Okkarai: Funny name, Yummy treat..
I've no clue as to how this dish got its name & have always felt its a cross between a sweet sundal & a kozhakattai filling. but heck its delicious & that is what counts..
Diwali is to Hindu's what Christmas is to Christianity. 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 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, Panfusines 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.
1 cup split chick pea lentil (chana dal)
1/2 cup almonds
1/2 cup Walnuts
1/2 cup toasted pumpkin seeds
1 cup Jaggery
1/2- 1 cup brown or regular sugar (adjust this according to your personal preference, you may even use only Gud if you prefer.. It still behaves exactly like sugar does when cooked!).
seeds from 10-12 cardamom pods, crushed
Ghee/ butter for brushing.
Aluminum foil/parchment paper lined baking tray.
In a skillet toast the chana dal till golden brown. Pressure cook with minimal water till soft & separate but not mushy. Grind the dal in a food processor to a coarse consistency, adding water as needed. (It should be a gritty mixture, NOT a batter).
Place the almonds in a single layer on a baking sheet & toast till they become golden brown & start emitting an aroma.
Coarsely crush the nuts in a food processor into small pieces. Set aside.
Repeat with the walnuts & pumpkin seeds , but instead of processing these, just break the toasted walnuts into little pieces by hand. Leave the toasted pumpkin seeds whole. Combine with the Cardamom.
In a heavy bottomed skillet combine the jaggery & 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 any residual water in the cooked dal.
Transfer the mixture to a greased & 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.
At this point you could drizzle with melted chocolate for a delicious variation. Using a pizza cutter, cut the okkarai sheet into bars.
Remove bars after its completely cooled & store in an airtight container.
(& thats my hand holding the bar before it went down my hatch!!)