Nur’s Maleeda (Sweet Roti Balls)

Prep time
15 minutes
Cooking time
10 minutes
Recipe by Nur Salima
Nur Salimah is a former dietician, a mum of three and principal carer for her elderly parents. She has been involved with fundraising activities and social events at Amity College in western Sydney where one of her cousins teaches.

I am Nur Salmah Ali from Mt. Druitt, Sydney. I’d like to share some stories about how food played an important role in our family and its cultural significance and also how my mum has been such a great inspiration for me.

My mum Nur Bibi Ahmed was only 15 years old when she married my dad Niaz Ahmed who was 19 years old. That was in Fiji Islands where I was born and bred before migrating to Australia in 1996 with my parents. I have four brothers and I am the youngest of the siblings. Cooking was always my passion so I attended many courses at TAFE and worked in several food services. I also worked as an assistant dietician at a hospital for several years.

In 2004, I married Mohammed Imtiaz Ali. We have three children, Yahya (16 yrs), Nadira (14 yrs) and Samaira (11 yrs).

My maternal grandfather Mohammed Sattar Khan was just 14 years old when he came to Fiji from India with his cousins. They came from a village in the Punjab before the partition of India. The village is now part of a district called Jalandar in the Indian part of the Punjab which encompasses 142 villages.

In the 1941 census, before Partition in 1947, the population of Jalandhar was 45.2% Muslim, 27.6% Hindu and 26.5% Sikh. 10 years later, the Muslim population in Jalandhar was just 0.2%.

My grandfather and his cousins came to Fiji as indentured labourers before Partition. I often wonder what might have happened to our family if they hadn’t.

They came under a colonial labour system known as Girmit, and were promised a good lifestyle after the four month travel by boat. Their main aim was to earn money and support the rest of the family in India. When they arrived in Fiji they were asked to work in the sugarcane plantations which was very hard labour for them.

In asking about my family history, I discovered that more than one million indentured labourers, known as Girmitiyas or Jahajis, were transported from British India to work on plantations in Fiji, Mauritius, South Africa and the Caribbean. Indentured servitude was effectively a replacement for slave labour after the British Empire abolished slavery in 1833. Indentured servitude lasted until the 1920s and resulted in a global Indian diaspora. My family is part of that.

My maternal grandfather got married to my grandmother Zeenat Bibi in Fiji. They started their own family and he decided to stay in Fiji. Life was not easy but the family unity was a priority. He only went back to his village in India in 1973 and stayed there for just 6 months.

My grandmother tragically passed away when my mum was only a few days old due to complications during delivery and so mum was raised by her grandmother in a farming area. My grandmother’s parents had also come out to Fiji under the Girmit indentured labour system.

My mum helped around the farm at a very young age. The day started very early in the morning – milking the cows, planting rice, collecting firewood, separating cream from milk, washing dishes and clothes in a creek close to the house. Cooking was done on an open fire and still today my mum recalls how tasty the food used to be. From my own experience I can say that the aroma of food cooked over an open fire is better than food cooked in a gas or electric stove.

Since there were many people in a family, there was a need for rationing but mum said there was so much barakah (they were sufficiently blessed) that they never ran out of food. Food was cooked with so much love and there was never any wastage. Fresh produce was always available from the gardens. Everyone would sit on the floor and eat together, and no one complained. Space was limited in the house so sharing and caring was the priority in the family.

For lunch, generally rice and lentil soup called dhal was very popular and for dinner, roti and curry. Meat was a delicacy and a luxury and mostly it would be prepared if visitors came. Generally, the men ate first and even if there was just one or two pieces of meat left for the women and children, we would be so happy to have it.

It’s what we often made for breakfast that I would like to share today. Maleeda was a very popular food in Fiji, eaten for breakfast and also as a dessert. During Ramadan, it is prepared and eaten by many families for Suhoor (the early morning meal before sunrise during Ramadan).

In times past, people working on the sugarcane farms would start off the day with a few freshly made Maleeda with either tea or milk and this would keep them going for a while. It was also popular during the cooler seasons as ghee warms the body and keeps us from catching colds.

Maleeda is a sweet dish made from fresh or leftover parathas or rotis, crumbling them coarsely by hand and mixing them with sugar, ghee (clarified butter), cardamon, almond meal etc. It can be made with leftover rotis, but they taste better with freshly cooked rotis.

I believe the recipe must have originated from India or what is now Pakistan. In Fiji, Maleeda was traditionally made using rotis, sugar and ghee but later there were more variations. I generally prefer plain Maleeda but sometimes add almond meal or powdered cardamon.

My grandfather used to love making Maleeda and I still remember the aroma from the homemade clarified butter used in the family recipe and how my siblings would keep asking for more. My mum uses his recipe. It is simple and it’s still my favourite. I am proud that it has been used for so many generations now and I want this to continue in the future too. My children have all learnt how to make Maleeda and we often make it at home.

I am inspired by my mum and her cooking. She is in her 70’s now but is very active for her age and still makes very delicious food. She makes fresh roti for my dad every day, making the dough by hand. She does not waste any ingredients and always thinks of ways of using ingredients to make new foods. She even uses fruit and vegetable peelings to make creative and mouth-watering dips.

In our culture, girls were meant to learn all these skills and I learnt cooking from my mum at a very young age too. I am happy that I acquired these skills and have been teaching my children the life skills to be self-sufficient. I am hoping to compile a recipe book of my mum’s recipes so that my children and others can benefit from it too.

Many of the younger generation may be less familiar with Maleeda. It has become a delicacy now because not so many people make it – but if someone hears about it, then they really want to have a bite. It really is one recipe that needs to be trialled out and I am sure you will enjoy it.

The video showing you how to make Maleeda was produced by the students of Amity College, and presented by Mariam Jaffar.

Nur Salimah
March 2023

The recipe
2 cups plain flour 
I cup hot water
3 Tbsp oil 
1/4 cup brown sugar 
3 Tbsp ghee (clarified butter)
Follow these steps
Step 1

Make the dough using the flour, hot water, and oil either by hand or dough maker. Divide the dough into 4 balls. Flatten out a ball of dough, add a bit of ghee and form a square.

Step 2

Roll the dough into a square and cook on low to medium heat on a griddle. Cook till light brown.

Step 3

While the rotis are still warm, tear into pieces and add sugar and ghee. Mix all the ingredients together using your hands. Alternatively, this step can also be done using a food processor. Once the mixture feels wet, start making small balls out of the maleeda mixture.

Optional: almond meal (1Tbsp) or desiccated coconut (1 Tbsp), powdered cardamom (1 tsp) can be added to the mixture too.

Step 4

Serve the maleeda as a snack or as part of a meal-breakfast (with a hot beverage), when breaking fast (Iftar) or as a dessert with tea or coffee. This is a quick energy booster.