Sneha is the Sanskrit word for oils extracted from plants & animals, and it also means “friendly” in Tamil, Hindi, and other Indian languages. Apparently oil is viewed as a friendly substance and it plays a vital role in Ayurveda as it purifies, calms, and nourishes our mind & body. It is no wonder that we follow the tradition of taking oil bath (ennai kuliyal) using sesame oil & heating up an oil pot (ennai chatti kaya vaipathu) with peanut oil for frying sweet/ savory stuffs on the day of Deepavali as it signifies purification, peace & prosperity. My mother usually makes deep-fried mundhri kothu/ suseeyam (sweet) and vadai / bajji (savory) on Deepavali.

Diwali Ukkarai
Deepavali is celebrated to commemorate the victory of Lord Krishna
over Narakasura (the demon),
and hence it is customary to use oil on Deepavali for purification.

As ghee is regarded as the sacred oil, we also make ukkarai (sweet lentil crumble) shallow fried in ghee on the day of Deepavali. Ukkarai is generally prepared by grinding soaked lentils into a coarse paste and then stir frying it in copious amounts of ghee until cooked well.

ukkarai-image Ukkarai

Since this procedure is time consuming and requires constant stirring, I prefer to steam the lentil paste and saute in little ghee until the steamed paste turns sandy. The star ingredient in here is the edible camphor (pachai karpooram) as it lends a sweet aroma along with cardamom powder. Now the recipe for ukkarai, a traditional Deepavali sweet popular in Tirunelveli & also in Chettinad:

ukkarai-1 Ukkarai

Yields: 1 and 1/2 cup


Bengal gram (chickpeas/ kadalai paruppu)1 cup (approx. 200 g)
Jaggery (powdered)1 cup (approx. 200 g)
Ghee1-2 tbsp
Ghee-roasted cashew nutsas desired
Cardamom (powdered)3
A grain of edible camphor
ukkarai-ingredients Ukkarai

Mise en place:

  • Wash & soak Bengal gram for 2-3 hours.
  • Drain the water completely.
  • Blitz the lentils for few seconds into a coarse paste.
  • Steam the lentil paste for about 10 minutes (or until the toothpick inserted comes out clean).
  • Refrigerate the steamed lentil in an airtight container when it reaches the room temperature. (This ensures the beautiful crumbling of lentils.)
Bengal-gram Ukkarai

Ukkarai making:

  • Add the cold lentil paste into a mixer jar, and run the mixer in pulse mode until nicely crumbled.
  • Heat a non-stick pan with powdered jaggery in medium flame.
  • Add 2 or 3 tbsp of water and stir until jaggery is dissolved and the syrup started bubbling away.
  • Add the crumbled lentil and mix well.
  • Add ghee-roasted cashew nuts and a tbsp of ghee.
  • Now reduce the flame to low.
  • Stir in until the mixture loses almost 80% of the moisture in it.
  • Add powdered cardamom & crushed edible camphor and mix well.
  • Remove from flame.
  • Serve ukkarai warm or at room temperature.
Ukkarai-recipe Ukkarai

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