Holi Festival Food

Holi festive also known as festival of colors is celebrated in Spring. On the day of Holi, bonfires are lite at night to celebrate the victory of good over evil.

Every festival has a special food associated with that occasion. Growing up for me, it was eating boiled whole wheat sev (noodles) with ghee and sugar. The significance of whole wheat noodles is the coming harvest of wheat, even though these noodles will be made from previous harvest. Once new wheat comes to market, people clean and store it for the entire year, mainly in state of Gujarat. Wheat is coated in castor oil to keep it fresh. The wheat is then taken to mills as needed for flour.

During summer, I remember my mother and neighborhood aunties making noodles by hand from whole wheat flour dough. They will sit on a wooden chair especially made for making noodles. Imagine one side of sea-saw resting in place with other side up. The bottom has a rest where you can sit to make noodles.  In the top side there are ridges in the wood from where you will roll dough with your hands. Young children would sit on the floor to catch noodles and arrange it on a flat sieve (called chalani). These round jali shaped noodles are then dried in the sun (last picture). Dried noodles are stored in air tight container to use throughout the year. The art of making these noodles by hand is dying. Nowadays noodles are made by machines.

For eating, these noodles are simply boiled in water and serve with ghee and sugar. In the picture, along with noodles methi ni bhaji na gota (fenugreek greens fritters), cilantro chutneykathi chutney and Green Papaya Cachumber are served. These dishes are not necessarily associated with Holi festival, but gota, which is savory goes very well with sweet noodles. That was the menu for lunch on Holi this year.

The day after holi which is called Dhuleti, is celebrated with color. People color each other with color powder as well as colored water.  It turns into friendly competition to see who can color most without getting color on themselves. People’s white clothes and streets are covered in kaleidoscopic colors.

The special beverages associated with this day is thandai. It is a milk based beverage fortified with nuts, seeds and spices.

These cookies are inspired by thandai. The spices used in thandai are cardamom, black pepper, fennel seeds, saffron and white poppy seeds. The nuts used are almonds and pistachios. Seeds used are melon seeds instead I have used pumpkin seeds (papitas).

Thandai Cookies

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Cook time: 

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Serves: 4 dozen

  • 1 ½ cups all-purpose flour, divided
  • 1 ¼ cups sugar
  • 1 ½ cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, soften
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 cup almond flour
  • ½ cup pistachios
  • ½ cup pumpkin seeds (papitas)
  • 3 tablespoons poppy seeds
  • 2 teaspoons fennel seeds
  • 2 teaspoons ground black pepper
  • 3 teaspoons ground cardamom
  • 1 teaspoon saffron threads + 1 teaspoon of sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  1. Toast pumpkin and fennel seeds in a pan, 1-2 minutes. Remove from a pan and let it cool for 10 minutes. In the same pan toast poppy seeds just for 30 seconds. Remove from a heat and let it cool for 10 minutes.
  2. Combine almond flour, one cup all-purpose flour, ¾ teaspoon each of salt and baking powder in a bowl. In a separate bowl, combine remaining all-purpose flour, salt and baking powder.
  3. Grind poppy seeds in spice grinder or in a mortar and pestle until ground but not forming a paste. Combine with almond flour mixture.
  4. Grind pumpkin seeds, fennel seeds and pistachio in food processor until finely ground but not forming a paste. Combine this with flour only mixture created in step 2.
  5. In a standalone mixer or hand held mixer beat butter and sugar until light and fluffy, 2 to 3 minutes. Add egg at a time and beat until well combined. Add cardamom, black pepper and beat until just combined.
  6. Remove about ⅓ of butter mixture and add to pistachio mixture. Combine with a spatula or hand mixer until it forms dough. If you wish to color the dough you can add green food color.
  7. Add almond flour mixture and beat until well combined. Remove about ½ mixture in emptied almond flour mixture bowl. If you wish to color the dough you can add food color of your choice.
  8. In a mortar and pestle (or with a rolling pin), grind saffron with 1 teaspoon of sugar. In the remaining dough in the mixer bowl, add saffron. Beat until saffron is well combined. If you wish to color the dough you can add orange food color.
  9. Cover three batches of dough separately in a plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 2 hours.
  10. On an approximately 18 by 24-inch parchment paper, arrange 2 to 3 tablespoons of three different doughs in a random pattern. Cover with approximately 18 by 24-inch parchment paper and roll out the dough in a circle of ¼ inch thickness. Cut out cookies in a desired shape. Gather remaining dough after cut outs into a ball. From these make smaller balls with about 2 tablespoons of dough. Refrigerate cookies for at least an hour before baking.
  11. Alternately you can roll out three batches of dough into three to four 6 inches long and 1-inch-wide logs. Make a log by combining one of each color. Cut these logs into 6 equal portions. Twist each portions and formed into a ball. Refrigerate cookies for at least an hour before baking.
  12. Pre heat oven to 325 degrees. Bake cookies for 10 to 12 minutes. If you want crispy cookies bake for 15 to 16 minutes.
If you do not want to go through trouble of making separate batches of dough, just combine all flours after grinding. Once butter, sugar and eggs are beaten, add flour and beat to combine everything to make one dough. Refrigerate dough and cookies (cut outs or balls) similarly as above before baking.