Roasted Chana Dal with Jaggery and Coconut (Okkarai) for Diwali

Roasted Chana Dal with Jaggery and Coconut (Okkarai) for Diwali | A festive sweet dish from South India made with chana dal, jaggery (palm sugar), coconut and ghee.

The Indian festival of lights is happening in November and I'm feeling nostalgic about the celebrations back in Malaysia. Growing up in a multicultural country means having a variety of major holidays throughout the year, and with them come various spreads of festive culinary delights. Along with Chinese New Year, Aidilfitri and Christmas, Diwali (or Deepavali) is one of the many festivals Malaysians partake in.

During these special times, we attend parties in bright, colorful clothes, and consume food and drinks not usually available at other times of the year. And because these festivals are highly family-centric, celebrations usually take place at family homes, and an invitation means privileged access to food traditions passed down over the generations. I yearned for a taste of Diwali, so I reached out to Manju of Cooking Curries for a recipe that truly represents the holiday for her.

For Manju, there has never been a Diwali without okkarai, a popular sweet dish unique to the Tamil Brahmin community in Southern India. The primary ingredients are chana dal and jaggery, delicately flavored with shredded coconut, ghee and ground cardamom. To maintain its authenticity, I made no adaptations to the recipe, and obtained most of the ingredients from an Indian supermarket. As part of the Recipe Swap collaboration, Manju recreated the Long Bean Stir-Fry recipe from my blog. Click here to check it out. 

Roasted Chana Dal with Jaggery and Coconut (Okkarai) for Diwali | A festive sweet dish from South India made with chana dal, jaggery (palm sugar), coconut and ghee.
Roasted Chana Dal with Jaggery and Coconut (Okkarai)
A special Diwali recipe adapted from Cooking Curries. Okkarai is a festive sweet dish from South India made with chana dal. Jaggery is unrefined sugar typically derived from the sap of palm trees while ghee is a form of clarified butter. To make it vegan, coconut oil can be used in place of ghee. If possible, do not substitute jaggery as it gives okkarai its signature deep sweet taste that pairs delightfully well with ground cardamom. However, if you have difficulty locating jaggery, the palm sugar often used in Southeast Asian cooking comes really close. Most importantly, do not confuse chana dal (also known as split chickpeas) with chickpeas as they are not interchangeable in this recipe. 
1 cup chana dal (also known as split chickpeas/ gram dal)
1 cup jaggery powder (or palm sugar)
1/2 cup shredded coconut
1 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/4 cup + 1 tablespoon ghee (clarified butter)
8-10 cashew nuts, for garnish (optional)
Wash chana dal under running water for about a minute. Drain and dry roast them on a pan over medium heat until they turn slightly brown, stirring frequently for even roasting and to prevent burning.
Add enough water to cover the roasted chana dal and cook until they are soft but still intact, about 10 to 15 minutes. Check occasionally by squeezing them between your fingers. They are done if they mush with considerable pressure. Be careful not to overcook.
Drain in a colander and set aside for a few minutes to let all the water run out. Then pat dry with a kitchen towel. Pulse the chanal dal in a food processor until crumbly and resemble fine breadcrumbs.
Place jaggery with 1/4 cup water in a pan over medium heat and stir until it is fully melted. Gradually add ground chanal dal and keep stirring to avoid clumping. Mix well to thoroughly combine.  
Lower heat and add shredded coconut, ground cardamom and 1/4 cup ghee. Stir until thoroughly combined. Transfer to a bowl and allow to cool.
Heat 1 tablespoon ghee in a small pan over medium heat. Add cashew nuts and cook until they turn golden brown. Place cashew nuts on top of okkarai and serve.