International Recipes and Cooking Around the World

Gulab Jamun

Bowl of gulab jamun

(South Asian milk ball sweet in rose-scented syrup)

Image Creative Commons by pixabay

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This traditional sweet (mithai) is found on South Asian restaurant menus around the world. You can make your own gulab jamun at home with just a few simple ingredients you probably already have on hand.

The name gulab jamun means roughly "rosewater berries." The berries are balls of milk solids mixed with a little flour, salt and oil or ghee and lightly fried until they turn a reddish brown. The milk balls then get a good soak in a rosewater-scented simple syrup.

Gulub jamun is traditionally made with khoya, milk that has been slowly cooked down to evaporate most if its water until only thick, caramelized solids are left. While khoya certainly makes the most tender and full-flavored jamun, making it is a time-consuming process. Easily available powdered milk makes an acceptable substitute for a homemade dessert.

Holidays like Diwali and the Muslim festivals of Eid al-Adha and Eid al-Fitr wouldn't be the same without this beloved dessert on the table.

4 to 6 servings

Ingredients

For the syrup

  • Water -- 2 cups
  • Lemon juice -- 1 teaspoon
  • Rosewater (optional, see variations) -- 1 teaspoon
  • Sugar -- 1 1/2 cups

For the jamun

  • Dried milk powder -- 1 cup
  • All-purpose flour -- 1/4 cup
  • Baking soda -- 1/2 teaspoon
  • Salt -- pinch
  • Oil or ghee -- 1 tablespoon
  • Yogurt or milk -- 2 tablespoons
  • Oil, ghee or a mixture of the two -- for frying

Method

  1. Bring the water, lemon juice and rosewater to boil in a small saucepan over medium-high flame, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Let boil, without stirring, for about 10 to 12 minutes until the syrup is somewhat reduced. Remove from heat and set aside to cool.
  2. Mix the milk powder, flour, baking soda and salt together in a large bowl. Add the oil or ghee and mix into the dry ingredients until well incorporated. Next stir in the yogurt or milk a little bit at a time until the ingredients form a dough that can be shaped into balls.
  3. Use oiled hands to form balls the size of large marbles (about 3/4-inch in diameter) with no cracks on the surface. If you get cracks, work a wee bit more yogurt or milk into the dough. You should get about 12 balls.
  4. Heat 1 inch of oil in a saucepan, skillet or wok over medium flame. The temperature of the oil should be about 150°F. Any hotter and the jamun could burn on the outside before they are cooked on the inside. Add the balls a few at a time to the oil and cook until they turn a deep reddish-brown on all sides, around 6 or 7 minutes. Remove the finished jamun to a paper-towel-lined tray to cool.
  5. Once the jamun have cooled, add them to the pan with the syrup. Let the balls soak for at least two hours before serving to let them soak up the syrup and get tender. They may float initially, but as they absorb the syrup, they will begin to stay submerged.
  6. To serve, put two or three of the jamun into small serving bowls and spoon some of the syrup over them. Garnish if desired (see variations.) Gulab jamun can be served cold, at room temperature or warm.

Gulab Jamun Variations

  • Syrup: Instead of, or in addition to, the rosewater, add a couple strands of saffron to the boiling syrup. Four or 5 cardamom pods add nice flavor too. Pour the syrup through a sieve after it's done to filter out the solids.
  • Jamun Balls: Full-fat milk powder is best for homemade gulab jamun, but non-fat powdered milk is easier to find and will work fine too.
  • Garnish: Garnish the finished jamun and syrup with toasted sliced almonds or chopped pistachios. Top with a few rose petals. Or for an extra-special presentation, gild each serving with edible silver leaf (vark).

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