We talk you through the orange ones, the ones with nuts and those other ones
You might have already read some of the words we’ve written about Lily’s vegetarian cafe and the many wonderful Indian dishes that stream out of their busy kitchen. But this time, we felt a need to bring things back to basics.
Yes, you can find sizzling platters of homemade paneer, aromatic vegetable curries, puffed up freshly made breads and giant wafer thin dosa pancakes filled with potato and onion masala – but, believe it or not, Lily’s origins began as a sweet shop. In fact, ASM, the family-run Indian supermarket next door stands for Ashton Sweet Mart which is where Lily’s story started.
ASM began as a corner shop 45 years ago selling sweets made by the current owners' mum, Lily. Delicious vegetarian food wasn’t as widely available in those days and neither were many of the ingredients more widely found today, such as pulses, fresh vegetables and herbs. Lily soon expanded her range to include homemade samosas and other savouries, drafting in her extended family to keep up with demand – especially during Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights, of which sharing mithai, or sweets, is a big part.
These days, a display of over two dozen types of Indian sweets proudly takes over one side of Lily’s vegetarian cafe in all wonderful shapes and colours. They are all vegetarian and some are even vegan and contain no animal products such as milk or ghee. Here’s a quick guide to six of them:
This is a generic term for a wide range of sweets made from a base of milk powder, ghee and sugar cooked until the mixture solidifies (barf translates as snow.) Things can be added to produce many different types and add a range of colours, such as chocolate, dried fruit, nuts (including almonds, cashews and vibrant green pistachio) or coconut. Some have been rolled into round balls, pressed into patterned moulds, cut into diamond shapes, or two colour swirls, wedges and rolls glossy with sugar syrup or even garnished with edible silver.
This is a traditional Gujarti sweet made using gram flour, ghee and semolina. It’s a rich besan burfi with loads of dried fruits. Mohanthal has a rich flavour and a melt-in-the-mouth fudge texture. Rose water and spices such as cardamom and saffron add a unique flavour and aroma, while an assortment of slivered nuts makes the sweet richer. Mohanthal can be stored at room temperature in an airtight container for around ten days.
This is a swirly orange sweet made from deep frying a batter made from flour before soaking it in sugar syrup. The addition of saffron gives it a bright orange colour. It can be eaten hot or cold.
Beetroot or carrot halwa
This is one nutritious way to have your cake and eat it. It’s a slow cooked dessert made with grated vegetables, milk, sugar and dried fruit flavoured with cardamom. Some prefer it wet like a rice pudding, but Lily’s make it so it’s easy to cut into squares and eat on the go.
Indian desserts prepared for festive occasions, ladoos are bright orange balls made using a batter of chickpea flour, then soaked in sugar syrup flavoured with delicate rose water.
This is a speciality sweet and therefore only available as part of a special order or for festivities. It is very rich made from paneer, sugar, baking powder and nuts, sometimes garnished with edible silver leaf.
So next time you visit Lily’s make sure you leave room for pudding – or at least be wise enough to take a box with you for later.