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My memories of celebrating Diwali while growing up in India are some of the fondest memories I have.
On the day of Diwali, we would wake up early morning and get dressed up in new clothes. (Wearing new clothes on Diwali was a tradition, but I also think it was also an excuse to buy new clothes.) Before we set out to visit our friends and extended family members, I, my sisters, and some friends from the neighborhood would go visit the rest of our neighbors to convey Diwali wishes to them and try some of the food that they had to offer.
Preparations for the festivities would begin a few days ahead of time though, with my mom making all the snacks and mithai (Indian sweets) at home. Cooking mithai at home was a huge deal: Out of tradition, my mom would make the same ones each and every year. My mom is so good at preparing some of the difficult mithai that friends and extended family members would invite her to make the sweets for them! (My mom would happily and proudly oblige.)
Besan barfi, or magaz as it's known in Gujarati households, is a very popular sweet prepared during the festival of Diwali, festivities for which would last for about a week or a little more. My mom would quite often prepare magaz for guests who would visit us during Diwali celebrations, and in turn, most of the family, friends, and relatives we would visit would have magaz as an offering to guests as well.
It was a very common mithai at everyone’s household, but they would all taste so different—some were coarse and others smooth. As a kid, we always fancied something else other than the sweets though anyway: As we left celebrations, the elders would give us money in the form of blessings. That was the most exciting part, because it meant more pocket money to spend.
My mom made so many good mithai at home that magaz was not a huge favorite of ours. I would eat it, but just didn't care much for it. In all honesty, I did not learn how to make besan barfi from my mom when I used to live with her. When I moved to States, I missed home and especially all the Diwalis that I celebrated with my family. That’s when I longed for everything that I didn’t care about; thanks to technology, with one phone call I could get the recipe from mom. Honestly, Diwali will never be same again but I will hold on to these memories and recipes forever.
The name magaz came from the use of watermelon seeds in the recipe, which are known as magaz tari in Gujarati language. Watermelon seeds (the white part) are used commonly in a lot of bases for gravies instead of cashews and are also commonly used in mukhwas, a digestive aid, along with fennel seeds. For besan barfi, they are used as a garnish, but you can replace them with another nut, or, if you are allergic to nuts or seeds, leave them off entirely.
Magaz stores well—it can easily stay fresh for two weeks, which makes it a good option for care packages long beyond Diwali. For my first ever Food52 Holiday Swap, in the hopes of sharing a little bit of myself, I sent besan barfi instead of cookies to my swapee. I decorated the besan barfi with chocolate, a slight variation from the traditional way of serving it, but a twist that I like and hope you do, too.
- 1 1/2 cups ghee
- 3 cups coarse chickpea flour (available in Indian grocery stores -- look for "besan ladu" in the flour aisle)
- 1 1/2 cups confectioners' sugar
- 1 teaspoon ground cardamom
- 1/2 cup milk or dark chocolate, for garnish
- 2 tablespoons watermelon seeds, almond slivers, or charoli nuts (or other nuts) for garnish