2 Sweet Treats to Celebrate Diwali, the Festival of Lights. {Recipe}

Diwali (or Deepavali) is the Hindu “festival of lights” that is celebrated annually in India.

Being the biggest festival of all, the streets are illuminated with lights across the country for the five-day celebration. Diwali spiritually signifies the victory of good over bad. The wonderful energy from this holiday can be likened to a hybrid of the Thanksgiving and Christmas seasons in the States.

I travel home to India each year for Diwali to help my family prepare for the festivities of our national holiday. We begin by making sure everything is pristine and pretty for the celebration. We all thoroughly clean our homes in anticipation of this festival. Also, we purchase new clothes for dressing up and buy gifts for family.

On the big day of Diwali, we start our day early—showering in sandalwood and dressing in our new clothes. We carefully place gifts for the family and I help my mum with all the final touches around the house, including setting up the food for feasting.

The following are two of my favorite recipes from this festive holiday:

Karanji (Sweet Coconut Turnovers)

Many different dishes (and sweets!), which are all vegetarian, are made to celebrate the festival. One of the most popular recipes—that is made in my home state of Maharashtra—is karanji (sweet coconut turnovers). The dough for this sweet is usually deep fried, but to keep it simple, I used store-bought puff pastry and baked it. Enjoy!


>> 2 sheets puff pastry, each sheet cut in 9 same-size squares and placed in the refrigerator


>> 1 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
>> ½ cup sugar
>> ½ teaspoon cardamom powder


>> Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit on bake.
>> Combine all ingredients for filling. Set aside.
>> Take one pastry sheet square in your palm and place 1 tablespoon of the filling in the center of the sheet. Wrap the sheet so the diagonal ends meet to form a triangle. Seal ends. If needed, use water to help secure the seal.
>> Set aside and prepare remaining sheet squares. Place the triangles on a cookie sheet. Place the cookie sheet in the center of the oven and bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until the turnovers are light brown in color.
>> Remove from the oven. Let cool for about 10 minutes and serve warm.

Kesari Bhaat (Saffron Sweet Rice)

My mom makes this dessert on many auspicious occasions, including Diwali. I remember, as a child, I used to eat this sweet rice as a meal. This dessert is made all over India. The key is to add sugar only after the rice has almost finished cooking—otherwise the rice may not cook thoroughly.


>> 2 tablespoons ghee
>> 4 cloves
>> 1 cinnamon stick, broken into two
>> 1½ cups white basmati rice, rinsed under cold, running water
>> 1 cup white granulated sugar
>> 1 teaspoon saffron soaked in ½ cup warm water for 30 minutes
>> ¼ teaspoon cardamom powder
>> Handful of golden raisins
>> Handful of unsalted cashew nuts, roughly chopped


>> In a 5-quart sauté pan with a lid, melt ghee over medium heat.
>> Add cloves and cinnamon and sauté for 2 minutes.
>> Add rinsed rice and sauté for 5 minutes. Stir every minute, making sure not to break rice grains while stirring.
>> Add 1½ cups water and mix. Reduce heat to simmer and cook—covered—for 15 minutes.
>> Add nuts, sugar, cardamom, and the saffron along with its water. Stir gently.
>> Cook covered for another 15 minutes or until all water has been absorbed by rice. Serve.



Author: Rupen Rao
Image: Author’s Own
Editor: Leah Sugerman
Copy Editor: Lieselle Davidson
Social Editor: Catherine Monkman

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Rupen Rao

Rupen Rao is an Indian cuisine culinarian residing in Washington, D.C. He was born in Mumbai, India and devotes all his learning about Indian food to this sole inspiration, his mom. He is an instructor specializing in Indian cooking, and he is an author of three Indian cookbooks, with Ayurveda Cookbook being his latest offering. He also has a line of spice blends that are available in select stores in the Washington, D.C. area and online on his website.

Rupen simplifies Indian cooking so it is accessible to all. The myths about Indian cooking—that it involves long lists of ingredients and a preparation process that is tedious and lengthy—are proven untrue by Rupen in his teachings and his writings. Rupen’s recipes are simple, easy, and many of them can be cooked with ingredients that are readily available in grocery stores.