remove from the heat, and pull out the tea bags and cardamom pods. Carefully stir in saffron (if using), crushing it lightly between your hands, then add the lemon juice and a pinch of kosher salt. Let the whole thing cool off for a couple of minutes.
Serve 2 doughnuts per person (hot or warm) with a couple of tablespoons of the syrup. Top with pistachios and lemon zest. And if you’re my mum, top with a scoop of vanilla ice cream!
Depending on the climate you’re cooking in, you may need more or less milk. Don’t add the entire 1/3 cup at once. Add a little at a time until the dough comes together. You may not need it all.