Punjab Sweets, $4.75-10.99 per pound
When food writer Jeffrey Steingarten compares Indian sweets to cosmetics, I'm with him--but only up to a point. While he concludes that, ”The taste and texture of face creams belong in the boudoir, not on the plate,” I'd happily eat these rich and luxuriously perfumed desserts in any room of the house.
Aptly enough, the glass cases (below) full of housemade mithai (literally "sweet things") at Pujab Sweets in Kent are as artfully arranged as eyeshadow samples at Sephora. This small shop regularly makes more than 20 different varieties, including (above, from top) besan (creamy yet earthy fudge with toasted chickpea flour), rose burfi (delicately floral fudge), rasgulla (fresh cheese soaked in syrup), coconut roll, and kalakand, (a moist but crumbly cream cake).
The most prevalent ingredients are dairy products such as whole milk, cream, cheese, and ghee (clarified butter), and a wide range of grains, nuts, and pulses, which are used both whole and ground into flour. Cooks can manipulate the flavor of these staple ingredients by cooking or toasting them, or by adding ingredients like coconut, rosewater, cardamom, saffron, or chocolate. Finally, the mithai are formed with care--balls are rolled by hand, sheets are cut into regular rectangles or diamonds--and perhaps given a finishing touch, such as a sprinkle of crushed nuts or a patch of edible silver leaf.
Mithai are an essential part of many Indian occasions and observances; although many recipes are achievable for home cooks, the labor involved, multiplied by the quantities required for big events, add up to a strong demand for professionally-made mithai. Since 2001 the Kent valley community has been able to count on Punjab Sweets, a combination confectionery and vegetarian restaurant begun by Iqbal and Gurmit Dha and Iqbal's brother Jasbir Rai and now helmed by the Dhas' daughter, Harpreet Gill. You can order hundreds of pieces for your wedding or Diwali celebration, or pick up a small assortment to try with your afternoon tea.
23617 104th Ave SE C Kent, WA 98031
253 / 859-3236