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Navratri has always been kind of a big deal in our family. Our kulswamini, or the patron deity of our clan, is Kolhapurchi Amba Bai – the goddess Mahalaxmi who resides in the city of Kolhapur of Maharashtra. Every year, for 10 days and 9 nights, she visits us and our home is filled with a different kind of energy. She is our goddess and she must be treated befittingly. So the 10 days are a whirl of poojas and lustily sung hymns and of course, feasts.
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We are not a very religious family (me least of all), but the navratri utsav is a tradition handed down through the generations and my parents carry the mantel with great pride and care. The preparations begin many days in advance – every nook and corner must be scrubbed clean, fresh curtains must be hung, the linen must be fresh, flowers must be arranged for the daily rituals and elaborate meals must be prepared everyday for this most important of all guests that comes but once a year.

It is this time of the year that makes me the most nostalgic. Oh how I long to drop everything else to be at home celebrating! How I miss the endless lists my mother makes – for menus and groceries and guests. How I miss the evening aarti – the full throated rendition of my most favourite hymn of all times, where everyone must sing the chorus even louder, so that even our neighbours will tell us the next day – we heard your evening aarti:

Udo Bola Udo Amba Bai Maaoolicha Ho

Udokare Garjati, Kaay Mahima Varnu Ticha Ho

(Hail the mother Amba Bai, Hail her as loudly as you can, for what words do we have to speak of Her greatness)

Oh and how can I not miss the food? Can you believe that in 10 days of feasting, not one item on the menu is repeated (That’s my mother for you, even though tradition doesn’t mandate it)?! Oh, there is one exception – Gharge, which must be made on the first and the last day. The funny thing about this dish is, it is never prepared at any other time of the year. But why, we always ask, and there never is a satisfactory answer. That’s just how it is, we are always told. What that translates into is – you won’t get any, unless you go home for the festival. (We did however convince mom to bend this rule the last time we visited India).

So the Gharge are synonymous with Navratri in my mind, and this year I decided to have a crack at them. They are my kind of sweet – not too sweet, just right to have more than one at a time. The recipe is deceptively simple, but many things can go wrong, so when you try to make them, be sure to read the notes below for the pitfalls to watch out for.

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Makes : 10
Prep Time : 1 Hour

WHAT YOU NEED

1 cup Dalia / Cracked Wheat (fine)
Gud / Jaggery – equal weight as the dalia
2 cups water plus more if needed
Oil to deep fry
Ghee to grease

WHAT YOU DO

  1. Measure out the dalia and then weigh it. Take an equal amount of jaggery by weight. Using a mortar and pestle, crush it so that no large pieces remain. In a mixing bowl, mix the water and jaggery and stir until fully dissolved.
  2. In a thick bottomed pot, heat the jaggery solution until it is about to break into a boil and then add the dalia, slowly, stirring continuously so that no lumps are formed.
  3. Cover and let cook until all the water is absorbed, stirring once or twice to ensure it doesn’t stick to the bottom. Check if the dalia is cooked, and if needed, add more hot water, until the dalia is fully cooked.
  4. Remove from heat and let cool. Once the dalia is cool enough to handle comfortably, remove it into a bowl greased with ghee.
  5. Apply ghee to your hands, and knead the dalia well, until pliant.
  6. Heat oil in a deep pan for frying. Make lemon sized balls of the dalia dough and flatten between your palms, making sure there are no cracks. Deep fry until a lovely caramel-brown colour is achieved.
  7. Cool to room temperature and serve.

MY NOTES

It is necessary to take a flat bottomed pot to cook the dalia, or it is certain to stick to the bottom. As an added measure, I always place the pot on a tava / flat griddle.

The amount of water required depends on the size of the dalia grain, so always keep extra hot water at hand.

Kneading well is the trick to make sure the gharge don’t develop cracks and break apart during frying, so make sure to knead well for a few minutes. No shortcuts! Another thing to keep in mind is to make sure the oil is nice and hot so that the outer layer gets sealed quickly or the gharge might still fall apart!

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