At seventeen, when I was living in a semi-cloistered convent in south India, I got my first taste of Christmas. A Hindu by birth, I had spent my whole life until then in the Muslim Middle East and had yet to experience a true Christmas. As a boarder at the convent, I observed that year-round the nuns did not think twice about the food, perhaps looking to it just for essential nutrition. But the first Christmas I was there, I noticed them fussing and fawning over sweet coconut and savory rice, trying to feed us the perfect meal. At lunch we were served a rice dish laden with raisins and nuts, by the conservative standards of the convent. But my favorite part were the kalkals: small, sweet balls of dough, fried in oil. They looked like little ribbed conch shells! The nuns at the convent came from all over India; this dish seems to have its roots in Goan cuisine, which is influenced by the Portuguese who ruled Goa for close to a century. We boarders were given a limited quantities of these beauties at tea-time and I have to admit being caught stealing a few extra from the nuns’ pantry! But it was Christmas and in the spirit of the season, I was forgiven!
Today, I make these for my American born kids who prefer it spiced with pumpkin spice and dusted with confectioner’s sugar. It always makes our holidays special.
Pumpkin Spice Kalkal Cookie
Yield: About 40-42
1 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons sugar
Pinch of salt
½ teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup unsweetened coconut milk
Vegetable oil, for deep-frying
Confectioners’ sugar, for dusting
- In a wide, deep bowl, stir together the flour, sugar, salt and the pumpkin pie spice. Add the butter and mix well. Stir in the coconut milk a little at a time. Working in the bowl, knead the dough until pliable and soft. Allow the dough to rest for 5 minutes.
- Lay out a piece of parchment paper on the work surface. Pinch the dough into pea-size balls and set aside on the parchment.
- To shape the cookies, place a dough ball on the back of a fork at the end of the prongs. Flatten the ball over the prongs into an oval disk. Roll the disk onto itself so the ridges are on the outside. (The rolled cookies will look like gnocchi!) Press the ends together to close the cookie, or it will unfurl when you fry it. Set each shaped cookie back on the parchment.
- Heat the oil to in a deep saucepan. To see if the oil is ready: drop a small piece of prepared dough into the oil. If the dough rises up immediately, your oil is ready. If your oil is not hot enough, the cookie will not cook evenly and if it is too hot, this delicate cookie will burn.
- Line a plate with paper towels.
- Add the kalkals to the hot oil a few at a time. Don’t crowd them or they will stick together. Fry for about a minute, until they begin to turn golden. Remove with a skimmer and place on the paper towels to drain. Dust immediately and generously with the sugar.
- Repeat until all the kalkals have been fried.
- These will keep for about a week, stored in an airtight container.