There ought to be a book somewhere about the culinary uses of gums and resins–think xanthan gum or gum arabica, which you’ve likely seen on a food label here or there, for instance–but I confess I’ve not searched hard enough to find one. But where xanthan and gum arabica are hidden ingredients, for us Indians, gums are widely known and commonly used. Think “hing” or “asafoetida,” which is a daily-use seasoning ingredient, the somewhat stinky (but oh!-so-redolent when it’s fried) gum of the ferula communis, a carrot family plant. Tamilians will recognize the “badam pisini” as the gum of the almond tree, used to make a rather outrageous drink called the jil-jil-jigarthanda. But more on that later.
For now, I’m concerned with the gum of the axlewood tree, known particularly to Rajasthanis as gaund and used to make lots of sweets and snacks–of which my favorite, and the one I’m falling over myself to offer in honor of Vinayaka Chaturthi to the Lord who we’re told loves all things laddu, is gaund ki laddu or sweet balls made with crackly gaund as star ingredient.
With due respect to Him, my second confession is that never much cared for laddus, until a very kind neighbor arrived with a box of these, home made from Kolkata, and life was never again to be the same. Having fallen in love with the crackly crunch of fried gum within each roasted sweet wheat bite, we shamelessly asked for more. And more. And more. And although now I should wait until such time I can go sit with Aunty-ji and see how her patient, expert hands shape the most fabulous of gaund ki laddus by the dozen, my final confession is that I can simply wait no longer.
And so, with humble salutations to Aunty-ji who was my inspiration to explore better and more these uses of edible gums, and to our very beloved pot-bellied round-sweet-loving elephant-headed broken-tusked Remover of Obstacles: gaund ki laddu.
Getting ready to fry the gaund:
Slowly turning the puffing gaund to ensure even cooking and browning:
Lovely, soft puffy fried gaund:
Then to powder the stuff:
And stare at it a bit:
Now mixed into the roasted whole wheat flour, with nuts, powdered cardamom, and sugar/jaggery added in:
And the first formed little laddoo:
I rolled my laddoos in a little powdered almond+sugar mix, but this isn’t traditional at all. You can skip this step if you wish.
And then placed them at the feet of the One who removes all obstacles:
And hoped, with the lighting of a little lamp, that He would like them.
- 1 tablespoon of melon seeds
- 1/2 cup almonds, slivered
- 10 cardamom pods
- 1 cup (or more) of ghee (clarified butter)
- 1 cup of Gaund or Gond [available through online retailers]
- 1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
- 2 cups powdered jaggery (or fine sugar--giving regular sugar a whir or two in a coffee grinder should do it)
- On a gentle flame, toast the almonds and melon seeds until they're barely starting to brown. Set aside to cool
- Peel the cardamom pods, remove the seeds, and powder these either in a coffee grinder or with a mortar and pestle (it's ok if they aren't completely uniformly powdered). Set this aside, too.
- Now take a look at your gaund or edible gum. If it has come in large pieces, place a clean kitchen towel on top of the gum, and use a rolling pin or a pestle to crush it into smaller pieces. Don't powder it at this stage, but do break it down as large chunks will be difficult to fry evenly.
- In a heavy pan, heat the ghee. When it's hot, slowly drop in the bits of gaund, a little at a time. The gaund puffs like popcorn, but insides take a little while to cook, so keep turning them gently with a slotted spoon to allow even cooking. Remove with a slotted spoon just as they start to brown, and allow to cool. Don't let the gaund burn, or it turns bitter.
- Repeat the process until all the gaund is well-fried. Turn off your flame, but leave the ghee in the pan.
- Now transfer the fried gaund to a mortar (if you have a molcajete, so much the better) or a large baking tray, and crush to a coarse powder.
- Return to your pan, and re-heat the ghee. Add the whole wheat flour to it, and keep turning it to roast evenly. Turn off the heat.
- Add in your toasted nuts, powdered gum, powdered cardamom, and powdered jaggery or sugar. Mix well.
- As soon as the mixture is cool enough to handle, pick up a little to press into a lime-sized ball. You can make smaller laddus if you prefer -- or larger ones.
- Transfer these on a plate to the fridge to cool and set fully, if you wish. These shouldn't need refrigeration, but they'll keep longer if they're cooler. If not, consume within a couple of days.
- A heavy pan for frying and one for roasting
- A wide slotted spoon
- A mojcajete or mortar and pestle