What is thala guli?
Thala guli (තල ගුලි), gingelly balls, gingelly rolls, thala bola, thala kerali! Several names for one delicious recipe, no white sugar and no gluten. One of Sri Lanka‘s most famous treats!
Several names and only two shapes: small balls and small rolls. Thala or tala (තල) means “sesame” in Sinhalese and guli (ගුලි) means “balls”.
What is kithul?
Today, we are rediscovering a small miraculous seed, sesame, and the most popular sweeteners in Sri Lanka: kithul treacle and palm sugar (jaggery).
Kithul is the Sri Lankan name given to a variety of palm trees scientifically known as caryota urens that grows in Southeast Asia and especially in the humid regions of Sri Lanka and southern India. It is a species of the palm family in Sri Lanka, Myanmar and India. It grows naturally in the wild, in forests, fields, and even in private and family gardens. This palm tree also grows in the Philippines.
What is kithul treacle?
It is made from the sap that is extracted from the stem of the flower. This juice, brought to a boil, gives a brown syrup with a slightly caramelized taste. This sweetener has the benefit of being a little less caloric than conventional sugar. This syrup is actually a mixture of equal parts of three sugars: fructose, glucose and sucrose. Our body would keep less of this syrup, a definite health benefit!
In addition, its vitamin B, vitamin C, calcium and iron content fares very well compared to white beet or cane sugar.
The history of sesame
In many countries around the world, this small seed is considered the symbol of immortality and is one of the first oilseeds known to mankind.
It is a herbaceous plant native to India and Africa, Sesamum indicum. There are two types of sesame seeds: black sesame seeds and white sesame seeds. Sesame seeds are a valuable source of nutrients enclosed in such a tiny seed.
We should learn to exploit these little gems more often! Not only because they enrich and complement our dishes, but especially because they hide, indeed, a great treasure of nutritious benefits. Like their oilseed cousins, including sunflower seeds, flax seeds, pumpkin seeds, walnuts, pine nuts, hazelnuts, or pistachios, sesame seeds are rich in unsaturated fatty acids. They are indeed healthy. Rich in calcium, sesame seeds have many other properties starting with helping maintain good cardiovascular health.
Where does the expression “Open Sesame” come from?
Ok, so the word “sesame” defines a plant from which we obtain seeds but do you know that it also designates a suitable method to open a guarded passage? A password ? A key ? A sesame!
But what is the connection between these two meanings, a seed, and a key?
In reality, the second meaning of the word comes from the famous sentence of the tale of “Thousand and One Nights” uttered by Ali Baba to open the cave: “Open Sesame!”
Sesame seeds grow in a pod that opens when it matures, and this phrase probably refers to the unlocking of the treasure. But if you look closely, you will learn that sesame has been … a true sesame (a key) in many cultures and for many centuries!
There are several assumptions about the origin of this sentence and its formula:
– Sesame produces an oil that can be used to grease door hinges.
– The name of paradise in the Kabbalah is also one of the hypotheses. Sesame is indeed a reduplication of the Hebrew name of God, šem-šamáįm (“shem-shamayim” שם שמים, the name of heaven).
– Sesame would be linked to magic practices of door openings among the Babylonians.
– The use of sesame oil for lighting could justify the phrase “Open Sesame”. In India, this expression means: “bring the lights, turn on the lamps”.
– It is also possible that the word simsim (sesame, in Arabic), is a deformation of timtim meaning “lid”, “cap”.
What are the health benefits of sesame?
Sesame seeds have been around for 5000 years. The Indians themselves attribute the origin of sesame to a gift from the Gods. According to Indian literature, sesame seeds were born from the sweat of Vishnu. Moreover, in Ayurvedic culture, this plant is a symbol of immortality.
The importance of sesame in Indian culture is proven not only in Ayurvedic medicine, but also in the sacred texts of Buddhism, being one of Buddha’s main foods.
The nutritional and medicinal value of this small treasure is also highly appreciated by the Egyptians. These seeds were already mentioned as remedies in the Papyrus Ebers (around 1550 BC), one of the oldest medical treatises.
There was no way we would have missed the importance of this small and yet so rich sesame!
As for the recipe technique for thala guli, and even if you are very tempted, I strongly advise against the use of an blender. Tradition requires the use of a mortar, pestle and… elbow grease!
As for their shape, for the rolls, I used the same tubes I used for kremrole, this time, by inserting the dough inside the tubes that I slightly greased and with the help of a wooden spoon to gently remove it from the tube without damaging it. Very easy!
We tasted them with a delicious tea … a Ceylon tea, of course!
- 1½ cup white sesame seeds
- ⅔ cup palm sugar (jaggery), grated
- 1 cup desiccated coconut , toasted
- ½ cup palm syrup (kithul treacle)
- 1 pinch salt
In a skillet (or in the oven at 300 F), toast the sesame seeds over low heat until lightly brown.
Proceed in the same way for the desiccated coconut until it is evenly golden brown.
Add the toasted sesame seeds and salt into a stone mortar (traditional method of making thala guli).
Pound the sesame seeds and salt for 15 minutes.
Add the grated palm sugar and crush the mixture again for 5 minutes.
Add the toasted coconut and continue crushing the mixture for 10 minutes.
In a large thick-bottomed non-stick pot, add the kithul treacle and boil for 5 minutes over medium heat.
Add the hot syrup to the previously prepared mixture and mix for 5 minutes with a wooden spoon.
Once the mixture is warm enough to touch, mix vigorously by hand to combine everything.
Form balls and rolls.
For rolls, use metal pastry tubes.
Fill each tube with 2 teaspoons of sesame mixture and pat the mixture inside the tube with the back of a wooden spoon. Hold the tube horizontally so that the mixture does not fall.
Slowly slide the mixture onto a slightly greased parchment paper.
Repeat the process until the dough is used up.
Finally, shape the edges of each roll with a sharp knife.
To store them, wrap the thala guli in greased parchment paper or in an airtight container.
If the mixture is too dry after adding the kithul syrup, add a tablespoon without heating and kneading again.