My Nanabapu was a mithaiwala. He wore a flat cap and cooked Indian sweets in giant steel pots on a sugar plantation in Uganda. Stirring vats of bubbling syrup and milk consumed his days, along with thoughts of perfecting his next great recipes for jalebi, mohanthal, boondi and halwa. He had come from humble roots. His forefathers were farmers and he grew up on a farm in Gujarat. During his teenage years he trained as an apprentice chef in hotel kitchens across India.
By the age of 18, Nanabapu married, fathered a child, and then tragically became a widow.
Several years went by, and the young chef found himself across the Indian Ocean, on the coast of East Africa. In that time, migrant Indian workers travelled by boat, to labour and earn enough money to support their families. He went on to remarry and had six more children. The family moved around a lot, going wherever work was available. Nanabapu doted on his kids with every fibre of his being. My mother was the youngest of the girls, born in Nairobi, Kenya.
Nanabapu lost his second wife (my Nanima) in the UK. His youngest child was just five. He was a single Indian father of seven children, who went on to live in racially-intolerant 1970s Britain. On a modest salary, Nanabapu provided his kids with a safe home in which to sleep, a loving parent they could talk to and of course, perpetually-full bellies. He grew his own fruit and vegetables and always kept a well-stocked pantry.
Much of his life was spent mastering his craft in other people’s kitchens. Connecting with communities through food was what truly cultivated joy in his heart. In his later years, he cooked for local Gurdwaras in London, putting on giant spreads of Indian sweets, samosas and other savouries for hundreds of worshippers. He also worked as a cleaner in a factory to make ends meet. Like any good parent, he strived to provide a bright future for his children.
Nanabapu passed his passion for cooking on to my mother. She is the guardian of his recipes and cooks Indian sweets like, well, the daughter of a mithaiwala.
Growing up, I watched her create mountains of sweet thalis to take to the temple at festival time. She’d pour molten burfi into steel plates, beat halwa shimmering and slick with ghee in pans the size of my torso. I’d soak up every moment like hot jalebi in bathing in sugar syrup. I always knew what to expect, yet each year, her thalis managed to take my breath away.
This is one of the recipes Nanabapu taught her to cook.
Boondi (pronounced Boon-dhi) is a dish consisting of deep fried chickpea flour batter, formed into hundreds of tiny pearl-sized balls. It can be sweet or savoury.
The sweet version calls for you to dunk the freshly-fried boondi to be in a light sugar syrup for a few moments before draining it. Ground green cardamom and saffron are great additions for adding flavour. Sweet Boondi can be eaten loose (as it is), or you can mix it with ghee and form it into larger balls called laddoos. These are popular temple sweets used as offerings during religious festivals. Nuts and raisins are commonly added to Boondi too.
Another popular (and delicious) way of serving Boondi is to add it to raita. Salt is added to the Boondi batter, along with chaat masala, roasted cumin seeds and a touch of sugar. Cool the Boondi and then mix it into the seasoned yoghurt. Leave to chill for a few hours and serve with curry, naan and rice. It pairs particularly well with North-Indian dishes like Chole Bhature.
Serve it warm or at room temperature. For a hot and cold dessert sensation, serve warm Boondi with vanilla ice cream. To heat it, place in a bowl and microwave for a few seconds. It doesn’t take long at all.
Yes. This is one of those recipes that can only be deep fried. Passing the droplets through a perforated skimmer into hot oil is what created perfectly-round Boondis. The oil should be hot and the Boondis will cook in just 90 seconds. Do not brown them.
Any flavourless oil with a high smoke point. Sunflower or rapeseed (canola) oil are ideal. You could also use vegetable oil or ghee. The latter would render the dish not suitable for vegans. Refined (odourless) coconut oil is also fine to use. Don’t use olive oil or sesame oil.
You will need three “Jaaros” (also called zhaara or zaara). They are perforated metal skimmers used for deep frying. Some are bowl shaped with high sides, used exclusively for making Boondi. The flatter type can also be used, but the batter should be added a little at a time so it does not overflow.
Three Jaaros are required; the first to drop batter into the oil. The second to remove the cooked Boondi from the oil and the third to bathe the cooked Boondi in syrup (and to transfer it to a colander). The Jaaro used for dropping batter into the oil should be washed and thoroughly dried between frying each batch. At no time should the first Jaaro touch the hot oil. This will cause the batter on the skimmer to cook onto the metal. It will get messy very quickly!
The Boondi batter should be smooth and of a pourable consistency, similar to that of crêpe batter.
Yes. It should be mixed and left on the kitchen countertop (covered) for a minimum of 12 hours, and up to 24 hours.
The sugar syrup should be cooked to 110C/230F. Use a sugar thermometer for accurate results and do not take it beyond this temperature. Once it reaches this stage, switch the heat off. A drop of lemon juice can be added if you’re worried about crystallisation. As the sugar syrup is not cooked more, this shouldn’t be an issue.
Excluding batter resting time, the Boondi will take approx. 65 minutes to make.
I recommend two people make it together to avoid spaghetti arms. Trying to do everything at once by yourself is never fun.
The Boondi will keep well in an airtight container for a week. Boondi is not suitable for freezing.
This loose Boondi recipe is 100% vegan. If you choose to make Laddoos with it, ghee should be added. This will mean it is no longer vegan. Having said this, refined coconut oil can also be used for vegan Boondi laddoos.
Yes. The batter is made with chickpea flour (besan) which is free from gluten.
Yes. To make Laddoos with this Boondi, add approximately 150g melted ghee to the finished Boondi. Chill for 60 minutes and then form into balls. Allow to set in the fridge.
No. I only make Boondi once a year and because it’s a rare treat, I like to add a bit of food colour to make it look festive. However, you can skip the food colour completely if you’d prefer not to add it.
I use Wilton Gel Food colours in orange, red and green.
This recipe makes approximately 1kg of Boondi.
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MAGICAL BOONDI MAKING! This is such a beautiful Indian sweet to make around Diwali time and the process is spectacular to watch! The batter is made from fermented gram flour and water. It’s passed through a “Jaro” (skimmer with little holes) into hot oil. The tiny droplets of batter then bounce up to the surface in perfect spheres. Once crispy, they are dunked in a bath of sugar syrup and drained. The result is the most gorgeous, shiny, caviar-like bubble candy. It can be eaten as it is or formed into laddoos (balls) for temple offerings. My mum is a PRO at making these (she learnt from my Nanabapu who was a confectioner of Indian sweets). It’s my mission to learn these sacred family recipes from her so one day I can pass it on to my little ones. I want to keep these traditional recipes alive. They are after all, our most valuable family treasures. Watch my IG Stories and IGTV now to see my mum and I making these. I’ll post the recipe in time for Diwali. #boondi #mithai #indiansweets
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