Gulab Jamun's are one of the most popular Indian desserts. Similar to doughnuts, they are fried balls of dough that have been soaked in sugar syrup and are normally served at the end of a celebratory meal.
Made from milk powder and flour combined into a dough using fresh milk, small balls are formed and deep fried over a low heat until they turn a reddish brown. The frying normally takes around 15 minutes during which time the balls expand to nearly twice their original size. When they are ready the jamun's are slightly drained and then plunged into the sugar syrup which is traditionally flavoured with rose water (rose = gulab in Hindi). Regional variations include the syrup being flavoured with saffron and cardamom or citrus juices.
History states that gulab jamun is descended from an Arabic sweet dish called Luqmat Al Qadi and was brought to India during the Mughal era but there is an Indian folk tale that although relates back to the Mughal's, provides a slightly different take on the origination of the jamun's...
In 16th Century India a Mughal emperor, Akbar entered into a marriage of convenience with a Rajput princess, Jodha. The tale is a classic Indian love story of how what was at first just a business proposition blossomed into true love and there are many conflicting versions of the full romance. Here a segment which tells how Jodha stumbled upon gulab jamun's quite by accident!
Jodha used to love cooking for Akbar but because of her Hindu roots she was not given much support in the Muslim palace. One day whilst making the traditional sweet dish penda she accidentally dropped them into the karahi, or frying pan. She was so rushed to finish her preparations and get the King his dinner that she had no choice but to serve these deep fried balls of milk and sugar. She nervously waited as the King went through each course of his meal and finally it was time for dessert. As she anxiously watched her husband taste the fried pendas she was surprised to see a smile cross his face - much to her relief he loved them!!! A few adjustments to the recipe and Gulab Jamun's were born!
There are lots of different variations of this dessert from all over the Middle East and even the Mediterranean. A Greek version, loukoumes, is flavoured with honey and in the Turkish version the balls are stuffed with pistachio nuts before frying. Whichever way you like them these spongy little dough balls oozing sweet sugar syrup are a delicious dessert waiting to be served.