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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 October 2018

Impress your guests with your Diwali spread

Our chefs suggest there should be enough finger food for guests to snack on throughout the night, before and after the main course.
Junoon’s Shahi lamb shank. Courtesy Junoon
Junoon’s Shahi lamb shank. Courtesy Junoon

Whether you are from the subcontinent or not, if you are lucky enough to be invited to a party to celebrate Diwali, it would be a mistake to turn it down.

The five-day Hindu festival starts on Friday, ahead of the main event – Lakshmi puja – next Sunday.

The fun-filled, colourful celebrations are filled with friends, games, lights, fun and, of course, an abundance of ­wonderful food.

For those planning to host a party, we asked a few talented chefs to share their tips on how best to make your Diwali spread shine.

“Spiritually, Diwali signifies the victory of good over evil, light over darkness, knowledge over ignorance and hope over despair,” says Jagdeep Negi, head chef at Spice and Ice ­Restaurant and Lounge in Jumeirah Lake Towers, Dubai.

Much like Christmas in western nations, ­Diwali inspires revellers to pull out all the stops in terms of decor and food.

“Diwali is a festival of light and enlightenment,” says chef Saurabh Udinia from Farzi Cafe in City Walk, Dubai. “Homes are lit with candles, lamps and colourful strings of bulbs. It is a beacon for emerging togetherness, by ­virtue of sharing love, ­family – and, of course, dessert. Food plays a major role.”

Because it is a Hindu festival, an authentic Diwali feast is strictly vegetarian. However, the holiday is so widely celebrated around the world, many Diwali parties now also feature meat dishes.

Our chefs suggest there should be enough finger food for guests to snack on throughout the night, before and after the main course.

Udinia recommends fried yam fritters, black chana, black eyed peas salad, and ­Indian snacks such as kachoris and samosas.

While your meal can be as extravagant as you like, chef de cuisine Suraj Prakash from ­Junoon in the Shangri-La Hotel, Dubai, says: “The atmosphere at a Diwali party is colourful, but the food should always be traditional and simple”.

For main courses, he recommends dishes such as rajma chawal (red kidney beans in an onion and tomato masala), dal khichdi (a rice and lentil dish) and matar paneer (peas and paneer in a ­tomato sauce).

Negi says curries and biryanis should be on every Diwali table. He recommends dum aloo (potato curry), Sindhi kadhi (vegetable curry) and ­kadhi pakoda (a yogurt gram-flour ­curry).

“A Diwali spread is colourful, as Indian food is prepared using a variety of spices and condiments, giving the food a natural colour, fantastic aroma and taste,” he says.

You can also add additional brightness with brightly hued glasses, plates and serving dishes in contrasting colours.

While appetisers and main dishes are an important part of any Diwali spread, all of the chefs we spoke to say it is vital that extra attention is given to the sweets.

They suggest offering a wide range of traditional Indian sweets, such as barfi (a dense, milk-based sweet), halwa (a popular North Indian sweet), mohanthal (gram-flour fudge), soan papdi (a crispy, flaky sweet), milk cake, ladoo (ball-shaped sugary sweets) and jalebi (deep-fried, spiral-shaped sweets).

If you are a whizz in the kitchen, you can whip up the sweets yourself. If you’d rather leave it to the professionals, there’s no shame in ordering a range of sweets for your spread.

sjohnson@thenational.ae