World Food Day

Today is World Food Day and I’m writing this post as an ambassador for Curry for Change run by Find Your Feet.  They are a really small charity who aim to reach 80,000 vulnerable people in India, Nepal, Malawi and Zimbabwe. They want to make a lasting difference to their lives do this by enabling families to grow enough food, not just for this year’s harvest, but to ensure their children never go hungry again.

They work in various parts of India supporting communities to come together and address the issues that matter to them so they can begin to build a better future for their families.

Sumitra

Here is Sumitra’s story - “Through the project, things have changed so much. Before, we had no money.  We could not even afford medicine when our children were sick. Now, we have been able to access loans and training in sustainable farming to improve our agriculture and our incomes.  Before we were just growing wheat but now we have grow different crops and our family health has improved. We are also helping our whole community. We are proud because our children are going to primary school, and a doctor is now visiting our village. The fear is gone.  We have courage now. We are making our children’s future.”

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That’s amazing

I’m helping by spreading the word.  You can help by simply cooking a curry! Try some traditional Gujarati Potato Shak or Dhal.  How about a dessert of my favourite Kheer? How about having a Bollywood theme?  You can pick up some great ideas in the free pack on the website.

In the meantime, find out more about the families who are benefiting from the support on http://find-your-feet.org/our-news and follow the Curry for Change team on Facebook and Twitter via the hashtag #curryforchange.

Thank you

The Great Indian Bake Off – Could It Work?

So the Great British Bake Off is back on UK television screens brightening up the early part of the week.  I’ve tuned in every week with fond memories of being in that tent, panicking, cursing, cheering and praying to the oven bhagwan.

Who would be the judges? 

I was wondering who the judges would be if they were to ever do an Indian version.  Firstly I would like to put my hand up.  It would be great to be sitting in the judge’s seat vs be a contestant – even for a little while! But I think the legend that is Madhur Jaffrey would need to claim the Mary Berry seat and I would gladly bring her all the chai and bhajia she wanted.

But who for the Paul Hollywood shoes? I was thinking Cyrus Todiwala but he’s simply too lovely.  I cannot imagine him saying anything negative to anyone.  The same would go for Vivek Singh.  Too nice.  So who is handsome yet could give that serious critical stare?  It has to be the legend that is Tony Singh.  Like Paul, he has links with cooking for the royals and knows a thing or two about baking.

But what to bake? 

But what would the challenges be? There isn’t much Indian food which is baked – certainly not in Gujarat.  The only bake I know is Ondhwo.  A lovely rice and lentil based cake similar in texture to dhokra.

Gujarati Ondhwo

Gujarati Ondhwo but my version uses grated courgettes

I’m not sure it’s difficult enough.  It really is all about mixing it all up in a bowl, adding some tempering and then baking for about an hour or so.

What do you think? Have you come across any Indian recipes that are baked? Who would you like to see if there was an Indian version? 

Kichree – Gujerati Detox Food

This year already seems full of ‘New Year, New You’ posts and ideas for healthy eating after the excesses of the various festivities this time of year holds.   So I thought I would join the bandwagon and share the one dish which I revert to in times of detox, sickness and cleansing – Kichree.  (Our sounds are difficult to translate into English and I have also seen this written Kichadee or Kicharee).

Kichree (1 of 1)

Nothing better to get your system back in order

Comfort food at it’s simplest 

There are two basic ingredients – split green lentils and rice cooked in equal quantities with water.  You can also use split yellow lentils.

Strong links to mind-body medicine

Many Ayurvedic doctors recommend seasonal detoxing and fasting – especially after periods of excess and/or rich food consumption.  It helps the digestive system to rest, let go of our attachments to food and also releases toxins that have accumulated both emotionally and physically.

It’s difficult to physically release toxins at stressful times of year such as Christmas, Diwali and New Year. Our bodies are programmed to store fat during times of stress – hence the feeling ‘fat’ and lethargic.  But during calmer and more peaceful times, or as our daily life and patterns normalise, it’s easier to burn fat and the more we burn, the more toxins we release.  And the more toxins we release, the healthier our immune systems become.  It’s fascinating reading and if you are interested in delving deeper try the work of Candice Pert, especially Molecules of Emotion: The Science Behind Mind-Body Medicine.

Many of my elderly aunts meditate.  I’ve never really been keen on this but having done a little reading I’m tempted.  I found out recently that negative emotions such as anger, fear, sadness, jealousy and so on are lipophilic.  This means they are stored in our fat cells.  Burning fat and releasing toxins lets go of these old patterns of behaviour (which is another reason why exercise also feels so good at this time of year).

How does this all relate to my simple dish of kichree? 

Kichree is a key part of a detoxing fast.  Fasting in our Gujerati world is not about forgoing all food.  Just simplifying our diets or even eating once a day with some religious fasts.

Kichree pulls toxins from the body and is healing for the digestive tract.  It’s eaten on it’s own and at the very most with steamed vegetables for those following a very strict fast.  Some add ‘warming’ or ‘burning’ spices such as ginger, clove and cinnamon.  In my household this is Vaghareli Kichree.  It’s tastier and more interesting but to be honest I always start with the Simple Kichree which has nothing but a little turmeric and ghee and perhaps a splash of warmed milk.

A few other things to think about…

Kichree is one of the first foods given to our children when they are weaning and have started walking.  This is because it’s simple to digest.  But here are a few other things you can do and eat to support your detoxing fast:

  • drink warm water – lots of it to flush your systems out
  • drink herbal teas without caffeine
  • rather than eat fruit, drink fruit juice or smoothies as they are also easier and faster to digest and stick to sour fruits to keep sugar intake down
  • don’t eat fish, meat or any cow dairy products
  • sleep
  • avoid over stimulation – that means watch less TV and switch off from web surfing to keep your mind calm
  • reintroduce foods slowly and simply – eg boiled or steamed rather than rich with heavy spices and sauces

Just a final word. I am not a doctor – ayurvedic or otherwise and so everything I’ve just written is based on what’s worked for me or passed down from my mother and aunts.  Please consult your own doctor before you start any fasts to make sure it’s the right path for you and your body.  Happy New Year!

Garam Masala – The Ultimate Winter Warmer

Isn’t it cold? Outside my window it’s raining, there’s a howling wind and I’m shivering at the thought of going out.   It’s going to be a busy morning tomorrow and I want to come home to something that makes me feel I’m wrapped up in a fluffy, woollen blanket.  Something warming from the outside in.   Garam masala.

Garam masala

Warming spice mix

A lot of Indian recipes call for garam masala but the Gujerati food I grew up with only uses it occasionally.  When I was little I used to sit and watch my grandmother grinding the spices.  She’d sit cross legged on the floor.  I’d sit next to her and pour the spices into the mill or sit on her lap and help turn the wheel.  Nowadays I just use my pestle and mortar or a spice grinder.

Garam masala stimulates blood flow

There are lots of recipes for garam masala. This one only uses spices which are ‘garam’ or hot for the body. They stimulate blood flow bringing energy and heat which is why I don’t use them all the time.  In fact I will breakout into spots with regular use.  They are however perfect for days like today which chill me to the bone and when I feel the sniffles coming on.

A simple but powerful mix of spices  

The following measures are for a small jar and should keep for a couple of months.  Throw it away after that because spices do go stale.  Simply grind them all up to a powder.

  • 3 tsp black cardamom seeds
  • 3 tsp black peppercorns
  • 3 tsp caraway seeds
  • 3 tsp cloves
  • 2 large cinnamon sticks
  • a small nutmeg

A teaspoonful adds depth to most dishes

You can add a teaspoon to the dishes below.  I balance this with a little extra lemon juice to help distribute the spices in the blood.  That’s what I was always taught.

Red Lentil Dhal

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Thick comforting dhal

Sweetcorn and Coconut Shak

sweetcorn and coconut shak

Something a little different but equally warming

Puy Lentil Dhal with Halloumi

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Puy lentils are quicker than red lentils to cook

What makes your shivers go away? Do you use any special dishes in your culture to ward off colds and flu?

Farsan and Fireworks for Diwali

It’s Diwali time!  There are many stories associated with Diwali but the most famous is the return of Lord Ram to Ayodhya after forty years in exile.

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Laxman, Lord Ram and Sita with a devoted and kneeling Hanuman

The story goes that after rescuing his wife Sita from the evil clutches of the Demon King Ravan, he returned home accompanied by his brother Laxman and devoted servant Hanuman.  It was dark and the villagers lit his way with little ‘Deeyas’ or lights.  In those days they were made of clay with strings dipped in ghee.  I still prefer these old versions.

Traditional ‘Deeya’ made of clay

Nowadays deeyas are decorated and colourful and we usually use candles instead of the strings in ghee.  Millions of household across the world uphold this tradition and enhance it with dazzling displays of lights in the sky – fireworks!

Fireworks with friends and family

Children either love or are frightened of fireworks.  As a child, I loved them and they were a favourite part of Diwali celebrations.  I wouldn’t dare venture outside to watch.  It was too cold and too noisy and I was afraid a stray firework would fall on my head.  I would watch from my sister’s bedroom window as my Dad lit each one and it flew into the sky bursting into a million different colours.  My favourites were the sparkly ones that didn’t make a bang.  We weren’t particularly well off but we always had fireworks despite their expense.  Our friends and family would come to watch and each year it felt the display got bigger.

Farsan – my favourite Diwali food

While the children and men were outside setting off fireworks, the women of our household were usually inside cooking.  My favourite food at Diwali time is by far and away the ‘Farsan’.  This is the collective word for ‘savoury snacks’ and at Diwali time we have lots!  Samosa, Kachori, Bateta Vada, Bhajias of all sorts.  Although these are eaten all year round, they still are a special treat and we’ll have a few varieties in the house at this time of year.

Two farsan I associate most with Diwali are ‘Fafra‘ and ‘Chakri‘.  I grew up with these.  My aunts and cousins would come to our house and we’d make my Mum’s recipe in large batches.  Some of us would roll the dough out or twirl the chakri while others would stand and fry.  These are not the healthiest of snacks but that’s probably why they taste so good!

Diwali food, farsan, fafra

Crispy Fafra

Diwali food, farsan, chakri

My all time favourite – Chakri

Another job of mine was to decorate the farsan platter for visiting guests.  Each year I’d use flowers, beads and scraps of sari material to make my displays.  This year that task falls to my daughters whereas mine is to uphold the recipes lest they forget.  I hope you enjoy them too.

Happy Diwali!

 

Vanilla Penda Bring Bittersweet Memories

I was born in Tanzania.  I don’t remember much.  I have flashbacks of my Mr India toy, my swing in the garden, riding an elephant to school and mangoes.  Confused memories of a five year old child.

What I also remember were soldiers. Guns. Dark faces with frightening eyes. Hushed conversations. Brave smiles.  It was 1976. I think there are many East African born Indians with similar memories.  Bittersweet memories.  Memories  of one man, Idi Amin.  Memories of packing up one life to start a hurried new one in the UK for me and in Western Europe and the Americas for many of my family.

My family’s migration was later than those first political evictions in Uganda.  Perhaps less brutal based on the stories I’ve heard from my elders and friends.  But brutal nonetheless.  So when my friend Vanessa Kimbell invited me to an event in support of Ugandan Fairtrade and Ugandan Vanilla I was somewhat torn.  How could I support this country who had literally thrown me and my family onto the streets after having taken our home, our paperwork, our living?

I was about to politely decline. Instead I read about Vanessa’s visit to the Ugandan Fairtrade vanilla farms.  I read about Lulu Sturdy who owns the Ndali Vanilla Estate.  I read how she’s trying to help ordinary people – not politicians.  It then struck me that these ordinary people, these farmers, are probably the same age as me.  It’s likely that they were just children when politics and madness overtook their country in the 70s.   It’s likely they were as lost and confused as I was then.  These were not the people to stay angry with.

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A little girl sitting with her Grandmother at the Kasemire Organic Farmers Association Uganda (Picture Courtesy of Vanessa Kimbell)

A Fair Price for a Fair Day’s Work

The Ndali Estate was started by Major Price in the 1920s and he, like my grandfather, supported his neighbouring villages by building schools and clinics and developing close relationships with the local tribesman.  He too had his land confiscated in the 70s and when President Museveni invited all dispossessed foreign landowners to reclaim their land in the early 90s, his son and later his niece, Lulu Sturdy, took on the farm.  Lulu experimented with pyrethrum, chillis, rice and coffee before realising vanilla was the crop that would rejuvenate Ndali, and embrace whole communities of farmers in the process.

Vanessa travelled to meet Lulu and the farmers of Ndali vanilla. Their land was decimated during Amin’s years.  Every year hardwoods are replanted to build it up again and as well as vanilla, the farm also grows coffee, cocoa, cardamom and bananas.  

The farmers don’t want charity. They want a fair price for their crop. They want to protect their families from the raids on their property. They want to feel safe.   Vanilla is a cash crop and thus easy to steal.  Farmers are tied up while their crop is stolen or beaten til they agree to sell.  Lulu and Fairtrade have been helping these farmers to work together and close down areas where the crop can be stolen.  This is the real work that Lulu does.  She now has 1000 farmers on the Fairtrade accreditation.  Farmers who can be confident of a price five times greater than the conventional offer by poachers.

Meet the Ndali Farmers

The Ndali Fairtrade Gift Swap

I’ve been quite moved by the Ndali story. I’ve understood a little more about a country that I’ve blocked out of my life lest more rotten memories surface.  I’ve begun to think differently about Fairtrade.   I considered it to be a marketing gimmick but I now find myself seeking out the Fairtrade logo and the story behind the product.  They are all in their own way as beautiful as this Ndali story.

So I went along to the event and took part in the challenge.  I made Ndali Vanilla Penda.  Rich, fudge like sweets made from a butter and milk powder base that my relatives in Uganda and Tanzania would have eaten in happy times.  Times of celebration and sweet memories.

vanilla penda, peda

Sweet Vanilla Penda

Related posts

Learn to Cook Gujerati Food

As you’ve noticed, this blog is mainly vegetarian.  Like me!  I hope you’ve enjoyed the recipes so far and gained some new ideas about great tasting and healthy veggie food.

Sometimes it can be a bit tricky to try new styles of cooking or recipes on your own though so I’m delighted to be teaming up with The Vegetarian Cookery School in Bath to teach some of my staples.

The Vegetarian Cookery School in Bath, Somerset

The school is in the beautiful town of Bath and is run by the lovely Rachel Demuth and her team.

My course on 23rd September 2012, from 10 til 4pm 

I’ll be talking about Indian spices and giving you lots of hints and tips about how to use them in your everyday cooking as well as in my recipes.  Of course there , will also be lots and lots of food and cooking!  We’ll cook a lovely, traditional ‘thali’ of food to eat and share together.

We’ll start by cooking some snacks and street food and then move on to our main meals and accompaniments.  I’ll teach you the little knacks to make round rotli (chappattis), super quick chutneys and the right spice blend for the perfect dhal.   You’ll have lots of time to ask questions, have a go and create your own lovely dishes.

It’s a very relaxing day and I really hope you’ll be able to come.  Book online or call the school on 01225 427938      

Related links

Winning Recipes for Nom Nom Nom 2012

 

It’s been a rather hectic few months but I wanted to quickly share with you the recipes I made with Meena from @ChaiLounge for the 2012 Nom Nom Nom Food Blogger Challenge.

We won third place in the judge’s vote and thanks to you all who voted, first place in the viewer’s vote!

Winning recipes

Meena and I collaborated on recipes for the competition to bring both our styles across.  The below links are my versions as some of you have asked for them on Twitter.

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The winning menu

All in aid of Action Against Hunger

The whole event was in aid of Action Against Hunger – an amazing international but small organisation committed to ending child hunger.

For more information just listen to my interview with Cassy in the UK team.

There is a raffle with some amazing foodie prizes.  Just £10 will buy you a virtual raffle ticket for the prize of your choice or you can lucky dip!  Just make sure you enter by 31st August 2012.

Thank you again if you voted :-)

 

2012 Nom Nom Nom Challenge

 

A few weeks ago I entered the 2012 Nom Nom Nom Challenge – a Masterchef style cook off for food bloggers/writers which took place at the fabulous Cookery School in London.

Myself and Meena at Chai Lounge Supperclub in Edinburgh won third place with the judges.  I’d dearly love your vote to so if you like the write up and the recipes, please do give Gujerati Girls a vote!

It all started with a cuppa tea….

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A lovely cuppa tea

A cuppa tea one rainy morning browsing Twitter seeing a note from @NomNomNom2012 calling for entries into this ultimate year’s competition for food bloggers.

A cuppa tea one inspired evening on the phone dreaming up menus that were authentic to our Gujerati roots and seasonal here in the UK.  Meena from @ChaiLounge is a South African born Gujerati and me.  Same continent.  Same language but would our tastes work together? We were both keen to try.

Theme

The theme this year was ‘The 2012 Olympics’.  For me this represents Challenge, Competition and Camaraderie.

Challenge

The biggest challenge we faced was living hours away from each other.  How would we agree flavours and and combine our tastes?  It wasn’t ideal but we agreed our menus and set about practising each other’s recipes.  Meena lives in Edinburgh and I live in London so it was impossible to meet up. We found similarities. We found differences. We had a few more cuppas and all was well again.

Competition

Competition day came around too quickly.  We arrived at Cookery School’s cosy HQ to the warmest of welcomes and a breakfast of champions.

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Breakfast cookies

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Gooey flapjacks

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Cheese and herb scones

I was excited to meet the other competition entrants. There was a wonderful mix of world cuisines – a truly Olympic variety but already the rivalry had begun!

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Competition!

First off, we walked to Marylebone Farmer’s Market in search of our ingredients. We had £40 to spend but as we had brought some of our unusual spices with us, we cut this down to £35.

Stocking up on fresh produce #nomnnomnom2012

Marylebone Farmer’s Market

Thankfully we found all our key ingredients but it was touch and go with the coriander who we got from this crazy man.

And the chickpea flour, that this wonderful chap in Waitrose helped us discover hidden in the ethnic foods aisle.

Phew! Last one. Thank you lively Waitrose man #nomnnomnom2012

Smiles and support from Waitrose

Back at base

We kicked off with a health and safety briefing from the fabulous Rosalind Rathouse of Cookery School. Something as important to us aspiring chefs as to all the Olympic athletes competing these last few weeks.

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Rosalind Rathouse – owner of the cookery school

On your marks…..get set…..go! The cooking countdown began! 

Not even five minutes in and we encountered our first hiccup. Meena’s pressure cooker could not be used on the induction hobs. Eeeeeeeeeek! This was essential for our dhal as our lentils were unsoaked!

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Disaster strikes with the pressure cooker!

Thankfully the incredibly friendly Cookery School team were on hand and we borrowed one – albeit enormous for our cupful of red ‘toor dhal’ lentils!

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Lovely team

Once that was sorted, we prepped our peanut stuffing for the aubergine main course using the beautiful Magimix.

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Magimix excellence to speed up the cooking

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Aubergine stuffing

Next up, the chickpea flour and yoghurt stuffing for our green bullet chillies.

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Green chillies stuffed with spices and chickpea flour

And after that it was all a blur…..

Potatoes were chopped. Spices were added. Oil was heated. Tomatoes were sizzled. Chappatti dough was made. Oil was spilled. Rose kulfi was stirred. Rose kheer was stirred. Rose flaooda was tasted. And then drunk. And then made again.

BREATHE!

Chickpea tins were opened. Tomatoes were cubed. Coriander leaves were torn. Onions were chopped. Onions were rechopped more finely. Coriander chutney was whizzed. Stop seasoning was misssed!

BREATHE!

And so before we knew it! It was time to plate up.

Our starter was a chickpea, potato and tomato ‘chaat’ with mangoes, onions, fresh coconut and coriander chutney.

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Starter

Our main course was a ‘thali’ of dhal, simple potato curry, aubergines stuffed with peanuts and long green chillies and rotli .

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Main thali

Our dessert was a Trio of Rose which is a really special flavour in our food. Rose kheer – a slow cooked rice pudding; Rose Falooda – a milkshake with vermicelli and basil seeds; and Rose Kulfi – a rich ice cream.

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dessert Trio

And that was that! All over.

A tiring day. A fun day. A loooong day!

Camaraderie

What would the judges decide? At this point I wasn’t really bothered. I was enjoying the glass of white wine from Natural Wines and the sense camaraderie as we all chatted about the day’s events and challenges and made new friends.

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New friends

Getting involved with Action Against Hunger

If you’re not familiar with the charity and would like to know more, have a listen to the lovely Cassy:

There are lots of ways to get involved. As a first step, why not buy some virtual raffle tickets for some amazing cookery and food related goodies. As the judges deliberated, we all sat down to the fruits of our labour.

A lovely end to a lovely day

The wonderful Cookery School chefs had taken our dishes and created an enormous buffet with them all so we could taste everything from each team.

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Chill out and say cheeeeese!

For me this was the best part and if I had been the judge, my vote would have gone to the American team’s gazpacho. It was awesome! And Chorizo Chica’s Creme Brulee. Yummmm was the spoonful I managed to scrape!

Meena and I took the Bronze medal so to speak with Silver going to the Singaporean delights of Singply Sensational and the Gold to the fabulous Chorizo Chica.

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Third prize from the judges

We received the most amazing prizes, goody bags and support from the Nom Nom Nom 2012 team and judges. I had had an amazing day in aid of Action Against Hunger, made new friends and tasted new dishes.

If you liked this write up and the dishes we cooked, please vote for Gujerati Girls!

 

Barfi For My Brothers at Raksha Bandan

Today is Raksha Bandan.  A day for celebrating relationships and connections between brothers and sisters.  Brothers and sisters will pray for each other and bestow wishes of good fortune and safety.

How did it all come about?

In order to protect the people, my favourite of all the Hindu Gods, Lord Krishna killed the evil King Shishupal…

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King Shishupal is slayed by Lord Krishna

Lord Krishna was however left with a bleeding finger. His devoted and beloved friend Draupadi saw this and in floods of tears, ripped a piece of her saree off and tied it around his wrist to help stop the bleeding.  Lord Krishna was deeply moved by her sisterly love.  He vowed to repay her love with his protection whenever she was in need.  And so this ‘bond of loyalty and protection’ came to be known as Raksha Bandan.

Modern day festivities are more ornate

Nowadays sarees are not torn. Instead ornate and colourful  ‘rakhis’ are sold on every street corner.

Bright and colourful rakhis

Bright and colourful rakhis

The sister also prepares a ‘pooja thali’ – a celebratory prayer dish with red powder called ‘kanku’, the ‘rakhi’ and some ‘mithai’ or sweets.

pooja thali

Typical pooja thali

The sister uses ‘kanku’ to put a ‘tika’ on her brother’s forehead as she prays for his protection and wellbeing.  This is similar to the colourful ‘bindi’ she herself may wear.  She then ties her ‘rahki’ around his wrist and finally stuffs him full of his favourite ‘mithai’!  Brothers often give gifts to show their thanks for this love and protection.

Make your own rakhi and mithai

I’m not a big fan of the ornate rakhi and then to make my own simple ones.  My daughters are old enough this year to have a go too.  We use these basic friendship bracelet styles with maybe some gold or silver threads and beads on the end.

 

For ‘mithai’, we like to make ‘barfi’.  These are little milk powder based sweets that are super easy to make.  Try this coconut variation dipped in luscious dark chocolate.

chocolate covered barfi

Chocolate covered barfi

Do you have a special day with your siblings? What does your culture do to celebrate the bond between brothers and sisters?