When A. and N. come home, the first thing that they do is check to see if there are desserts in the refrigerator or pantry. We all love our last course! For a month-long holiday celebration, I decided to substitute some sugary treats with healthier options. I drew my inspiration from two sources commonly used in Indian sweets: dried fruits and nuts. At this time of the year, most pantries have leftover nuts from making cranberry bread and pecan pie or dried fruits in preparation for the upcoming Christmas, Ramadan and Hanuka celebrations. It is easy to spare both to make a no-sugar indulgence.
Dried fruits are often combined with flour and sugar mixture, as is the case with fruitcakes. Nuts are normally mixed in with corn syrup or sugar – think peanut brittle. Both ingredients, independently, need sugar to bond them together. When the nuts and fruits are combined, the dried fruits replace sugar to give the confection its sweetness and the nuts give it heft. An added advantage of this recipe is that you can use any combination of nuts (walnuts, cashew nuts, or almonds) and dried fruits (figs, dates, raisins, cranberries), creating a good way at the end of the holidays to use up any spare ingredients.
Dried Fruits and Nuts Bark
Dried fruits (any combination of figs, dates, prunes) – 1 ¾ cup, chopped into small pieces
Dried cranberries or raisins – ½ cup
Nuts (any combination of walnuts, cashew nuts, almonds) – 1 cup
Butter – ½ tsp to grease a cookie sheet
- Toast the nuts in an oven or on the stove. Chop them in a food processor.
- Heat a pan and add the chopped up dried fruits and cranberries. Add 4-5 tbsp. of water. Cook them on a low heat until they turn into a sticky mass (about 3-4 minutes).
- Add the chopped nuts to them. Remove the pan from the stove.
- Mix together the nuts and dried fruits until you can roll them into a ball.
- On the greased cookie sheet, roll out the ball until you get a ½-inch thick rectangle. Cut into smaller squares.
Semolina is a wheat grain, which is ground into flour to make pasta dough. In Indian cooking, semolina granules are used to make both sweet and savory dishes. As a dessert, semolina granules are combined with molasses (jaggery) or sugar and bonded with nuts and dried fruits to make barfi. They are served at every auspicious function as ladoo. Cooked semolina has a mild taste, and its soft texture pairs well with nutty flavors and gooey dried fruit in the following recipe.
Semolina with Dried Fruits and Nuts
Semolina – 1 cup
Dried fruits – 1 cup, diced
Cashew nuts – 1 cup
Butter – 1 tbsp
Salt – ¼ tsp
- Boil 2 ½ cups of water with the salt.
- While waiting for the water to boil, heat a separate pan.
- Add the semolina to the pan and stir continuously until it has a warm, toasted aroma. This step is to prevent the semolina from clumping together later. Keep aside in a plate.
- Add butter to a clean pan. When the butter melts, add the cashew nuts. Brown them evenly by constantly stirring. Keep aside.
- Cook the dried fruits with 4-5 tbsp. of water on low heat until they turn into a sticky mass (about 3-4 minutes). Keep them aside.
- As soon as the water boils, add the toasted semolina in small amounts. Stir and mix continuously to prevent it from clumping together. When all the water is absorbed, continue to cook for a minute until the semolina looks fluffy.
- Add the nuts and dried fruits and mix them in with the semolina.
- When the mixture has cooled, make small balls. Top it with a cashew nut.