Spring is upon us! Celebrating spring with sweet treats, across time, space, and gods, it seems, is a better part of our nature! In addition to Easter here are seven more examples of the celebration of the turning of the season:
— The Ancient Greek festival of Anthesteria: Observed in February to celebrate the beginning of spring and the season of wine-making, this festival was dedicated to Dionysus, the god of wine.
— Roman festival of Bacchanalia: Held in March, this festival was a celebration of wine, fertility, and nature. It was dedicated to Bacchus, the Roman god of wine and of the wild.
— Celtic festival of Beltane: Celebrated on May 1st, this festival marked the beginning of summer and was a time of fertility and renewal. It was associated with the Celtic god Belenus.
— Hindu festival of Holi: Also known as the “Festival of Colors,” Holi is celebrated in March to welcome spring and commemorate the victory of good over evil.
— Persian New Year: Known as Nowruz, the Persian New Year begins on the spring equinox and marks the first day of spring. It is a time of renewal and cleansing.
— Chinese Spring Festival: Also known as Chinese New Year, this 15-day festival begins with the first new moon of the lunar calendar and marks the end of winter and the beginning of spring.
— Jewish festival of Passover: Celebrated in March or April, Passover marks the time when the Jewish people were liberated from slavery in Egypt and marks the beginning of spring.
Sweet Spring Treats
Our first recipe is for besan ladoos. Ladoos, a fried mithai, are an iconic Indian sweet often served at festivals and as offerings in temples. After prayers the offerings become mahaprasada a consecrated food consumed by devotees, the poor, and temple visitors. The spherical treats likely date back to the Indus valley civilization and are mentioned as ladduka in the veda Sushruta Samhita as a recipe made with jaggery, peanuts, and sesame seeds coated with honey.
Mithai, or confections and desserts, are an ancient element of the Indian subcontinent’s cuisine. Sugarcane has been cultivated in India for thousands of years with archaeological evidence pointing to sugar refinement first being invented some 8,000 years ago by the Indus Valley civilization. In Sanskrit refined sugar is called sharkara while unrefined sugar is called khanda and are the sources for the English loan words of sugar and candy. The ancient medical text, Sushruta Samhita, in addition to surgical operations like rhinoplasty, also mentions the use of sweets and sugars as antiseptics and as vehicles for delivering medicines.
Ladoos are found across India with all kinds of regional variations. This north Indian recipe uses chickpea flour, or besan, for a naturally gluten free ladoo with a rich nutty flavor. The dish uses very simple ingredients but requires constant attention to roast the flour without burning it. However, the whole process only takes about forty minutes and can be modified with different tasty additions like chopped nuts, coconut, vanilla or raisins. For a vegan version, replace the ghee with one part coconut oil and one part coconut milk, while replacing the chickpea flour with dried coconut powdered in a food processor.
Our second recipe is a gluten free Italian style lemon and ricotta cake. This twist on the classic Italian dessert works great as a coffee cake, staying fresh for days and is naturally gluten free. It also doubles as a great source of protein from the whey in the cheese and the use of almond flour. This cake is a great alternative to the sweeter, frosted varieties we often consume in America and pairs well with chai, coffee, or a bit of fresh seasonal fruit.
Ricotta is an Italian style cheese made since the bronze age. It is made from the proteins in the whey that are left over when making cheeses like mozzarella from buffalo, sheep, cow, or goat’s milk. Ricotta cakes sit in between the texture of a cheesecake and a flour cake, so they will need to set for several hours before slicing. This lower-carb cake could be made carbohydrate free by substituting equal parts monk fruit or other sweetener for the sugar.
Happy spring everyone!
Makes 20 servings
— 2 cups besan (chickpea flour)
— 1/2 cup ghee
— 1 cup powdered sugar (different sugars produce different textures, feel free to use what you prefer)
— 1/2 teaspoon cardamom or about 4 ground pods
— Melt the ghee in a heavy pan and add in the besan. Stir constantly on low heat. Besan is fragile and will burn remarkably quickly so make sure not to step away. The ghee and besan will start thick and clumpy but will loosen into a sauce-like consistency after five to ten minutes.
— Keep stirring until the besan is fully roasted, about twenty minutes depending on the cookware and stove. The roasted mixture has a rich nutty aroma. The color will change to a nice golden hue when ready.
— Remove from heat and wait for about fifteen minutes to cool the mix, still stirring to avoid overcooking. alternatively, transfer the mix to another container and refrigerate briefly.
— Once the mixture is lukewarm or cool, stir in the sugar and cardamom. I like to add a pinch of salt though it’s traditionally unsalted. Mix in any other ingredients like nuts or coconut then form into balls. If struggling to form a nice ball, refrigerate further so the dough firms up. Top with coconut, flowers, or pistachios and serve. Makes about twenty.
Gluten Free Italian Lemon & Ricotta Cake
Makes 6 – 8 servings
— 1/2 cup warm butter
— 1 cup sugar
— 1 cup ricotta cheese
— juice of 2 lemons
— 1 teaspoon lemon zest
— 3 eggs
— 1 1/2 cups almond flour
— 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
— 1/2 cup sliced almonds
— powdered sugar – for dusting
— Cream together the butter and sugar
— Add in ricotta and whip with mixer for about 5 minutes until light and airy
— Mix in lemon juice, vanilla, zest, and eggs
— Mix in almond flour, taking care to avoid any clumps in the batter.
— Add the batter to a greased 8 in spring form pan, or a parchment paper lined cake pan and top with the sliced almonds
— Bake at 350 for 50 minutes, center will still jiggle.
— Cool for three hours in the refrigerator then serve.