I like going into any ethnic grocery store because I always find pretty interesting and culturally specific items that I am intrigued to try. The area where I live in Manila is replete with Japanese, Korean, Chinese, Arab, and Indian grocery stores and it’s always a fun activity to just poke in there and browse the shelves for some unique ingredients that I could try incorporating in my cooking, especially if I want to create homemade version of stuff I would usually order from restaurants.
Indian grocery stores, especially, are great for exploring because they have interesting ingredients, condiments, and supplies that we don’t normally use in Filipino cooking. My eyes wander around a lot and I’m always like, “Oooh, what’s this?”
One great category of Indian grocery times are their one-step mixes that you only need to incorporate with oil, eggs or other ingredients before frying, steaming, or cooking.
I was delighted to find out that they have gulab jamun mix because this look so incredibly hard to make from scratch. That’s the great thing about this category of products, because although their original from-scratch counterparts are notoriously labour-intensive, the close is really quite similar than if you laboured over the recipe for hours. You save so much time and energy making stuff from a mix, yielding a product that is quite close to the real deal.
Gulab jamuns are a common Indian dessert, and I would always have one or two when going to an Indian restaurant. Actually, my threshold is two, because these sweet balls of milk solids and dough are VERY sweet, so sweet they make my sensitive teeth hurt. I always love this though, because they are creamy, luscious and juicy, especially when perfumed with cardamom or in some extra special restaurants, rosewater.
To make the gulab jamuns, I basically just followed packaging instructions. As recommended, for creamier gulab jamuns, I added milk in stead of water. I used Gits mix, and using milk makes the dough very sticky. It was almost too hard to work with, then I remember that I needed to add ghee so that the dough ball would come together, and it did! The grease definitely worked as a great binder, and then soon enough, I had a giant gulab jamun dough waiting to be divided into tiny serving-size balls.
I must admin rolling the dough into balls was a fun activity. To prevent the ball from sticking to my hands, I would occasionally rub ghee in between my palms to give it a bit of a greasing down. The idea is to make perfect spheres without cracks in them because the ideal gulab jamun is round, solid, and without any cracks or fissures.
I would like to have a word with the test kitchen staff at Gits, because they printed on the carton that the mix that I got would yield about 40 gulab jamuns. Yeah, maybe, if you intend to make gulab jamuns that are tiny and pathetic looking. When I did a test fry, the original serving size was so tiny that they would burn in the oil quite quickly and I was watching the frying oil like a hawk. I had to turn off the heat, started over with the rolling and made larger balls that were closer to my idea of how big a gulab jamun actually should be (photo above for comparison). I realized the day after that maybe a little smaller would have done the trick, as I forgot about the part where the gulabs take in A LOT of water that is in the syrup.
The package suggestions would look like these teeny tiny globes where as the ideal size would be something like three times the size of these small balls.
After merging three gulab dough balls, the dough balls wouldn’t smoothen out completely and it made me kind of sad. I learned a technique from YouTube that cooking oil in between palms would make a smoother orb, but I tried to no avail. Oh well. Notes for next time, then: make bigger balls.
While the balling was in progress, I cooked a syrup with sugar and just enough water to cover it. I also tossed in a few pieces of cardamom to perfume the syrup. I would probably try this with rose petals next time, since they also sell it at my neighbourhood Indian grocer. You know, to make it extra fancy. In India, they even sell gulab jamuns topped with nuts and GOLD LEAF. Gold leaf, you guys. Schmancy.
Next up, frying the dough balls in hot oil. Okay, I got maybe a tiny bit emotional because these looked a lot like the squid balls that I would eat back when I was in graduate school. I miss being out and about, truly. Perhaps one of the first things I’m gonna do as soon as quarantine is lifted and it’s safe to eat street food is to gorge on squid balls.
The ideal gulab jamun is a darker shade of brown, so definitely wait until it gets a bit of color from that Maillard reaction but do not burn it, maybe? As burnt is never good.
As soon as they are drained of excess oil, I dunked them straight into the hot vat of cardamom syrup.
I didn’t actually account for how much water the gulab jamuns would take in as soon as they hit the syrup, but in just a few hours, a lot of the liquid was absorbed by the gulabs that I had to do another pot of syrup just to be sure these balls don’t fuse into each other, if that’s even possible. I wanted these balls soaking in the maximum saturation of syrup that they could possibly absorb, and rightly so, a day after I made my batch, the result was gulabs that were just dripping in sticky and gooey syrup. I can’t imagine another closer description than heavenly.
I sent a couple of gulab jamuns to my friends, and I received rave reviews.
I waited until a day after to start digging in and boy, they were DELISH.
Soggy with syrup, beautifully scented with cardamom, and with that milky, rich and creamy texture with every bite.
I’m pretty proud I nailed this one. Even though it came from a box, there was still a lot of effort in pulling off, so yes, I’m patting myself on the back for this one.
What should I be cooking next? Seriously, you guys, I’m running out of ideas. Help!