I’m besotted with millets currently. It is the latest health fad in India – albeit one that makes really sense compared to, say, the quinoa craze. Millets have been and should be the first grain of choice for daily consumption right up there with wheat and rice (if not above them too!). They’re hardy little grains that are not affected by pests much. They are easy to grow sans any artificial fertilizers or pesticides. The Indian weather complements their growth pretty well too.
Here’s a booklet on millets that I came across from my blogger friend Priya, which is a handy dandy guide to everything millets. Do you know there are about 7 types of millets with many regional strains in each of these? In fact I had no inkling of this suddenly revival of millets till a blogger friend mentioned to me how bakeries, restaurants, packaged food companies and even home bakers were cashing-in on the millet craze by selling the usual products spiked with just a tiny amount of added millets in them. I had a sheepish smile for an answer. I run a home-based baking business called Lotsa Lavender and the millet cookies are amongst our highest selling product!
The millet cookies that I make weren’t a response to feed this fad though. I first came across millets when I met people from reStore (an organic shop) while I was working on an article on the organic food trend in Chennai (I worked as a journalist with The Economic Times not too long ago). I walked into the store and was looking at an array of very different looking grains that I hadn’t seen before. I got back to office that day armed with some info on what millets were and why we should include them in our diet. That bit went into the article of course, but millets, sadly, made no entry into my kitchen.
About six months ago, at Lotsa Lavender, we took a sudden decision to turn all organic and whole-grain, cutting out every bit of refined and polished, grain and sugar from our pantry. It is slowly happening at home too, at a slower pace though. And then, when I walked into an organic store looking for some organic wheat berries, I faced a rack full of many varieties of millets. And thus began my love affair.
Cutting to the laddus that are the highlight of today’s blog post, they are completely free of any added fats. There’s no ghee or butter or oil at all. All the fat comes from the nuts – peanuts in this case. You could use other nuts too – almonds, walnuts or cashews – with similar results. I’ve tried the same with almonds and they turned out just as well. There is no white sugar in this either. This is sweetened with organic jaggery. These are also filled with dry fruit, so there’s a lovely contrast in textures with a smooth laddu giving way to a chewy and crunchy filling of date, fig, almond and melon seeds. You have lots to gain on the taste and health front from these laddus, but not much on the weight front. So, dig into these happily this festive season.
This Maa Laddu with figs is another quick and healthy option for Diwali.
If you’re looking at more traditional sweets and payasams this Diwa;i, check my compilation of Festive Dishes.
Peanut-Millet Laddu with dry fruit filling
(Makes about 15 tbsp-sized balls)
Foxtail millet (Thinai/kangni) flour – ¼ cup
Little millet flour (Samai/kutki) – ¼ cup
Pearl millet flour (Kambu/Bajra) – ¼ cup
Grated jaggery – 1/3 cup
Water – about ¾ cup
Raw peanuts – ½ cup (can use any nut of choice)
Cardamom powder – ¼ tsp or 3-4 pods of green cardamom
For the dry fruit filling:
Dates and dried figs – a handful
Almonds – a handful
NOTE: I got equal quantities of all the three mentioned millets ground together at a flour mill. I use this millet mix in various ways – in cookies, adding it to wheat flour to make breads, roti etc. You could use readily-available millet flours in equal quantities or any single millet flour to make these laddus. You could also dry roast the millets at home and powder it in the mixie. Sift it once if you want a smooth laddu or use the coarse flour as it is if you like the texture
Make the dry fruit filling first. Deseed the dates and cut the figs into quarters. Dry roast the almonds and let cool. Pulse the almonds in the mixie till it is roughly broken down. Then add the dates and figs and pulse till you get to a consistency you like. Make small balls the size of rounded ½ tsp. Set aside
Dry roast the peanuts till the raw smell goes off. Let it cool down. Then remove the papery skin and powder the peanuts along with cardamom pods if you don’t have cardamom powder ready. Take care not to grind the nuts too long, else it will start releasing oil and clump together
Mix all the flours and dry roast till the raw smell of the flour goes off and it starts turning to a light reddish/brownish colour. Take care not to burn the flour though
Dissolve jaggery in water and let it stand for some time. Remove any impurities that rise to the top. Heat this jaggery water solution in a heavy bottomed pan till it becomes a thick syrup. I actually used some of the jaggery syrup that my mother-in-law had prepared for manoharam. If you go through the Manoharam post, you’ll understand how one reaches the hard ball stage while making jaggery syrup. That was a mistake since the laddus hardened after a few hours. The best consistency for this laddu would be the soft ball stage. Go through this link for pictorial pointers on how that is done. When we made the laddu again, we stpped at the earlier stage and it turned out very well
Let the syrup cool down.
Take the roasted flours and powdered peanuts in the mixie and pulse to mix well
Add the cooled syrup and pulse a couple of times. It will start clumping together
Remove the laddu dough from the mixie and roll into rounded ½ tbsp-sized balls
Flatten one laddu in the palm of one hand and place one dry fruit ball in it. Bring the edges together and roll it between the palm of your hands to smoothen it out
Repeat with the rest of the laddus
Store in an airtight container at room temperature