Darina Allen: Celebrate the Indian festival of colour, Holi

The Indian Spring festival of colours, Holi, is celebrated by Hindus all over the world and after Diwali, the Festival of Lights, is considered to be the second biggest festival on the Hindu calendar, writes Darina Allen.

It’s a moveable feast, the date varies every year according to the full moon. This year it will be celebrated with gusto on March 1 and 2. Holi pronounced Holy, lasts for a night and a day. The first evening is known as Holikadahan when huge bonfires are lit to dispel any evil spirits that might be lurking around.

Next day, everyone takes to the streets and it becomes a free for all when people throw or spray a virtual rainbow of coloured powders at each other. Everyone is fair game, from tiny tots to elders, friends, or strangers. There is much noisy hilarity – Indian music, singing, dancing, hugging and peals of laughter.

The coloured powders were originally natural but nowadays most are cheaper synthetic versions however, there’s a growing call to make natural powders more widely available because of the allergic reactions that many are suffering.

Historically the four main colours are used to represent different things. Red represents love and fertility, green symbolises Spring, blue is the colour of Krishna and yellow is closest to the traditional turmeric which was always used for the gulal.

All this excitement is hungry work so there are lots of street foods to snack on – Channa masala, pakoras, katchori, samosas, pani puri and gujiya. What was originally an Indian festival is now being celebrated around the world, yet another excuse to have fun and enjoy some delicious spicy food.

This year here in Ireland several of our top Indian chefs like Sunil Ghai of Pickle and Asheesh Dewan, owner of the Jaipur group of restaurants, are creating special Holi menus in their restaurants. Arun Kapil, founder of Green Saffron in Cork and alumni of Ballymaloe Cookery School is doing a Holi PopUp in the Raddison Blue Royal Hotel on February, March 1, so check out your local Indian restaurant for Holi excitement.

Traditional foods to celebrate Holi are all about colour, an excuse to eat foods that awaken the senses and keep the spirits high.

Thandai, literally translated means ‘something that cools, a sweet drink flavoured with nuts and spices and usually laced with edible hmarijuana around Holi. Puran Poli and Dahi vada are also festive favourites that aren’t easy to reproduce outside India.

So here is an Indian feast that you and your friends can enjoy making and sharing together. Happy Holi.

Sunil Ghai’s Kheer Marwadi— Indian Rice Pudding

Rosewater varies in strength so be careful to add gradually and taste. This dessert can be made ahead and may be served warm or cold.

Serves 4


50g (2 ozs) Basmati rice, soaked for an hour and drained

1.5 litres (2½ pints) milk

3 tbsp whole almonds, peeled and ground to a paste 2 tbsp water

100g (½ozs) sugar 50g (2ozs) fresh coconut, grated 25g (1oz) raisins

50g (2ozs) pistachio nuts cut into slivers

50g (2ozs) blanched almonds, cut in to slivers

½½ tsp ground green cardamom seeds

2 tsp Kewra essence — keeps indefinitely or use Rosewater instead but be careful — add ½ tsp first and then taste


Heat the ghee in a pan. Add the soaked rice, stir for 2 or 3 minutes then add the milk and cook over a low heat for an hour until the rice absorbs the milk and the pudding thickens.

Stir in the almond paste, sugar, coconut, raisins, pistachios and almond slivers. Cook for a final couple of minutes until the sugar is dissolved. Remove from the heat and stir in the ground cardamom and kewra or rosewater. Cool and chill.

Serve in individual dishes.

Mild Madras Curry with Fresh Spices

Serves 8


900g (2lb) boneless lamb (leg or shoulder is perfect)

Nut milk

110g (4oz) almonds

475ml (16fl ozs) light cream

1 tbsp pounded fresh green ginger


50g (2 oz) ghee or clarified butter

4 onions — sliced in rings

4 cloves of garlic

2 tsp coriander seed

2 tsp black pepper corns

1 tsp green cardamon seeds, start with whole green cardamon pods if possible

8 whole cloves 1 tbsp turmeric powder

2 tsp sugar

Some freshly squeezed lime juice


Segments of lime


Trim the meat of the majority of the fat. Blanch, peel and chop up the almonds (they should be the texture of nibbed almonds). Put into a small saucepan with the cream and simmer for 4-5 minutes. Turn off the heat and leave to infuse for 15 minutes.

Meanwhile peel the ginger thinly with a vegetable peeler, pound into a paste in a pestle and mortar, or chop finely with a knife, or grate finely on a slivery grater.

Cut the meat into 4 cm (1½in) cubes and mix it with the ginger and a sprinkling of salt.

Melt the butter and cook the onion rings and crushed garlic over a gentle for 5 minutes. Remove the seeds from the cardamom pods and measure 1 teaspoon. Discard the pods.

Grind the fresh spices, coriander, pepper, cardamom and cloves in a clean spice or coffee grinder. Add the spices to the onions and cook over a medium heat for 2-3 minutes. Remove the onions and then add the meat to the saucepan. Stir over a high heat until the meat browns. Return the onion and spices to the pot. Add the nut milk, turmeric and sugar. Stir well. Cover and simmer gently on top of the stove or better still in a low oven 160C/325F/Gas Mark 3, until the meat is cooked (1 hour approx.) Finish by adding a few drops of lemon or lime juice to taste.

Serve with plain boiled rice, basmati rice with star anise, lime segments and other curry accompaniments which might include — bowls of chopped mango, tomato chutney, Raita, chopped apples. A hot chilli sauce is also good and of course some Indian breads – poppodums, Naan or Paratha.

Note: 1 biggish leg of lamb or mutton will yield approx 3 lbs (1.35kg) of meat.

Laxmi’s Lassi

Laxmi whose family owns the gorgeous Leela Palace Hotel in Mumbai gave me this recipe.

Serves 1


75ml (3fl oz) best quality natural yoghurt (see recipe) (not low fat)

175ml (6fl oz) water and ice mixed

½ green chilli seeded and chopped

2 fresh curry leaves

4 fresh mint leaves

Pinch of salt


Put everything in a liquidizer and whiz for a few seconds. Serve in a tall glass.

Laxmi whose family owns the gorgeous Leela Palace Hotel in Mumbai gave me this recipe.

Indian Spiced Vegetable Pakoras with Mango Relish

Mangoes are a great source of betacarotene and Vitamin C. They aid digestion, reduce acidity in the system and help cleanse the blood.

Serves 4-6



1 thin aubergine cut into ¼ inch (5mm) slices

1 tsp salt

2 medium courgettes, cut into 1 inch (2.5cm) slices, if they are very large cut into quarters

12 cauliflower florets

6 large mushrooms, cut in half


6oz (175g) chick pea or all-purpose flour

1 tbsp chopped fresh coriander

1 scant teaspoon salt

2 tsp curry powder

1 tbsp olive oil

1 tbsp (freshly squeezed lemon juice

6-8fl oz (175-250ml) iced water

vegetable oil for deep frying


Lemon wedges and coriander or parsley.


Put the aubergine slices into a colander, sprinkle with the salt, and let drain while preparing the other vegetables.

Blanch the courgettes and cauliflower florets separately in boiling salted water for 2 minutes. Drain, refresh under cold water, and dry well. Rinse the aubergine slices and pat dry.

Put the flour, coriander, salt and curry powder into a large bowl. Gradually whisk in the oil, lemon juice and water until the batter is the consistency of thick cream.

Heat good quality oil to 180C/350F in a deep fry. Lightly whisk the batter and dip the vegetables in batches of 5 or 6, slip them carefully into the hot oil. Fry the pakoras for 2-3 minutes on each side, turning them with a slotted spoon. Drain on paper towels and keep warm in a moderate oven (uncovered) while you cook the remainder. Allow the oil to come back to 180C/350F between batches. When all the vegetable fritters are ready, garnish with lemon wedges and fresh or deep fried coriander or parsley. Serve at once with mango relish.

Mango Relish



2fl oz (50ml) medium sherry

2fl oz (50ml) water

2fl oz (50ml) white wine vinegar

2 tablespoons sugar

½ cinnamon stick 1 star anise

½ teaspoon salt pinch of ground mace

1 mango, peeled and diced

1 small red pepper, seeded and diced

1 tablespoon lemon juice


Put the sherry, water, vinegar, sugar, cinnamon, star anise, salt and mace into a small, heavy bottomed saucepan. Bring to a boil and simmer over medium heat for 5 minutes. Add the mango, pepper, and lemon juice, lower the heat and simmer for 5 minutes more. Remove from the heat and let cool completely. Spoon into a screw top jar and refrigerate until required.

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