Kitchener-Waterloo

Local Sikhs celebrate Guru Nanak Jayanti's birthday with a sweet treat

November 8 was the Sikh celebration of the faith’s first Guru. Food columnist Andrew Coppolino joins us to share a sweet celebratory treat that you can make easily at home – and tells us the significance of the food to the faith.

Karah prasad, a sweet celebratory treat is a pious dish says chef Jasjit Kaur

Chef Jasjit Kaur holds up a bowl of karah prasad, a sweet celebratory Indian sweet. (Andrew Coppolino/CBC)

For Jasjit Kaur, a chef and culinary instructor in Kitchener, Ont., a dish made with three simple ingredients has deeply spiritual significance — and at the same time evokes childhood memories.

"Karah prasad for me is something very pious, very pure. When I have it, it gets me to a place where I am trying to connect with God. That is how special it is to me," says Kaur.

Kaur describes the milk chocolate-coloured sweet, made slowly on the stovetop with equal parts of ghee, sugar, attar flour and water, as something akin to rice pudding or halwa (a flour-based confectionary in Israeli, Tamilian and North African cuisines).

Food plays an important role in Sikh traditions at the gurdwara, the place of assembly and worship. Served at the end of prayers in the gurdwara, Kaur says karah prasad is an important part of the feast for the birth anniversary of the founder of Sikhism, Guru Nanak, who was born in 1469. The anniversary is celebrated November 8.

This sweet treat is eaten in celebration of Guru Nanak, the founder of Sikhism (Andrew Coppolino/CBC)

Honouring Guru Nanak dev ji

A spiritual teacher, Guru Nanak taught ik Omkar:  that God is one, and that no matter your religion or caste you belong to God.

"The celebration is gurpurab which would include any of the ten Gurus that we have," says Kaur. "But this week was the celebration for the first Guru."

At gurdwaras around the globe, celebrations feature songs and hymns, prayers, readings and recitations of religious texts — and Kaur says that karah prasad is always prepared for the sweet offering after prayers.

Everyone gathers in the gurdwara kitchen to cook the dishes together, says Kaur. The vegetarian food is bountiful, and the preparation starts several weeks before the day.

"We celebrate with dhal, vegetables, salad, pickles, rice pudding. Snacks that are also served are samosas, chai tea and gulab jamun," she says.

Kaur says she encourages "positive vibes" as she prepares the dish by reciting waheguru, which means "wonderous enlightener."

Chef Jasjit Kaur explains how karah prasad is made with love and prayers (Andrew Coppolino/CBC)

Made with love

While the preparation of the karah prasad is part of a ritual, Kaur also describes it using the slogan of 1950s fast food.

"In the gurdwara, you cover and bow your head to receive the sweet offering. You fold your two hands together like a bowl, and you eat with your hands. It's finger licking good."

She adds that the karah prasad made at the gurdwara is often the best — "because of the love."

"At the gurdwara there are prayers, there is the love. I make karah prasad for every celebration. When you are cooking it, you have to be patient and not do it on high heat. You'll start to smell the aromas, and the neighbours will be knocking because something good is cooking!" she says.

Equality at the communal meal at the gurdwara is paramount, according to Kaur, given the Guru's teachings.

"Everyone sits together on the same level. It doesn't matter whether you are a king or an [ordinary citizen], everyone comes together."

But the ritual significance of the karah prasad sweet offering also has the power to rekindle childhood memories for Kaur.

"I remember at gurdwaras as a child, I would get into line three and four times for the karah prasad because I just wanted more."

The festive birthday events for Guru Nanak dev ji continue this weekend at local gurdwaras.

Karah prasad consists of four ingredients, ghee, attar, white sugar and water. (Andrew Coppolino/CBC)

Karah Prasad recipe by Jasjit Kaur

Ingredients

1 cup ghee (clarified butter)
1 cup attar (or wheat flour)
1 cup white sugar
3 cups water

Method
Heat ghee in a pan. Add the wheat flour or attar and cook gently until it is golden and aromatic. While you are cooking the flour and ghee, in a second pan boil the water and sugar together. Carefully pour the water and sugar mixture into the ghee and flour mixture. Continue to stir until the karah prasad starts to separate from the ghee. Serve warm.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Andrew Coppolino

Food columnist, CBC Kitchener-Waterloo

CBC-KW food columnist Andrew Coppolino is author of Farm to Table (Swan Parade Press) and co-author of Cooking with Shakespeare (Greenwood Press). He is the 2022 Joseph Hoare Gastronomic Writer-in-Residence at the Stratford Chefs School. Follow him on Twitter at @andrewcoppolino.

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