If you have never tried Gulab Jamun, then you likely did not grow up in a household with South Asian heritage. For while this delectable dish traces its origins to Medieval Persia, according to the book The Donut: History, Recipes, and Lore from Boston to Berlin, it has over the centuries become a staple of farther eastern communities, from India to Nepal to Pakistan and beyond. Traditionally, the dish is made with milk as its base, but as it happens, you can enjoy a vegan variety that is equally delicious.
And once you’ve tried chef and recipe developer Ausrine Zygaityte‘s recipe for sweet potato Gulab Jamun, you will spend less time debating whether or not it is a traditional take (it’s not), and more time trying to get your friends and family members to try it. While there is a fair amount of hands-on prep work here, the ingredients needed are few and are common, and the resulting dish is well worth the time and effort. Don’t worry, says Zygaityte, "an amateur can definitely pull it off!"
Now let’s get cooking!
Gather your ingredients
To prepare a large batch of these delectable little spheres of sweet goodness, you’ll need some ingredients that are pretty common in most kitchens. You’ll need about four medium sweet potatoes (three if they are large, five if they’re smaller than normal), peeled, flour, sugar, water, lemon juice, and the zest from the lemons (usually two or three lemons will do), oil for frying (canola or vegetable, e.g.), cardamom seeds, a pinch of saffron, and some of your favorite nuts, which are optional for serving but definitely recommended.
Prepare the syrup (then move on as it simmers)
Start the recipe off by zesting all of the lemons and reserving the zest for later, then juicing the lemons, ensuring you produce about 1 and a ¼ cups of lemon juice. Next crush and chop the cardamom seeds and saffron — you can use a knife or a dedicated tool.
Now mix the water, that lemon juice, two cups of the sugar, and the crushed cardamom seeds and saffron together in a saucepan and mix them, stirring over low heat, until the sugar is dissolved. While you’re preparing the Gulab Jamun itself, let this mixture simmer for at least 30 minutes.
Boil then mash the potatoes, then form dough balls
Peel and boil the sweet potatoes until they are very soft. You can rough chop them to speed up the process, and depending on the size of the potatoes or potato chunks, plan for between 20 and 30 minutes of boiling, then drain the cooked sweet potatoes and transfer them to a bowl.
Once the sweet potatoes are thoroughly mashed — you can use a fork, a potato masher, or an electric mixer for this — mix the mashed sweet potato with the flour, the lemon zest, and the remaining 1/4 cup of sugar. Depending on how wet your potatoes are, you might need to add a little bit more flour. To check the consistency, you can make a small ball, and if it holds itself, there’s enough flour. Either way, the dough should be very soft, and hard at all.
Now remove the saucepan from heat and leave it somewhere nearby to cool, then form balls between your palms and set them aside. This can be a messy task. To make the dough less sticky, you can wet your hands with water or oil.
Fry the sweet potato Gulab Jamun balls, then soak them in syrup
Now it’s time to fry those potatoes. Heat the oil in a deep pot or wok, then test the temperature with one of the Gulab Jamun balls — if it turns dark in a less than minute, reduce the heat.
Now fry the Gulab Jamun for 10 minutes (they should turn light brown) and put them straight into the syrup once they’re done frying. If they float in the syrup too much, use a spoon or other tool and lightly press them down enough to be fully submerge in the fluid. Now let them rest and soak in the sweet syrup for 10 to 20 minutes. "The only mistake I have made with these is leaving fried Gulab Jamun balls too long in the syrup," says Zygaityte, so don’t go past that 20 minute mark.
You can serve now serve these tasty treats with nuts or without, but the flavor balance is ideal with nuts — consider slivered almonds. "I recommend eating it within an hour because after that [the balls] might become hard," Zygaityte warns.
- 4 medium sweet potatoes, peeled
- ¾ cup flour
- 2 ¼ cups sugar, divided
- 1 ½ cup water
- 1 ¼ cup lemon juice and its zest (2 – 3 lemons)
- 5 cups oil
- 6 cardamom seeds
- Pinch of saffron
- Nuts (for serving)
- Start by zesting the lemons, then juicing them.
- Mix water, lemon juice, 2 cups of sugar, and the crushed cardamom and saffron in a saucepan. Cook on low heat until the sugar is dissolved, the let it let it simmer for at least 30 minutes.
- Meanwhile, peel and boil the sweet potatoes until they are very soft, for about 15-20 minutes.
- Once cooked, drain the potatoes and transfer to a bowl.
- Mash the sweet potatoes using a fork or electric mixer, until they are smooth.
- Mix the mashed sweet potatoes with flour, lemon zest and ¼ cup of sugar and set mixture aside to cool.
- Once cooled, form 1-inch balls by rolling the sweet potato mixture between your palms.
- Remove the saucepan of sugar water mix from heat and let it cool.
- Heat the oil in a pot or wok, and test the temperature with one of the Gulab Jamun balls: if it turns dark in less than a minute, reduce the heat.
- Fry the Gulab Jamun balls for 10 minutes (they should turn light brown) and then put them quickly into the syrup.
- Let the balls soak in syrup for 10-20 minutes
- Serve topped with nuts (optional) and additional syrup.