I've no clue as to how this Diwali-centric dish got its weird sounding name & have always felt its a cross between a sweet south Indian sundal (lentil stir fry) & a dumpling filling. but hey, its delicious & that is what counts..
Diwali is to Hindus what Christmas is to Christians. Its the festival of lights, a day signifying the triumph of good over evil, a celebration of wealth & all the nice things in the world! Take your pick.. or not, you do not need a reason to celebrate.
Growing up in India, you knew that Diwali was around the corner when shops began displaying fireworks prominently. It was time for women to get cracking on making treats that were part of their respective family traditions. Chivdas, Chaklis, Halwa, Burfee & amongst South Indians, the Diwali 'Lehiyam', a tonic meant to counteract any possible ill effects of overindulging on the other stuff.. (Nobody ever talks about the consequences of OD ing on Lehiyam, which happens all the time!)
Okkarai basically consists of exactly 2 primary ingredients, Channa (Chick pea) dal & Jaggery (gud), flavored with cardamom & ghee. The secret in its flavor is toasting the channa dal to bring out a nuttiness, that is the characteristic of this dessert. The original version is crumbly & is eaten from a bowl with a spoon. A very healthy combination of proteins from the chickpea & carbs from the sugar (No comments on the quantity of ghee added which varies from household to household!)
Retaining the primary chewy nuttiness of the chickpea, my take on Okkarai incorporates toasted almonds, walnuts & pumpkin seeds to give it that extra dimension of a crunch. I omitted ghee for the most part confining its use to greasing the baking sheet. I refrain from calling this a granola bar since It does not include oats. —Panfusine
split chick peas (chana dal)
toasted pumpkin seeds
coconut palm sugar
regular brown or white cane sugar (to adjust for your preferred level of sweetness)
Preheat oven to 250 F. Line a medium sized baking sheet with aluminum foil (in which case, brush liberally with ghee or melted butter) or parchment paper.
In a skillet toast the chana dal till golden brown. Add to a container containing scalding hot water. set aside for about 2-3 hours or preferably overnight for the beans to soften. Drain the water and and add the garbanzo into a food processor. (it should be whole, yield to some firm finger pressure, but not mushy in the least) Grind the dal in a food processor to a coarse consistency, adding water as needed. (It should be a coarse gritty mixture with some whole pieces of the dal visible , NOT a batter).
Place the almonds and pumpkins in a single layer on a baking sheet & toast till they become light golden brown & start emitting an aroma. Combine with the cardamom powder and the salt.
In a heavy bottomed skillet combine the coconut palm sugar & cane sugar with very little water & heat to form a syrup. When the syrup reaches a 'soft crack' (the syrup forms thin malleable threads when dropped into cold water) stage, add the dal mixture and the nuts. Mix to combine all ingredients. At this stage the mix will seem a bit soft, even runny, due to residual water in the cooked dal.
Transfer the mixture to a greased & parchment lined baking sheet & spread into an even layer.
Bake in a 250 F Oven for about 20-30 minutes till sugar at the edges appears to caramelize. Switch off oven & let the mix rest inside for ~ 10 minutes.
Using a pizza cutter, cut the okkarai sheet into bars.
Remove bars after they've completely cooled & store in an airtight container.