Fun fact: a large number of small Indian restaurants in the United States of America are actually run by Nepali immigrant chefs. Several serve Indian food along with (if one were to look at the fine print on the menu) some dishes that are of Nepali or Himalayan origin. But, repeat after me and loudly: Nepali cuisine is not Indian cuisine (our Nepali friends will appreciate us remembering this). Nepal, through its geographical and historical association with India and Tibet, has influences of both in its cuisine. However, the flavor profile is different. Nepali dishes use fewer spices and aromatics and less heat. Also, Nepali cuisine has a preponderance of vegetarian dishes. Second fun fact: “vegetarian” in Nepal can mean different things. It could mean “not meat and eggs” (dairy products such as milk and cheese are consumed, however) but it could also mean “not beef” (but include poultry and mutton). The latter is tied to the sanctity of cows in the Hindu faith.
Our dish today, Besan Burfi, is vegetarian in the traditional sense. A dessert that has its origins in Indian cuisine, the literal meaning of “Besan” is Chickpea Flour and “Burfi” is akin to fudge. Don’t let the idea of a fudge made with a bean flour deter you, the chickpea flour tastes less bean-like and more nutty. The trick lies in toasting the flour. Besan Burfi can be a crunchy fudge or a silky soft one. The difference comes from the grind consistency of the flour, coarse ground chickpea flour results in a crunchy burfi while using a fine ground flour results in a soft burfi. Only using four main ingredients – chickpea flour, ghee, sugar, and cardamom – this dessert comes together pretty quickly on the stove top. Originally from India, ghee is clarified butter and is used in lieu of butter in many desserts and even some entrees in Nepal. Once only available in specialty grocery stores, today ghee is available in most grocery stores as it is lactose-free and it has been made popular by diets such as the paleo and keto diets. Refer to notes for the recipe for ghee if you’d like to make it at home (requires only one ingredient, unsalted butter and a cheese cloth or fine mesh strainer).
Enjoy with chai as an evening snack or as a dessert after dinner.
Besan Burfi “Chickpea Fudge” (Vegetarian and Gluten Free)
Besan, fine ground chickpea flour (can use coarse ground but texture will be crunchy) – 3 cups, sifted
Ghee – 1 cup
Sugar – 1 ½ cups
Cardamom powder – 1tsp
Nuts of choice (silvered almonds, crushed pistachios or crushed cashews) for garnish- ¼ cup
Line a 9×9 baking pan with foil or parchment and set aside.
“Toast” the sifted besan flour in a hot dry pan. Stir gently on low heat so the flour gets evenly warmed and cooked. Keep stirring for about 15 minutes. The flour should be a dark golden yellow (do not let it burn). Low and slow. (This step can be omitted but it is highly recommended as it helps the flour caramelize and develop a nutty taste). Set the toasted besan aside.
Add ghee to a hot pan. When ghee is completely melted, which will take only about 2—3 minutes, add the toasted besan.
Stir continuously. The besan will seize up but as you continue stirring it will become a smooth paste. Continue stirring until the ghee separates out of the mixture. This should take about 10 – 15 minutes. Remove pan from heat and add the cardamom powder and the sugar. Stir vigorously to incorporate and then pour the mixture into the lined baking dish and spread it evenly. Smooth with a spatula.
Sprinkle the crushed pistachio or almonds (I used almonds and rose petals) and allow the burfi to cool and set, about 45 minutes to an hour. Lift the parchment and cut into squares or diamonds. Enjoy!
Ghee (Clarified butter)
Good quality butter, unsalted – 1 lb.
Melt butter in a heavy bottom pan over medium flame. Reduce heat to a simmer.
The milk solids will separate and float to the surface.
Skim the white milk solids off the surface. Continue to do this as they rise to the surface.
Once no more milk solids are rising to the surface, there will be some settling on the bottom. When the solids at the bottom turn golden brown and the butter oil is clear, you have clarified the butter.
Remove pan from heat and strain the ghee into a heat proof container.
Store in a glass container at room temperature (good for 3 months) or refrigerate for up to a year.
Recipe and photo credit: Vinola Munyon Email: firstname.lastname@example.org