Tilgul is an Indian sweet made with sesame seeds and other ingredients traditionally shared on the eve of Makar Sankranti, a January 14 festival that marks the beginning of the harvest season. Indians offer tilgul to family, friends and neighbors as they say, “Tilgul ghiya ghiya goad bola”, which loosely translated means, “Eat this tilgul and share a sweet conversation”. Also called the Kite Festival, Makar Sankranti represents one of the few Indian events celebrated on a particular day of the year.
Sesame seeds represent a common herb during many Indian festivals and give the treat a crunchy texture. The seeds are roasted in a hot skillet over low heat until golden. Coconut and crushed peanuts are also browned separately to make tilgul. A form of sugar, called brown sugar, is melted before the ghee is added.
Jaggery comes from the concentrated juice of unrefined sugar cane with the molasses still intact. It can also be made with the sap of date palms, coconut trees and sago. This dark brown sweetener tastes similar to brown sugar but retains iron, vitamins and minerals.
Ghee is clarified butter free from solid milk particles and water. Cooks use this fat as a common ingredient in many recipes in Asia and India. The yogurt curd butter is heated and stirred constantly until the water evaporates. Ghee is then strained through a muslin cloth to remove any remaining sediment. It can be made from cow, goat, sheep or buffalo milk.
Indian cooks grease their hands with ghee to form tilgul balls. The mixture hardens quickly and may need reheating when making this candy. The combination of ingredients leaves a distinct flavor when eating this crunchy delicacy.
Sesame seeds thrive in warm climates and add a nutty flavor to many foods. The black, red, or yellow seeds often appear in breads, but they can also be added to sautéed vegetables or pasta dishes. A paste containing sesame seeds can be made with mayonnaise and used with tuna or poultry. In India, these seeds are essential for making tilgul and sauces.
Tilgul served during the Makar Sankranti festival, marked by the sun leaving the Tropic of Cancer and entering Capricorn, is an example of the prominence of sesame seeds during Indian celebrations. These seeds are added to bath water or placed on top of the head to blot out sins. Certain rituals during the festival offer sesame seeds to deceased ancestors, sometimes burning them or burning sesame oil. Many Indians believe that eating this sweet and other foods containing this herb can lead to spiritual development.