Gulab Jamun is a dessert popular in western Asia, particularly in India, Pakistan, and Bangladeshi. This fried treat is usually soaked in a sweet syrup that is often scented with rose water. Gulab Jamun is traditionally served on the Indian holiday Diwali, but is a delicious end to an Indian meal any time of the year.
The dough of Gulab Jamun is made of powdered and regular milk, flour, clarified butter or ghee and optional additives like raisins, pistachios, and cardamom powder. As it is not a yeast bread, no time is necessary for rising, although some recipes recommend letting the dough rest for about twenty minutes before frying. Frying should be done in corn or canola oil, or alternatively in ghee.
The dough is divided into small balls and fried over low heat. During frying, Gulab Jamun balls will double in size, much like doughnuts. After 10-15 minutes, the dough deepens to a golden color, and should be removed and instantly added to the prepared syrup. Some recipes suggest squishing the fried dough slightly after it is added to the syrup, to make it more absorbent.
To make the syrup for the fried dough, combine three parts water and two parts sugar in a pot and bring to a boil. Once the sugar has entirely dissolved, you will have a simple sugar syrup. Flavoring for the syrup varies by region. Most Indian recipes use rose water, available at some specialty grocery stores. Other regions use saffron, citrus juice or cardamoms to flavor the syrup.
Gulab Jamun can be stored overnight to absorb a large amount of syrup, but some dough recipes may not be able to stand up to so much liquid and may dissolve. The dessert can be served hot or cold, with extra syrup spooned on top. One serving of the dessert is generally three or four pieces.
On Diwali, the Indian festival of lights, Gulab Jamun is one of the many traditional desserts. People gather to set off fireworks and firecrackers, and many towns hold carnivals or fairs in honor of the holiday. Although a packaged mix is sold in many Indian grocery stores, a large number of people choose to make the dessert from scratch in honor of Diwali.
The Indian dessert is related to fried-dough sweets around the world. American doughnut holes are similar, though often coated in powdered sugar rather than soaked in syrup. Another West Asian variation is Zauq-e-Shahi, in which the dough is stuffed with pistachios and couscous, and is drizzled with cream and honey. In Greece, a similar dish is called loukoumas, and is flavored with cloves and cinnamon. Gulab Jamun is also thought to be related to the Chinese and Vietnamese dish Che xoi nuroc, a mung-bean and rice flour dough fried and served with a ginger syrup.
If you are serving an Indian meal for guests, there are many authentic desserts to choose from, including the rice-pudding kheer and the saffron ice-cream kulfi. Gulab Jamun serves best as an informal dessert, as it is a bit sticky. Try serving it as part of an Indian barbecue or outdoor dinner, or host your own Diwali celebration in October or November.