Observed by millions of Hindus, Sikhs, Jains, and Newar Buddhists throughout the world, Diwali is a festival which celebrates the spiritual victory of light over darkness and of good over evil. The third day of the festival, which this year falls on November 14th, is typically the most significant of Diwali’s five-day stretch. Families visit their elders, dress up in their best clothes, light fireworks, partake in feasts, and gift and share mithai (sweets and desserts) with loved ones.

Of great importance to the celebrations therefore, as for many other religious and cultural holidays, is the food; in particular mithai which, if made at home, will often be prepared weeks in advance. Mithai serve a number of purposes during the festival: they are a sign of welcome and appreciation when gifted to friends and family; they are offered up to deities during puja (worship) and become prasad, which worshippers then consume.

Photo by Udayaditya Barua

There are hundreds of varieties of mithai, a testament to the richness of regional culinary traditions throughout India and surrounding countries. So, what better way to mark the occasion than to take a look at some of the sweetest treats typically enjoyed during the Festival of Lights?

Halwa

A generic term for fudgy, soft sweets made from any combination of plain white flour, gram flour, cracked wheat, carrots, condensed milk, ghee, sugar, cardamom powder, saffron, rose water, or any other delicious ingredients.

Laddoo

Made with flour, ghee, and sugar, these ball-shaped sweet treats will sometimes have chopped nuts, sesame seeds, cardamom, or raisins added to them. Different varieties will use different flours, such as gram flour, semolina, or ground coconut.

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Roshogolla

Originally from eastern India and Bangladesh, roshogolla is another sweet, decadent, ball-shaped dessert made from chenna (milk thickened into a soft dough). They are then soaked in syrup and topped with cardamom or saffron.

Gulab Jamun

Made with powdered milk, flour, ghee, and baking powder, these doughy snacks are deep-fried and then simmered in sugar syrup until golden brown.

Barfi

A generic term for dense, milk-based sweets that can come in any number of flavours, barfi tend to be made from thickened condensed milk, sugar, and include nuts, cardamom, rose water, kewra water, silver or gold leaf, depending on the variety.

Sheera

Usually served warm, sheera is made from semolina or coarse wheat flour, which is cooked in ghee with cashew nuts, raisins, saffron and cardamom. It is sometimes served with fresh fruit, like mangoes or bananas.

Kheer

Kheer is a soft pudding made by boiling milk and sugar with either rice, cracked wheat, tapioca, or vermicelli. Cardamom, raisins, saffron, nuts, or other dried fruits can also be added.

Balushahi

Akin to small doughnuts with a flaky texture, balushahi are deep-fried in ghee and dipped in syrup.

Mawa Kachori

Mawa Kachori are crispy, round pastry shells filled with thickened condensed milk, nuts, and cardamom.

Shrikhand

Made from strained dahi (homemade yoghurt) with saffron, cardamom, and nuts, shrikhand also comes in various fruity versions and is often eaten with puris (a sort of flat bread made from unleavened flour and deep-fried).

Ukkarai

Originating from South India, these are usually made from split chickpeas and moong beans, and sauteed with nuts, raisins, or coconut. The dish is then served with jaggery syrup.

We wish you the happiest Diwali!

With special thanks to Nisna Mahtani.