My grandmother, now in her eighties belongs to that generation of women whose lives revolved around the kitchen. Preparing food and delicacies to keep the family well fed and nourished seemed to be the primary motive for these women.
Food affects us on so many levels, the physical, emotional, psychological, intellectual, et al. A good dinner means sound sleep. A good breakfast keeps one going through the day and a good lunch means that you are well nourished for many years to come.
And women of my grandmothers generation understood this well. A good meal even once a day requires multifarious efforts. Sourcing the ingredients, planning the outcomes with the available resources, the actual preparation and the clean up after. All these duties were performed with unmatched energy and enthusiasm by these lovely ladies of yore. Besides, they had no distractions as well; in the form of social media and other modern day pressures that could prove to be an obstacle to the path of keeping their coterie of family and friends well fed at all times.
Like many other dishes, I learned how to make Thambittu from my grandmother. Her store room when my grandfather was around, was neatly lined with dabbas (boxes) of raw ingredients and dabbas filled with all the delicacies that my grandfather and his friends feasted on. Invariably, one of those dabbas would have laddus, besan laddus being the hot favourite. As a child, what fascinated me was not these snacks but the freshly prepared meals that she served three times a day. The hot puris with aloo bhaji (potato gravy) that she made every Wednesday morning, vaangi bhath (a spicy rice preparation made with eggplants, huli (her variation being different from my paternal grandmother's whose recipe I have featured here) and the hot gulab jamuns that were made by her on every birthday.
Thambittu, made only during festivals was not a laddu I ate as a child, but went on to become a favorite later on in my adult life. On one warm summer day in my Bombay kitchen, when this precious lady in my life was visiting me, I learned how to make this from her.
She warned me, you have to use a lot of ghee! At that point of time in my life, nearly a decade ago I was wary of using/eating lot of fat and sugar. But now, with experience I have figured that certain dishes require a certain amount of fat and sweetener. And if you compromise that, then the sanctity of the dish is lost. And also, with proper eating habits and basic yogasanas and suryanamaskars done every day, I can have my cake and eat it as well. Good food is very important for my sustenance and I will not compromise the feeling of satisfaction and well being that I experience after making an authentic traditional preparation.
During the festival of Nagpanchami this year, when I remembered these laddus, I turned to my trusty old blue diary where I had noted the recipe nearly a decade ago in the gratifying presence of my ajji, my grandmother as she showed me how to shape these laddus.
Needless to say, I was thrilled when I was able to replicate these laddus and in turn reproduce a part of my tradition and heritage.
These laddus are very popular in parts of Karnataka state in Southern India and during the auspicious shravan maas, ladies invite married women, perform poojas and exchange these laddus. These laddus make their way into my mother’s home from at least 10 to 12 homes during this time and I miss those moments and comparisons every year.
There are many variations of the thambittu made with rice flour, wheat flour and powdered roasted gram.
The one that I’m fond of and relish is made with roasted gram powder. This is highly nutritious with all nice ingredients like mineral rich jaggery, nutrient dense sesame seeds, dried coconut and poppy seeds. And the ambrosial flavouring is provided by cardamom seeds.There is an old saying that goes “cardamom adds spice to your years and years to your life” and green cardamom is without a doubt one of my favourite spices.
You could go easy on the sesame seeds and coconut if you wish, but I love the magic of these ingredients when combined with the rest and hence have been a little more generous with the quantities of sesame and coconut used as I love the character they provide to these laddus.
Making these laddus, offering them to the Supreme and then eating them puts me in a happy state of mind. A kind of ethereal state, that gets knocked down when reality strikes after the passage of time!
Will upload a video link for shaping these laddus shortly!
Thambittu (Roasted Gram & Jaggery Laddus)
It is important to use fresh ghee for this recipe. You can try shaping these laddus like the ones pictured above or you could even give them a round shape.
250 gm (2 cups heaped) roasted gram (phutana/dalia)
½ (1/2 cup) dry coconut, grated
2 tbsp sesame seeds
2 tbsp white poppy seeds (khus khus)
7to 8 cardamom pods
200 gm (1 cup) ghee (preferably organic cow ghee)
220 gm (1 cup) jaggery
Powder the cardamom seeds with the help of a mortar and pestle or spice grinder.
In a wok, heat the roasted gram for a couple of minutes, turning them over and over again with the help of a spatula or a large spoon. Remove and keep aside. When cool, grind to a fine powder.
Roast the coconut until golden brown. Remove and keep aside.
Roast the sesame seeds until they change their colour and start to splatter a bit. Keep aside.
Finally roast the poppy seeds as well. Keep aside.
In the wok, heat the ghee and when it melts, put in the jaggery. On low heat allow the jaggery to melt and when it melts (don’t allow the jaggery to come to a boil) stir in the roasted and powdered gram and all the other roasted ingredients. Turn off the flame, put in the cardamom powder and mix well.
You may find the mixture a little loose at this point. If you find it very loose stir in a little more of the powdered gram.
When the mixture cools down, it is time to shape the laddus.
Press the mixture with your palm to give it a round shape and then hold the laddu with your left hand and keep rotating it while pressing the top portion of the laddu with the fore finger and the middle finger and the base with the thumb.
You can also give these laddus a round shape as desired.
Makes 38 to 40 laddus.