Monday, October 24, 2016

Narayan Pujo'r Shinni - a Prashad fit for Dessert



I am not a very ritualistic person. I am kind of wishy-washy around them. If a ritual is something that my heart takes after and is easier to get done with, I will do it. If not, I will probably skip. I am not a very religious person either or rather I am not very ritualistic about the religion that I follow. I like praying and I light incense sticks almost every other evening for a set of gods in my Puja corner. It doesn't matter if I am having my periods, I will still do it. If I don't feel like on some evening, I don't.


This is very different from the way I have grown up in a home where rituals were strictly adhered to.

With age, I see my parent's vision has changed regarding religious rituals too. My father is no longer as conservative as he was some twenty years back. He reads vedas and the other day was telling me, how some of the words in Sanskrit mantras like "Hrring", "Krring"-- which are actually sounds(dhwanis) with no literal meaning -- were actually derived from the sounds of nature, which was what the early humans were afraid of and thus prayed to. His belief in the ritualistic form of prayers has waned too, making it easier for me to relate to his pujas.



So this time when my parents wanted to do the Kojagari Lakhsmi Pujo , which they have been doing at their own home for many many years on the night of the first full moon after Durga Pujo, I agreed to all the little nuances. I do this Pujo, other years too, but in my own very random way. This time I agreed to the rituals as they did not seem too rigid and gave me excuses to buy the the brass lamps I have always had eyes on.

Since we were having the Pujo, I asked my Mother to make Shinni. Shinni, is a very simple prashad made with atta(whole wheat flour), sugar, bananas, milk--- many of you are thinking banana bread at this point but no--all mixed together with hand and offered to Lord Satya Narayan. This is a typical prashad made only during SatyaNarayan Pujo but I love it so much that I insisted and my Mother obliged this time.



Monday, October 03, 2016

Sondesh -- the fabled Bengali Sandesh


A Bengali Food Blog and not a single Sondesh recipe in there. "Chee, chee, ...", the Bengali Mashima in her wide red bordered spun cotton sari spat out a stream of betel juice in disgust. The other ladies in their filigreed gold bangles stopped midway in their task of "boron", feeding Ma Durga pieces of sondesh and smearing her with Sindoor on BijoyaDashami, and looked at me with rebuke writ on their face. Ma Durga's face shimmied in the rectangular mirror placed for Dorpon Bishorjon. I hate betel juice and was about to say a few choice words to Mashima when the darn alarm went off.

Phewww...so this was just a dream, I looked around trying to spot betel juice stains lurking in any corner. None. That settled, I switched my thought to Sondesh or rather Shondesh. Really , why did I not have a decent sondesh recipe on my blog ? I did have two "faankibaaji" recipes but not the real deal. Why oh Why ?

"Wait. I can explain", I said. And then I gulped for what I was going to say was close to blasphemy. But "Honesty is the Best Policy" was my favorite topic to write essays on and so I decided what the heck...I do not like Sondesh. That is the sweet Sondesh. I have always liked the children's magazine Sondesh but that we are not discussing here. There, I said it. Sondesh does not feature among the sweets I would like to eat after I have come back from Mars or the Alcatraz. Nope. I will take Kalakand, KheerKodombo, Crisp raas soaked Jilipi, ChamCham, Kheerer Shingara, Motichur Laddus, Chanar Jilipi, Ledikeni, Kheerer Naaru, LobongoLotika and then, only then shall I consider the Sondesh.




I have no concrete reasons why I don't like it given that all my childhood, my Ma kind of force fed me Sondesh. Every winter vacation that we spent in Kolkata was marred by huge Kara Pak er sondesh from Balram, Taal Shaansh sondesh or Jol-Bhora sondesh made of nolen gur with a spot of liquid jaggery in the core from Sen Mahashoy, creamy white shaankh sondesh shaped like a conch from the Kalika Mishtanno Bhandar near my Dida's home and several variations of the same stuff again and again.

In absence of these in our Bihari town Ma made them at home, making fresh chhana and shaping the sondesh with her dark black stone molds.I hated them all. Well "hate" is a strong word but I didn't really take to Sondesh like a Bong should. I did prefer the "Makha Sondesh", moist, warm and fresh over the harder and dried Kara Pak er sondesh but nothing to go ga ga about. The only variation of sondesh that I like is one where my Ma adds kheer to the channa and thus makes a Kheer-Chhanar Sondesh.

Many, many years later I made norom paak er sondesh at home on this Bijoya Dashami. As if the house move was not exciting enough and I needed more. I had a stash of Khejur Gur from last year and I wanted to use it to make Nolen Gur er Sondesh . I used both sugar and the jaggery but if you have enough of the Khejur Gur I suggest you use more of it. So anyway the sondesh was easy to make and pretty decent to eat, so it is definitely worth a try. If I could have done it, so can you. And then if you fall in love with the famous sweet all the more better for you.



Sondesh -- is a popular Bengali sweet made from fresh chhana/chenna aka home made paneer also known as curdled milk solids. The chhana is kneaded with sugar and different flavorings to make different variety of Sondesh. Different kind of kneading from smooth to grained, leads to different types of sandesh. Traditionally only delicate flavorings were used for sandesh like rose or saffron and notun gur in winter. While the raw flavored and sweetend channa/chenna is made into KaanchaGolla, the kneaded chenna is put back on heat and cooked further for different durations to make different kinds of sondesh. The first Sandesh was introduced by Bhim Nag in 1826 but Nakur Chandra, Sen Mahashoy and Balram are some of the oldest and famous sondesh makers of the city

Nolen Gur er Sondesh -- This is a sub-species of Sondesh found only in the winter season. The sweetener for this Sondesh is Date Palm Jaggery or Khejur Gur. This enchanting and aromatic jaggery is made by collecting the fresh sap of Date Palm Trees on foggy winter mornings. The Notun gur er sondesh has a coloring that varies from pale to a deeper shade of brown and a heady aroma if the Khejur gur is good quality.

Kaanchagolla -- In this variety the fresh warm chhana is kneaded with sugar or jaggery and then tossed into balls.The chhana is not cooked for this. Natore, a town in Bagladesh is famous for its Kaancha Golla.

Norom Paak Sondesh - In this variety the chhana/chenna after kneading with the sugar or jaggery is then put back on heat and stirred gently at low heat for a few minutes to form a soft grainy mix. "Paak" means to cook while "Norom" means soft, and that explains the process. This soft grainy mix is either shaped with molds or tossed into soft round balls. The soft grainy mix which has not been shaped yet is called "makha sondesh". The molded ones usually have the shape of conch or fish, the traditional symbols in a Bengali home.Guptiparais the home of Bengal’s first community Durga puja, the place where first branded Bengali sweets graduated from makha sandesh (sandesh mixture) to gupo sandesh (a variety of sandesh pieces)

Kora Paak Sondesh -- This is a harder variety of sondesh where the chhana/chenna is stirred for a longer time to make it hard. I have no idea how they then mold or make shapes out of it.

A very interesting article on Sondesh of Kolkata is here.








Sondesh

What You Need

Whole Milk -- 4 cups (~ 1 liter)
Lime Juice -- 2tbsp (almost 1 whole lime)
Sugar -- 1/8th cup (= 2 tbsp)
Khejur Gur -- 1/8th cup (= 2tbsp)

Note: Adjust the sugar and jaggery to your taste.You can use no sugar and all jaggery too.




How I Did It

Step 1-- Curdle Milk

Bring 4 cups of whole Milk to boil.
When the milk is boiling add about 2tbsp of Lime juice. Lower the heat. Almost in seconds you will see the milk curdle and clumps of white milk solids forming.When you see the greenish water separating take it off from heat. Let it sit for 30 secs or so.

Step 2 -- Drain chhana

Now line a colander with cheesecloth and drain the chhana/chenna/paneer. The greenish hued whey is great for making roti dough says my Ma. Next lightly rinse the chhana with water to remove the lemony taste and let it drain.
After few minutes gather the ends of the cheesecloth to form a purse like shape and squeeze out the remaining water from the chhana. Next put it on a flat plate and weigh it with a slightly heavier object and let it remain like that for the next hour.I used my mortar for weighing down, I remember my mother using her nora.

Step 3 -- Knead Chhana with sugar and jaggery

Now we have to knead the chhana. Knead the chhana with the heel of your palm for about 4-5 minutes. Add about 1/8th cup of fine sugar and knead for 4-5 more minutes until the sugar is totally mixed with the chhana. 


Since the khejur gur is usually hard, we will microwave 1/8th cup of jaggery + 1 tsp of water for few seconds to soften and then add it to the chhana. If your khejur gur is already soft, you don't need to do this. Knead for 5 more minutes until your palm is oily with the fat from the chhana.

At the end of this kneading, the chhana will look like a smooth ball of dough. Take small portion of it and toss to make small balls. These sweetened balls of raw chhana are called KaanchaGolla.

Step 4 -- Paak or Cook Chhana

Now we will do the "paak" or cook. Since I am doing a Norom Paak er sondesh we will be cooking the chhana at a very low heat.

To add saffron to sondesh, warm 2 tbsp milk in microwave and soak saffron strands in it.

Put a non-stick pan on low heat and add the kneaded, sweetened chhana. Add the saffron and milk. Stir and cook at low heat. Keep stirring with a spatula for next 10-15 minutes or so. The chhana should come together and will no longer stick to the pan by the end of this time. Take a small portion of the chhana and try rolling a ball. If you can make a smooth firm ball, the chhana is ready!

Step 5 -- Shape cooked chhana to make Sondesh

Now take out the warm chhana and immediately shape with molds or just toss into balls. If you wait, it will harden and you cannot shape it. For further decoration you can warm few strands of saffron in drops of milk and dot each sondesh with the saffron or add bits of pista.

Updated on October 2nd, 2016: Khoya and Chhana Sondesh



On this Mahalaya, we made sondesh again. My Mother presided the process, the girls helped in kneading the chhana and shaping the sondesh and I did the rest. Three generations of women made sondesh on Mahalaya to welcome the Goddess. It seemed to hold a special meaning for us. This time, as advised by my friend J, I mixed khoya and chhana to make the sondesh. I liked this one better than the ones made of pure chhana but if you like the pure chhana sondesh stick with the previous recipe.



What You Need

Whole Milk -- 2 liters
Lime Juice -- 2tbsp (almost 1 whole lime)
Vinegar -- 1 tbsp

Khoya -- 6 oz or 150gm of store bought khoya(In the US, we buy a 12 oz block of Nanak khoya, half of which was used)

Sugar -- 1/2 cup
Khejur Gur(Bengal Date Palm Jaggery) -- 1/2 cup
Note: Adjust the sugar and jaggery to your taste.You can use no sugar and all jaggery too.


Makes about 24 sondesh

Step 1-- Curdle Milk

Bring 2 litres of whole Milk to boil.
When the milk is boiling add about 2tbsp of Lime juice + 1 tbsp of Vinegar. Lower the heat. Almost in seconds you will see the milk curdle and clumps of white milk solids forming.When you see the greenish water separating take it off from heat. Let it sit for 30 secs or so.

Step 2 -- Drain chhana

Now line a colander with cheesecloth and drain the chhana/chenna/paneer. The greenish hued whey is great for making roti dough says my Ma. Next lightly rinse the chhana with water to remove the lemony taste and let it drain.
After few minutes gather the ends of the cheesecloth to form a purse like shape and squeeze out the remaining water from the chhana. Next put it on a flat plate and weigh it with a slightly heavier object and let it remain like that for the next hour.I used my mortar for weighing down, I remember my mother using her nora.

Step 3 -- Knead Chhana with sugar

Now we have to knead the chhana. Knead the chhana with the heel of your palm for about 5-10 minutes. Your palm should be oily at the end of kneading and the chhana should have come together.
Add about 1/2 cup of fine sugar and knead for 4-5 more minutes until the sugar is totally mixed with the chhana.
At the end of this the chhana will look like a smooth ball of dough.

Step 4 -- Getting Khoya ready

Soften the Khoya in Microwave. Crumble up the khoya and put in your mixer with a tbsp of milk and blitz it to get smooth khoya


Step 5 -- Paak or Cook Chhana

Now we will do the "paak" or cook. Since I am doing a Norom Paak er sondesh we will be not be cooking the chhana to hardness. We will also add the khejur gur at this point.

The khejur gur is usually solid, so in a microwave safe bowl, add 1/2 cup of loosely packed Khejur Gur and 1 tbsp of water. Microwave for a minute or until the jaggery melts.

For the "paak", put a non-stick pan on low heat and add the khoya and the liquid jaggery. Stir around for couple of minutes. Then add kneaded, sweetened chhana. Mix with your fingers. Keep the heat at low so that you can mix with hand.

After you see that the khoya and chhana have mixed together, raise the heat to medium and stir continuously for the next 15 minutes. The chhana mix will slowly come together and will no longer stick to the pan. When you can take a little of it and make a ball, you know it is done.


Step 6 -- Shape cooked chhana to make Sondesh

Now take out the warm chhana and immediately shape with molds or just toss into balls. If you wait, it will harden and you cannot shape it. If you have the sondesh moulds, grease them with ghee. Put a ball of sondesh on the mold and press to flatten it out so that it hugs the shape of the mold. Gently pry it out and put on a plate.
Keep a bowl of water handy to dip your fingers and proceed with the next ball.
For further decoration you can warm few strands of saffron in drops of milk and dot each sondesh with the saffron or add bits of pista.




Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Chicken Rezala -- a regal stew

September is close to an end. Pujo is upon us. And no has any time to breathe. I cannot believe that 8th grade and 3rd grade started in our home 3 weeks back. We are already done with "back to school" nights and summer seems to be a bygone affair.

This summer was special as my parents were here after almost 3 years. They are getting older and the visits less frequent. It is no longer easy for them to hop on a trans-atlantic flight and traverse continents. Both my girls goaded them into coming and once the flight part was put away, they were looking forward to their stay as much as us.
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We were lucky to do a lot of short trips around the home with them this summer. My father loves visiting places of interest and is comfortable with long walks, while my Mother has a bad knee which prevents her from walking more than a few yards at a stretch or standing for too long.



Thanks to my father, we re-discovered Philadelphia, surprisingly a city which we never thought of visiting unless it involved work or shows or passport office or such. But my Baba, wanted to visit Philadelphia this time and see the Liberty bell. So off we went on a Sunday morning. It was a gorgeous sunny day, one of those summer days when it is not too humid, and Philly treated us so well.

For me, the best part of Philly was the Reading Market. The covered market teeming with various food specialty shops, bakeries and people reminded us so much of New Market. I spent quiet sometime there, roaming around, not able to decide what to eat and then settled for guess what ? The Philly Cheese steak.


Another weekend we went to a beautiful sculpture garden, not too far from home. Again a place that we had always intended to visit but could never make it. The parents definitely enjoyed the sculpture garden with its unique pieces but the kids too had much fun.

Next up was the Dingman's water fall in the Delaware water gap area. Delaware water gap is beautiful with many natural jewels strewn across the area and Dingman's falls with its well constructed pathway was the ideal trail for my Ma. On our way back from the falls, we stopped by the Delaware river. The sky was overcast and soon a heavy shower rolled in. While everyone else ran back to the car, me, my Baba and Little Sis stood under the tree, breathing in the rain and gazing at the sheer curtain of rain falling on the Delaware river. It was a curious thing, how one person from each generation in our family stayed back in the rain and the other went back to the car like sensible beings.

This picture still takes me back to the day and I can hear the rain drumming on the river.



Next up was trip to the Great Wolf Lodge, a indoor water park, which had taken mythical proportions in our home by the dint of sheer marketing. I am glad we finally went and got it over with this summer.

In between we had guests, visits to the beach which is close by, movies and lots of cooking. Well honestly, my Ma was doing most of the cooking. One of the days, I made a Chicken Rezala for them. I usually make the Mutton Rezala as the goat meat packs in a lot of flavor to this otherwise light stew.



Rezala, is a very popular dish in Calcutta, a signature dish speaking volumes of Awadhi influence on Bengal's culinary history. It is a mildly spiced, yogurt-based stew with chunks of meat. To just call it a stew would be undermining this royal dish. It is not just any stew but a stew that is made regal by lightness of its gravy and the fragrance, which comes with use of Kewra and saffron. The best Rezala can be found in restaurants like Sabir's and Shiraz's in Kolkata. To have a plate of their rezala, the pale golden gravy with a thin layer of ghee floating on top and morsels of soft meat, and mopping it up with soft as mulmul roomali rotis is an experience that you would not want to miss.

I would like the add here Prtihs Sen's comments on Rezala here. She has a deeper knowledge on the subject than me and thinks the Rezala has its origin in the Afghani dish names Rasala.

"I would like to tell you my impressions about the Rezala. All muslim cuisine in Calcutta/Bengal is not Awadhi. It harks back many centuries -- from the 12th century onwards -- with the arrival of the Turks and Afghans in Bengal that established Muslim rule. and later ofcourse the Mughals. The Rezala I feel, the word probably originating from Rassala, is of Afghan origin, to be found only in two places in India actually -- Bengal and in the Rampur cuisine of central India, both very different recipes yet both Afghan strongholds at one time. Awadhi cuisine in Calcutta adapted it to fit into their offerings and while it is also found in Lucknow, its not a very popular dish there as it is in bengal. Awadhi rezalas add coconut milk or dessicated coconut." -- Pritha Sen