x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Sweet-talked into indulgent submission by an Indian dessert

One of the rare desserts that I proudly indulge in with the same gusto as others around the table is puran poli.

Puran poli is sweet, unleavened bread filled with a paste of chana dal and jaggery. Courtesy Iliveinafryingpan
Puran poli is sweet, unleavened bread filled with a paste of chana dal and jaggery. Courtesy Iliveinafryingpan

If a stern voice of reason cautioned an Indian sweet maker with the adage “less is more”, the sweet maker would likely drown the voice in a bucket of syrup and ghee until all reason is reduced to a sugar-drugged squeak. Such is the nature of most Indian desserts - many of which I have found too cloyingly sweet for my liking. I am the black sheep of a sweet-toothed family.

One of the rare desserts that I proudly indulge in with the same gusto as others around the table is puran poli. This sweet, unleavened bread emerges from the kitchens of western India, with subtle variations along the road from Gujarat to Mangalore. My first taste was in Madhya Pradesh, where a foil-wrapped stack of puran polis had been delivered to our family by the Bohra (Shiite Muslim) community kitchens. Nestled within the cratered foil was a pile of tender breads (poli), each of which had a dry paste of ground chana dal and jaggery (puran) tucked inside it.

As I duly moistened a poli with ghee and dipped it into fresh mango pulp dotted with cream, I was taken aback that an Indian dessert had finally sweet-talked me into submission. The dual sweetness - a heady butterscotch flavour evoked by the lentil and jaggery mixture and a springtime sweetness from the mango pulp - was simultaneously restrained and elevated by the soft poli’s flour casing.

I have since indulged in puran poli in Dubai, at both the gifted hands of my aunt as well as at a Maharashtrian restaurant in Karama called Peshwa (04 379 5520).

For many a puran poli-loving soul in India, the dessert brings to mind the spring festival of colours, Holi, as well as other happy religious occasions that warrant a “sweetening of the mouth”. For me, it belongs to that very rare group of Indian desserts that make the black sheep in me feel like a part of the family again.

Arva Ahmed founded Frying Pan Adventures (www.fryingpanadventures.com), which takes people on tours through hidden culinary gems in Dubai