This Diwali, a Warm Bowl of Sooji Halwa Is Bringing Me Much-Needed Comfort
Diwali and the days leading up to it are one of the most significant times for a lot of South Asian folks across the world. It’s known as the Festival of Lights, celebrating the victory of good over evil. Over the years I’ve lived in different cities across India for school and college, but the holidays always brought me back home just in time to take part in the festivities.
Preparations start with an essential deep cleaning of your entire house. Every nook and cranny is scrubbed clean, and there’s a huge purge of the items you no longer need, which are then donated or discarded. As an angsty teen I hated this part, but I enjoyed lighting diyas and making rangoli at the door of our home with colored powders. Every day was a different theme, and I presented my ideas well in advance and my mother approved them. I think it was her way of testing my creative abilities and an excuse to spend some more time together.
One of the most important parts of Diwali is the snacks. My mom prepared huge batches of savory ones like sev, namkeens, chakli, shankarpare, and mathri, as well as desserts like gujiya, gulab jamun, jalebi, ladoos, barfis, and a fresh batch of sooji or sheera halwa every couple of days. Why so much? Well, during the five- to 10-day Diwali celebration, friends and family come to your home to enjoy these dishes, and in turn you do the same. Everyone has their own version of snacks, and frankly, it’s the best part of the festivities. If someone couldn’t come over, I was immediately tasked with making an assorted plate and bringing it to them — I’ve taken an ungodly amount of trips driving back and forth delivering these goods. It sounds ridiculous, but there’s a sense of pride, love, and joy in the tedious work that goes into making them, and it’s so worth it.
Seven years ago, I moved across the world to start a new life. In the hustle and bustle of trying to survive in a new country, in addition to not knowing anyone, Diwali became a sort of background event. I watched endless videos and photos of the celebration flood my Whatsapp inbox, but hosting was never an option in my shared apartment. I often went to Indian restaurants to celebrate, but it never felt the same.
This year, I wanted to throw a big party for all my friends and family, cook my heart out, and feed everyone until it was impossible for them to move. But due to the ongoing pandemic, it will instead mean slowing down, taking a step back, and reflecting on my time here while cherishing the memories I’ve had in India. I’ll also be waiting for a package full of homemade snacks to arrive — thanks, mom! As much as I want to have everyone over, I’ll celebrate by lighting diyas and settling for an intimate dinner with a few close friends and a bowl of warm sooji halwa to bring me some much-needed comfort.
Sooji halwa is a pudding made with semolina, sugar, and ghee. There are many variations across different regions that may include bananas, saffron, dried fruit, nuts, or rosewater. The color also varies, as some people prefer it white or mildly toasted, but my favorite (and the one I’m sharing here) is a deep brown color, intensifying the nuttiness with shredded coconut. It is simple, easy, and just so delicious!
Get the recipe: Sooji Halwa
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