Community Food: Holi


Welcome to Community Food! Join us as we celebrate the holidays and life events that have brought so many of our students, teachers and friends in the community together, shaping our identities through food, tradition and celebration. For each of the major holidays observed in our community, we will feature one of our students or teachers, along with the recipe that they say reminds them most of that time. Often we will re-create these recipes and post them here, so that we can share more of the rich cultures that make Canada so special.    

From the evening of Sunday, March 12 to the evening of Monday, March 13, millions of people around the world will be celebrating Holi, the Hindu spring festival. However, you’ll find it impossible to find another place where they celebrate with such joy as they do in India. Harpreet Bansal, a student in CIES’ LINC program, moved to Canada from Punjab in India in 2014. Here she shares a few of her childhood memories of Holi as she celebrated it with her family. She has also generously shared the recipe that reminds her most of that time – gujiya.


Holi is an ancient Hindu cultural and religious festival. When the winter season ends and the spring season begins, that’s the symbol of that festival – we celebrate. We celebrate over two days – the first day, during the nighttime, we have a bonfire, and around the bonfire we pray together in a gathering. We destroy our evils, our bad things – this is the one part where we destroy all our bad things, our bad habits, and on the next day we celebrate with colours with our relatives, with our family – a real carnival festival. This day is also symbolized by our relatives – if we’ve fallen out with our relatives, we just break out the relationship and start new – we forget about the fights, we just share our good things with each other and we just play and laugh and do the watercolours. I’m from India, in Punjab – Ludhiana. The main thing of the festival [for us] is the victory of good things over the evils. That’s why the people celebrate this function, to forget every bad thing, and share our good things, and start a new life together. You can also call it a festival of love and a festival of colours.

As a kid, I’m from a Sikh family, and we played Holi a lot. Everybody celebrates Holi now – its symbolism is definitely Hindu, but everybody takes part and celebrates now. I belong to a joint family, so we have so many cousins – we have one street, and nine houses in the street [all belong to] my cousins! When we were little, we woke up early in the morning, without having to be shouted for, and we’d leave the house and start to throw the colours – some people would be sleeping in bed still, and we’d cover their face with colours to wake them up – we’d take water guns, and spray colours on anyone going through the street – we’d throw water balloons on them.

There is a park in front of the house, and what we do is we have a music system out there, we shoot everyone in the street, put safety guards up, and we celebrate with all the neighbours and relatives in the park, and play with colours and flowers, and that’s family fun. It was 3 ½ years ago when I came to Canada. I haven’t been back to India for Holi yet.

If you go to some poorer areas – like Madhya Pradesh – with lots of poor people, they can’t afford the colours – some people play with mud, some people play with eggs. One time I went to one of these places, and I saw, they just play with mud from the potholes in the streets – they put eggs on their faces, on their backs! Those who are very, very poor can’t afford Holi colour.

And lately the government [has developed new colours], they’re not bad for your skin – they regulated the colour industry. The government wants only good, natural colours to play with  – 10 years or 15 years ago the colours were very allergic – those people who have allergies will have rashes on their faces, so some people tried to stop the play with colours entirely – so the government made some special non-toxic colours that people are happy to buy. And last year I asked my relatives – those who don’t want to play with the colours, what can they do? And they can play with flowers.

Others, those who belong to Hindu families, they have a drink, it’s a very drowsy drink, it’s kind of like alcohol – it’s not alcohol, but it’s a kind of drug, when the people drink that, they are totally drowsy, they are out of mind – if you drink that, and you start to laugh, you’ll be laughing all day long. [Interviewer: Is that what bhang is?] Yes, it’s bhang! It’s like a weed, kind of a green colour. They crush the leaves, water comes out, and they add it into milk and drink it. Some in the Hindu religion think this is a good sign, to drink – whatever bad things are in our sight comes out when we speak, so our soul will be [clean], we get out our frustration and things and feel good.

When I celebrate here in Canada, I make a rangoli in front of my house, just a symbol that today is the festival of colours. Rangoli is the major symbol of holi, but we also do it for other functions, like during Diwali. If you’re in India during the Holi season, most of the Hindu people will have decorated their homes with their rangolis, and decoration pieces. They are in front of the door and on the walls, and you can draw things on your plants, it’s up to you how much you want to do! I just do some art or some paintings on the steps where I enter into my home. Because there’s too much wind [in Calgary], you can paint the rangoli using water paints or with acrylic paints so your design doesn’t blow away. Also, oily food, deep fried foods, like laddoo – are traditional at this time. It’s simple – you make a dough, with a sweet dough, and try to make a round shape, fry it and eat it. Another special Hindu food is gujiya – it’s dough filled with sweets, with nuts, and we fight with it, and we also share it with each other on that day.

Baked Gujiya

(This recipe makes eight large gujiya. For the original, click here.)

Pictured below, and which you might need:

making gujiya

  1. Khoya, tightly packed and then grated – 1 cup
  2. Salt – ¼ tsp
  3. Icing sugar – 1/3 cup
  4. Green cardamom pods or cardamom powder – ½ tsp
  5. Pistachios – approx. 10
  6. Raisins – approx. 10
  7. Cashews – approx. 10
  8. Ghee – 2 ½ tbsp
  9. All-purpose flour – 2 cups


For the pastry:

  1. Mix the all-purpose flour and salt in a bowl.
  2. Heat 2 tbsp ghee in a small saucepan. Pour the melted ghee over the flour, breaking it up with your fingertips so that the flour forms a breadcrumb texture.
  3. Add water a little at a time and begin to knead the flour – the dough will begin to form. Knead until the dough is firm and smooth.
  4. Cover the dough with a moist towel and set aside for 30 minutes.

For the filling:

  1. Grate the khoya using the fine side of a box grater.
  2. Chop the pistachios, cashews and raisins.
  3. Melt ½ tbsp. ghee in a small pan. Add the grated khoya. Stir the khoya continuously over low heat until it begins to form around itself. Take it off the heat and allow to cool completely.
  4. When cool, add the icing sugar, chopped nuts and raisins, and cardamom powder to the khoya. Mix well and keep aside. Add more sugar if desired.

For assembly:

  1. Preheat the oven to 390 F.
  2. Divide the dough into two parts. Make a medium log out of each part and slice it into equal parts, about the size of a small lime.
  3. Roll each part in your palms to make balls and place all the balls back in the same dough bowl, and keep covered with the moist kitchen towel.
  4. Dust the rolling board lightly with flour, and, using a rolling pin, roll each ball into a small circle 4-5 inches in diameter. Try not to add too much flour while rolling.
  5. Using your finger, trace water around the edge of the dough circle. This will help the edges stick together.
  6. Place about 1 heaping tbsp. of the filling in the middle of the dough circle. Lift up one edge of the dough and fold it over the other, so that the dough forms a half moon shape. Using a fork moistened with water, press down on the edges all around the dough to seal it so that no filling escapes. Set the gujiya on a cookie sheet and repeat for the rest of the dough.
  7. Brush the prepared gujiya with melted ghee and then place in the oven for 20 to 30 minutes, or until they are golden.




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