What was on your table this Diwali?By Lavina Melwani • Oct 10th, 2012 • Category: Food
Diwali in America
Diwali in America is all about innovation and creating new traditions and each family follows its past rituals but also adds in new ones. Indeed, Floyd Cardoz, the celebrated chef of North End Grill, is a Catholic married to a Hindu, and is an avid celebrator of Diwali.
Growing up in Bombay, the only thing he did for Diwali was indulge in the fireworks and sweets. Even as a chef in India, he did not have to make special Diwali dishes because in India everyone celebrates the festival at home and don’t really go out to restaurants to eat on that day.
Floyd’s connection to Diwali became extra special when he got married to Barkha, who is Sindhi and a Hindu. “Now we have kids so it becomes even more important – we celebrate and have puja at home, after which we give the children gifts.”
Floyd is a noted chef who was at the helm of Tabla, New York’s iconic restaurant, for 12 years. But at home on Diwali Barkha does all the cooking and the food is generally traditional Sindhi dishes. He says, “My wife is an awesome cook – she actually went to cooking school with me. That’s how we met!”
Barkha takes great pride in creating the Diwali meal and continuing her family traditions. The fare includes classics like Sindhi Curry, which is an aromatic stew with a base of besan or chickpea flour lovingly cooked for several hours, with spices. This is served with white basmati rice.
Another traditional dish is Saibhaji, a unique Sindhi dish in which spinach is cooked with eggplant, onions, tomatoes, carrots, herbs and chana daal. The Cardoz family has close friends and family over for Diwali dinner and there are no less than ten dishes on the table, and Sindhi curry and saibhaji are always staples on the menu. The other must-have is Sabudana kheer, which the children love.
Floyd’s contribution to the Diwali meal is Paneer Makhani, which is a great favorite of Barkha’s. With all the training that he’s received and his talent at fusion cooking, would there be something different he’d do for Diwali? There is – Mushroom Tikkis, his own innovation. He grinds the mushrooms with chana daal, besan, ginger, jeera, green chilies and garam masala. The tikkis are pan-fried and served with a smoked tomato sauce, which is cooked with ginger, chilies and curry pattas, almost like a Hyderabadi sauce. The tikkis proved so popular with their dinner guests that now it’s become a regular Diwali tradition at their home now.
What about dessert? Says Floyd, “We always get mithai – kajju katli and the badam pista. It’s easier to buy these but we always make some sweet dishes at home – Barkha does the kheer and I do the shrikhand.” Does Tabla serve any desserts that would be suitable for Diwali? Floyd offers gajjar halwa and kulfi on the menu. The difference is that these common Indian desserts are made at Tabla with all organic ingredients and imported vanilla beans, and served with seasonal fruit.
DIWALI PAST & PRESENT WITH BARKHA CARDOZ
Diwali – Wonderful memories of food, sweets, oil lamps, fireworks, new clothes, jewelry, family and friends visiting, card sessions ….so much got done in that month.
As a kid, I also remember vacations from school followed by mid-term exams as soon as we went back after Diwali. My mom would make mithai every year – kaju, coconut, besan ladoos and then she would make a dry fruit wadi – a sugar brittle. I remember helping her out – tasting a lot along the way. Our maid used to also make a whole tin of karanjis that wouldn’t last more than a few days with all four of us siblings with our hands in the tin every time we walked into the kitchen.
Bhabhi, my paternal grandmother used to live with us and was one of the sweetest and kindest grandmothers anyone could ever have. She used to make the most awesome atta ladoos and sweet tikkis – which were a sweetened wheat dough, rolled, cut into diamond shapes and then deep fried. I still remember her sitting on the floor with a kerosene burner in front of her, frying all these tikkis, never complaining. This was all then equally divided amongst all the families and we were all so excited that she would sneak in a few extras for her favorite ones!
Most often, my aunts would come and stay with us for the holidays and there would always be cousins galore running all over the place. We would sit and watch the adults play cards at night, hoping that they would share their winnings with the kids – my grandma always did!
Dhanteras was a big deal in our home, we always went to the local store to buy a new cooking utensil for the house, something I still do to this day. I remember lighting all the diyas in the house, placing them on the balconies and the front of the house…decorating the doorstep with rangoli and flowers..the cool breeze making it a constant challenge to keep them lit. My boys love to do that outside our home in New Jersey, only the oil lamps are replaced with tealights in tall holders to prevent them from blowing out.
Even though Floyd and I come from different religious backgrounds, our kids are lucky and blessed to be able to celebrate both holidays. They absolutely love Diwali – we do Lakshmi puja in the evening and then it’s followed by the food that is a tradition from when I was a little girl – Pooris with aloo rassa, makhani dal, a paneer dish, gobi sabji, lots of mithai and then the all time favorite – sabudana kheer. Sometimes my mom would alternate it with rabdi instead.
My kids look forward to all these dishes every year. They appreciate the meaning of family sitting together and sharing this wonderful meal together. My parents were here in the US this past year and the kids had a chance to celebrate Diwali with Nani and Nana. We actually all got together and made all the mithai – something I had missed doing for so many years and then to celebrate it like I did as a little girl. It was as if life had come full circle where my kids were in my shoes and I was all grown up….a wonderful feeling to see them get spoiled with love and gifts from their grandparents. They sure are lucky….
By Barkha Cardoz
- Wash the raisins, put them in a small bowl and cover with water. Leave to soak.
- Put the tapioca in a sieve and wash it under cold running water.
- Put it into a saucepan with milk and cook on a medium heat until it is soft.
- Stir in the sugar.
- Crush the cardamom and add to the pan with the saffron and drained raisins. Stir to mix, then simmer until the mixture is the consistency of thin oatmeal.
- Turn it into a serving bowl. Slice the almonds and sprinkle them over the top.