A vegetarian feast to celebrate Diwali 2020, the festival of light 

Vegetarian biryani, candles, incense and religious symbols at Diwali celebration on the table
Vegetarian biryani, candles, incense and religious symbols at Diwali celebrations Credit: Getty Images 

Diwalior Deepavali, a word derived from Sanskrit meaning “rows of lighted lamps,” is the five-day festival of lights celebrated by millions of Hindus and Jains (which this year falls on November 14, though dates vary according to the Indian lunar calendar). 

Generally considered a celebration of new beginnings and the triumph of  light over darkness, the festival is one of the most significant in Indian culture and is marked by firework displays, which, according to legend, is to remember the celebrations which took place upon Lord Rama and his wife Sita returning to northern India from exile after defeating Ravana, the demon king.

The five days in which the festival is celebrated are as follows: Dhanteras (the beginning); Narak Chaturdasi; Lakshmi Puja (the actual day of Diwali is considered to fall on this day); Govardhan Puja, also regarded as as Annakoot meaning ‘mountain of food’; and ending on Bhai Dooj, the fifth and final day of the celebration.

During this period across the globe, streets are lit by shooting stars of pink and gold fireworks, window sills glow with thousands of earthen diyas and divas (candles), and floors are decorated with lotus-shaped rangoli made with dry flour, coloured sand or flower petals. It is also traditional for houses to be scrupulously cleaned from top to bottom. 

Food plays a central role in the festivities. Mithai – traditional sweets and desserts made with ghee, sugar, chickpea flour and a smattering of nuts and spices – are a popular choice.  On the first day of Diwali, lapsi halwa, a sweet dish of large-grain cracked wheat cooked in ghee, sugar and dried cardamom is a festive speciality and will often be followed by a yardlong bean curry, to symbolise longevity. 

The festival of lights, celebrated by millions, has family and food at its core Credit: SANJEEV GUPTA

Many extravagant versions of mithai will be made by sweet makers for the occasion; vibrant piles of crisp deep-fried chirote, balushahi (similar to doughnuts), barfi or karanji (sweet dumplings) are handed round to friends and family, often with a cup of steaming masala chai. There is also laddoo, little balls of densely packed sweets, which are reportedly the favourite sweet of elephant-headed god Lord Ganesh. 

Savoury dishes are often served alongside the sweets, despite eating out being a popular choice throughout the period. A few weeks before the festival begins, families will begin preparations for snacks including spiced bombay mix, vegetable filled samosas, pakora, and flavoured aloo. 

Indian sweets, known as Mithai, are extremely popular throughout Diwali  Credit: Helen Cathcart

These explosive little morsels can be coated with a wide variety of spices, seeds, fresh leaves and coconut flakes and come in all  shapes and sizes. They are commonly deep-fried, thus perfect for indulgent nibbling while watching the fireworks and catching up with friends. 

Diwali is an exuberant, colourful festival that celebrates the joy of light in the beginning of autumn – something that should be reflected in a vegetarian feast filled with the same warmth and freshness. So we’ve rounded up some of our very best recipes from feather-light cauliflower pakoras to sweet coconut barfi. Get prepped and dig in with this hassle-free and delicious collection.