#FestiveFood: DIY Diwali Guide

Diwali diyas

For me, Diwali is a great time of year — it’s a sure-fire excuse to indulge a love of Indian food. Dubbed the ‘festival of lights’, it lives up to its name as millions of Hindus, Sikhs, Jains and Buddhists celebrate the festival in order to commemorate the triumph of good over evil. Whether it be the story of Rama defeating Ravan or the violent king Ashoka converting to Buddhism, people unite over prayer and festivities all over the world.

Celebrating Diwali at university can be tricky, especially as there’s a distinct lack of authentic Indian food in Durham. Yes, we have some takeaways and the supposedly ‘best in Durham’ restaurant, but their food lacks the distinctive flavoursome punch that we all crave from asli (genuine) Indian food. Moreover, where are the Diwali specials? Despite searching high and low, sadly none are to be found. Credit, of course, to the Malaysian Society for setting up a Diwali/Deepavali party but, unfortunately, the food sign up has passed! As a result, I have created a DIY Diwali guide with some homemade Indian recipes to satiate your appetite for desi food for this year’s festival of lights.

Tarka Dhal (Lentils with spices)

A light fragrant dhal, tarka dhal is not only cheap and vegetarian, but also rich in protein. This is the recipe I usually use and has been adapted from my family’s favourite recipe book. Also, it’s worth noting that Indian cuisine is not one to use precise measurements, so adjust according to individual taste.

Ingredients: (Serves 4–6)

For the dhal (lentils)

  • Approx. 165g of red lentils
  • 350 ml of water (1 ½ cups)
  • 0–4 green chillies (depending on how adventurous you are)
  • 1 large onion, sliced
  • 2 teaspoons of turmeric
  • 1 can (400g) of tinned tomatoes

For the tarka (spice mixture that is added later on)

  • 1 clove of crushed garlic
  • 1 teaspoon of cumin seeds (it’s cheaper to get the East End brand rather than Tesco’s own brand, and it’s currently on offer!)
  • ½ teaspoon of mustard seeds (optional)
  • ½ teaspoon of coriander seeds (optional)
  • 3–6 curry leaves
  • 0–2 dried red chillies (depending on desired spice level)
  • Fresh coriander (garnish)


  • Place all six of the ingredients listed under ‘dhal’ in a pan and bring to boil
  • Simmer (covered) until the lentils have softened and most of the water has evaporated (if you’re having difficulties evaporating the water, uncover the pan for a short time)
  • Mash the lentils with a wooden spoon so the texture is a little smoother, then add the tomatoes and salt (to taste) – if the consistency is too thick, add some hot water
  • Grab a frying pan and fry the ‘tarka’ ingredients in some vegetable oil until the garlic browns slightly and the spices are fragrant
  • Pour the tarka into the lentils (personally I spoon some of the lentils into the frying pan to mix the spices before pouring the tarka in with the rest of the lentils)
  • Garnish with coriander

Gobi Aloo (Spicy cauliflower and potato)

This is a vegetarian staple that’s considered a treat with my housemates. This spicy Punjabi dish is also cheap, filling and full of flavour. This recipe does take longer than the tarka dhal (which is one of the easiest Indian recipes) and is a combination of a classic Madhur Jaffrey one (the Delia Smith of the Indian cooking world) and a family recipe. Although most traditional recipes would ask you to fry the vegetables which make them taste better, to be a bit healthier, I would simply parboil them.

Ingredients: (Serves 4)

  • Whole spices i.e. a couple of curry leaves, coriander seeds, whole cumin seeds (all optional but recommended)
  • 1 medium cauliflower, cut into florets and rinsed
  • Approx. 450g (1lb) of potatoes, peeled cut into wedges
  • 2 inches of fresh ginger, finely chopped
  • ½ teaspoon of turmeric
  • Salt (to taste)
  • 1 teaspoon (or more if you wish) of chilli powder
  • 2–3 teaspoons of cumin powder
  • 2–3 teaspoons of ground coriander powder
  • Fresh coriander (to garnish)
  • A couple of fresh (or ¼ of a can) chopped tomatoes (optional – this isn’t traditional but I like to add this for a slightly less dry dish)
  • A handful of frozen peas (optional)


  • Either shallow fry the potatoes for approx. 10 minutes or parboil until almost tender and then drain
  • Fry the cauliflower florets for approx. 3–4 minutes or alternatively parboil the vegetables until they are halfway done
  • (Optional) In a different pan fry the whole spices till fragrant
  • Fry the ginger (with the spices if added) for a few seconds
  • Add the turmeric, chilli, cumin, and coriander powders – if you’re using tomatoes, add them now
  • Add the cauliflower and potatoes, and stir in the spices
  • Let the vegetables cook on a low heat and add approx. 3 tablespoons of water (or more) if the mixture starts to burn before the vegetables cook properly
  • Stir periodically until the cauliflower and potatoes are cooked (the time it takes to do this will depend on whether the vegetables were parboiled or fried)
  • Add frozen peas if desired, and stir for a minute until they defrost
  • Garnish with fresh coriander

Murgh Ka Salan (Chicken curry)

Diwali is usually a vegetarian affair, but that isn’t always the case so I have included this classic carnivore dish. This particular recipe is not Punjabi, but rather a lighter South Indian/Malaysian variation that never fails to disappoint. This has also been adapted from my family’s favourite recipe book.

Ingredients: (Serves 4–6)

  • 5 cloves
  • 4–6 cardamom pods (elaichi)
  • 1 piece of cassia bark or a cinnamon stick
  • 5 star anise
  • 8 curry leaves
  • 4 onions, finely chopped
  • 4-inch piece of ginger, finely chopped
  • 6–8 cloves of garlic
  • 4 tablespoons of curry powder (I use a very specific brand of Malaysian curry powder that my dad brings back so instead, use an ordinary medium spiced curry powder!)
  • 1 tablespoon of turmeric
  • 1 can (400g) of tinned tomatoes
  • 1.3kg chicken, skinned and jointed (this was what we used at home but to get the chicken cut in the correct way, you usually need to go a Halal butcher, so in Durham I make do with a large packet of thighs and skinned drumsticks)
  • 115g of creamed coconut
  • Salt (to taste)
  • Fresh coriander (to garnish)


  • Fry the cloves, cardamom, cassia bark/cinnamon, star anise and curry leaves till fragrant (the cloves should swell slightly)
  • Add the onion, ginger and garlic and fry until the onion is soft and browned
  • Add the curry powder and turmeric for a minute or so
  • Add the chicken and cook on a low-medium heat until the meat is almost cooked
  • Add the tinned tomatoes and creamed coconut and simmer until the coconut dissolves (add water if the curry is too thick)
  • Season with salt to taste and reheat if necessary
  • Garnish with coriander and serve with rice or naan bread

Enjoy your Diwali!

P.S. Follow @TheBubble_Food on Instagram for your dose of all things good & yummy!

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