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Thursday, November 5, 2015

E for Elo-Jhelo

A crispy sweet bite for Diwali, a beautiful Indian Bengali sweet Pastry, crafted with love, a little Elo-Melo (Tangled) n a lot of Elo-Jhelo!

So as it turns out on this Durga Pooja, I was thousands of miles away from Bengal, I couldn’t absorb all the flavors, fragrance and sound that is all there in Bengal during the pooja, but perhaps so couldn’t some of you, who had to stay thousands of miles apart because life is like this or if you are someone who is not familiar with it-I will say get into it. For my dear reader who is reading me right now, I couldn’t give you something nice during the pooja, but now I can and Diwali/Deepawali is in the air and everywhere soon there are gonna lit a thousand lights, so I had to tell you about how to make Elo-Jhelo.

Think about this name ‘ELO-JHELO’, interesting name isn’t it? When I look at the word I feel as if it comes from the Aztecs, however it comes from Bengal, India. It is a sweet pastry, made out of all purpose flour, vegetable oil n ghee, sugar and some touch of aromatic spices. The dough is prepared, made into small balls, then they are rolled individually, cuts are splashed across the surface of the rolled thin dough, then folded over n over until it gets all tangled n overlapping, producing a beautiful spiral like shape which looks like flower petals or the shape of a flame from a lamp n the rest is on your imagination.

When I begin to wonder about the name, I try to connect the dots, like elo-melo in Bengali would suggest tangled, so on that line ‘Elo-jhelo’ may come from ‘Elo-melo’ because you see the dough strands are tangled in a way but never messy, they are beautifully elegant.

This pastry is deep-fried in flavorless vegetable oil, then a sugar syrup is prepared on the heat until it gets as thick like honey going towards one string consistency, the crispy fried pastry is dipped into the syrup to coat them, then taken out after 1-2 minutes and  they are ready. This is a kind of ‘Nimki’ which can be both sweet n savory, a nimki is a Bengali term for fried pastry.

Diwali or as we sometimes we say it Deepawali is just around this weekend, this is the time to prepare a lot of sweets- Gulab Jamun, Kaju katli, Motichur ke laddu n so many more, so make Elo-jhelo, the great thing about them is that they are not overly sweet, slightly sweet, they look great, they are versatile and it is so much fun making them with the whole family sitting around, the father making the dough, the mother rolling out, the little kids making the cuts- well it is a possibility…ha-ha. Most important is the bite-literally delicious n you always wanna have some more without eating a lot of sugar.

I flavored my elo-jhelo with white n black sesame seeds, and green cardamom n a touch of saffron, a traditional elo-jhelo is devoid of any such extra flavors and is still very delicious, so you can always go the traditional way or sometimes add flavors that you like. I incorporated the cardamom n saffron flavor in the sugar syrup itself. So this Deepawali I expect some Elo-jhelo in your home, have fun, share it with your friends, it is a labor of love.

So let me tell you now the secret, here we go.

For The Recipe: we will need

For the Dough
All purpose Flour-4 cups
Vegetable oil-1/2 cup (I used ½ tbsp of ghee n so I used less then ½ cup of oil)
Salt- a pinch
Water-slightly less than 1 cup

For the Syrup
Sugar-2 cups
Water 1 ½ cups
Green cardamom-2, crushed n slightly powdered
Saffron strands-2 pinches

For Frying
6-8 cups vegetable oil

1. Begin by adding the salt n the  ½ cup vegetable oil or a combination of ghee n vegetable oil like I did, if you are adding both like me then reduce the oil by the same amount so the total goes to ½ cup, rub the oil into the flour , do it well, make sure the fat is well distributed into the flour, rub the flour n oil together into your palm with a light hand, it will take 3 minutes, then start adding the water, add half the water at first, mix n then add half of the half, mix, see how the dough is coming, we will need slightly less than 1 cup water, so start to gather the dough as you add more water, when you feel the dough will come together you can stop adding the water, there will be around 2 tbsp of water left in the cup which you don’t need. So now knead the dough for about 5-6 minutes, the dough will become smooth, we want dough which is slightly firm, not on the softer side, so it will a little hard work kneading the firm dough. When the dough is smooth after 5-6 minutes, divide it in half, the roll each half into a cylindrical log, then with a knife cut the log at 1 ½ inch interval or tear off small portions from the log and make into balls of 1 ½ inch diameter. When all the balls are done, cover n rest for 20 minutes.

2. After 20 minutes pour a little vegetable oil into a bowl, take one ball and dip your finger into the oil and with that touch of oil roll the ball into a smooth ball again, oil the surface of the wooden board or marble slightly, oil the rolling pin, place the ball on the surface n with your palm press on it to make it into a flat uniform round disc. Start rolling the disc with the rolling pin into a uniform thin circle of about 4 inches in diameter, lift it up and sprinkle some white n black sesame seed on the surface, then place it lightly again on the surface, then with a sharp knife make a slit leaving about ½ inch space at the ends, after that make parallel cuts at about less then ½ inch gap. When the cuts are done start rolling the disc carefully at one end, hold the top n down portions of the disc and with light hands roll the disc onto itself, the slit strips will come overlapping and keep your hand at both the ends as you roll and with another finger help the dough to come up from the surface as you roll. At the end the strips will be overlapped and the top n down will be pointed holding the whole piece together.

3. Prepare all the balls like this, now place deep pot of kadai/wok on the heat, add the oil and let it become medium hot, we don’t want the oil to be very hot or the elo-jhelo will color quickly. When the oil is medium hot take one piece and dip is slightly into the oil, it should not start to bubble vigorously, if it is the oil is too hot, take it off the heat, let it cool slightly, now when you place the elo-jhelo it will start to bubble up a little or a moment after it goes in the oil, always keep the oil to low n medium low, add about 5-6 at one time, flip them every 2 minutes, when they attain a light brown to brown color you can take them off which will take about 5-6 minutes.

4. In another wok add the sugar n water on medium heat, let the sugar melt, then make the heat high and let it come to a boil,  give it around 10 minutes, check the syrup by dipping a spoon and place some drops on a plate and then touch it, when it begins to thick a little stay alert, add the crushed green cardamom n saffron strands, test the syrup again, when the syrup gets thick like honey or when you place a drop between your fingers and you can see one string forming between your fingers it is ready. Place the fried warm elo-jhelo into the syrup, coat it well , give them 1 minute in the syrup , then drip off the excess syrup and take them off. Prepare all the elo-jhelo like this.  Start making the syrup when you put the oil into the heat, this way when you first batch of elo-jhelo will be ready the syrup will also be ready and you can dip them right away.

Note: instead of placing the disc onto the sesame seeds, you can toast the sesame seeds on a pan and then coat the fried elo-jhelo as they just come out of the sugar syrup with the roasted sesame seeds, they will stick on the sugary elo-jhelo very well.

Hey, they are all ready now! They look amazing right, I told you n now bite into one and hear the sweet crunch n after that share the sweet crunch with all around you. Happy Diwali, Shubh Deepawali, Subho Kaali Pujo and guess what? Bon App├ętit! May the light bless us.