Want to learn about Diwali? Looking for Diwali food to serve or Diwali sweets to give as gifts? Read our guide from Indian columnist Maunika Gowardhan then check out more Indian recipes and Maunika’s podcast about how to perfect Indian cooking.
What is Diwali?
The hugely popular Hindu festival of lights, Diwali, falls on 14 November this year. The five-day celebrations begins with Hindu rituals, fireworks amid the festivities and, of course, delicious food shared with family and friends. Diwali celebrates hope, positivity and happiness. The lighting of diyas and rows of lanterns signifies the triumph of light over darkness, and good over evil, within the Hindu, Sikh and Jain communities.
My fondest memories of Diwali have been celebrating with my family in Mumbai. Diwali coincides with Hindu New Year and our home is filled with lanterns to mark the occasion. Now, living in Britain, I prepare for the festival with equal excitement and, in the lead up to Diwali, the front of our home is lit up with tea lights, lanterns and rangoli (an Indian coloured pattern).
Cooking an Indian feast with a delicious variety of curries, flatbreads, raita, salad and veggie side dishes, plus a lovely dessert to end the meal, is what the festivities are all about. When cooking for the family and friends I always have a variety of pickles, chutneys and poppadoms on offer on the dinner table. These add an extra dimension of tastes and textures to make an Indian meal more elaborate. Snacks include aloo tikkis and tandoori skewers followed by biryanis and curries. Diwali also means an array of Indian sweets, including barfi and laddoos, which I love to share and send to family and friends during the celebrations.
Diwali foods to try
Barfi (Diwali sweets)
An Indian milk-based sweet fudge made using ground cardamom and nuts. Barfi come in a variety of flavours including mango, ground pistachio, saffron and even chocolate.
Another version of this is kalakand, made with milk solids, cardamom and almonds.
This well-known Indian tea is infused with crushed spices, milk and tea leaves. It is served throughout the day when you have family and friends over for Diwali, to accompany both the sweet and savoury foods. Try this turmeric chai tea.
A layered rice-based one-pot dish cooked with whole spices, saffron, ginger, chilli and fresh mint and coriander. This vegetarian Hyderabadi biryani is the perfect recipe to celebrate Diwali.
Sweet fried pastries stuffed with coconut, poppy seeds, jaggery and ground cardamom. These were my favourite snacks when I was growing up and something I still make at home. Try my Maharashtrian karanji recipe.
I love to cook a variety of curries for the occasion and I have shared loads of recipes in my olive magazine column, including rajasthani laal maas (lamb curry), pork balchao and creamy chicken curry.