Sunday, January 14, 2018

Poush Sankranti r Pithe

Pithe,is reminiscent of the times when paddy was harvested in the months of December-January and the new crop was celebrated by making dishes that used rice, date palm jaggery(khejur gur also collected in the winter months) and coconutPoush Parbon or Nabanno was a celebration of the new crop of rice, which was the mainstay for the then agrarian society. We have moved many years forward from those times where rice is now GMO and harvested multiple times and grated coconut can be found in the frozen aisles of grocery stores. Yet, we still take the effort to celebrate poush-parbon, in our home to honor those simpler times when we revered soil and its bounty, instead of taking it for granted like we do now.

Here is a collection of few sweets, desserts made around Poush Sankranti that I have blogged about in the past years. I have tweaked the recipes and modernized them for my own good. Ideally, the sweet stuffing for the pithes and patishaptas around this time makes use of coconut, khejur gur and milk. The crepes and outer coating of puli and pithe is usually made with rice flour.

Gokul Pithe -- My all time favorite among pithes!!!Small discs of kheer-narkol (kheer and coconut cooked together) are dipped in a batter and then deep fried. These fried discs are then dunked in sugar syrup. Mmmmm!!!

Pyarakia or Gujiya -- Not necessarily in the pithe category but when filled with a coconut and kheer stuffing these empanada style pyarakias do make the Makar Sankranti cut!

Nonta Pithe --  Dumplings made with rice flour and stuffed with sweet and savory stuffing of coconut or potato-peas for savory.

Rosh Bora -- small fritters made with Urad Dal and then soaked in a thin sugar syrup

Pati Shapta -- Crepes made of all purpose flour + rice flour filled with a kheer stuffing

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Thursday, January 04, 2018

Khichuri -- on a Snow Day

I would have never, ever thought that my first post on this New year would be a Khichuri.

Yes, the Bong's rainy day picker-upper, their precious offering to Goddesses, their solution to all word problems, the heady mix of rice and lentils with spices and veggies -- the Khichuri.

The thing is I never got the whole brouhaha over this dish.
I mean, "Dude, it is just Dal and rice, why are you going so crazy 'bout it?"

It appears, not the Bongs alone, all of India is kind of crazy about Khichdi. In fact they are so crazy that they wanted to declare Khichdi as India's National food. Seriously? National Food? When you have so many better things like Ilish er Jhaal, Dim Kosha, Biriyani, Galouti Kababs, Aloo Paratha, Mysore Dosa to choose from, you choose Khichuri. Major eye roll!

But what can I say. My Baba is major Khichuri bhokto. He loves his Khichuri with dollops and dollops of Ghee and relishes it like no other. The husband-man is another big time Khichuri fan. Although unlike my Dad, who love his khichuris whether bland or rich, this guy loves a good khichuri.

Today we have been bombarded with what the meteorologists are calling the "bomb cyclone". It has been snowing since midnight, along with a lot of wind and it looks like we are in the middle of a snow desert. Schools have been closed and there is no way any one is venturing outside. So today I decided to make Khichuri for lunch. The only silver lining in that whole cloud of Khichuri was the omelette, yes the only thing that can redeem a Khichuri for me. I don't care for fries or labra. A nice Indian omelette with onion and green chilies is my only knight in shining armor when Khichuri is for lunch.

Unlike the Bhog er Khichuri which is made without onion and garlic and with roasted moong dal, this every day Khichuri is made with Musur aka Red Lentils and has its fair share of onion and garlic.

You can serve it with an omeltte, papad, some pickle like I did or with Beguni or Begun Bhaja

So, the thing is for a long time my Khichuri would never turn out right. You would think it is an easy-peasy thing to do but somehow mine always went wrong. Either the lentils were under-cooked or the veggies were over done or something. I eventually got it right but I figured there would be hapless souls out there who like me fail at making a Khichuri. For them, I even made a shaky video of this whole Khichuri making, holding my phone in one hand!

Friday, December 29, 2017

The Great Bengali Paata Baata or veggie Pâté -- leafy greens pâté

Many, many years ago, it was a cold winter day just like today, when I was visiting my in-laws in India. Well not exactly cold like today as it was in India but it gets pretty cold where they live. Though I must say with the  sun on the terrace winter in their town is far better than here. On that winter afternoon there were several small bowls on the dining table at lunch. So yes, lunch is what I concentrate on when I visit anyone, in-laws or out-laws.

Well there were always several small bowls on the dining table but this time each of them contained a paste or mash like something in earthy colors of brown, deep green or deeper green. I had never seen the likes of them and was actually a bit suspicious with their color and portions. The husband-man however went ecstatic and shouted in glee "Baata korecho?" I was still clueless. The guy loved weird things like bittergourd and bitter neem leaves fry and so his happiness did not aid my confidence.

Nimbly I took a little of one of those baatas and mixed it with white rice and took a morsel. Flavors of mustard oil, green chili, kalonji burst in my mouth. This was good. So so good. Unlike neem paata which I detested. Surprised with the fullness of flavors and smoothness of the texture, I asked my Ma-in-law what it was ?

"Mulo Shaak Baata", she said. And then she pointed to the others and said "Kochu baata" and "Kopi paata baata"! I was bowled by all these baatas or pates or pastes. They were really heavenly. That something so simple like "Leafy greens of radish" or the "green leaves of cauliflower" could morph into something so delicious was beyond my imagination.

She explained how the greens are ground into a paste on the sheel-nora, the same pocmarked slab of stone used in all Indian homes used to wet-grind spices. After that the paste is sauteed in Mustard oil with spices like kalo jeera(kalonji), green chilies and garlic, until the water is dried out and the paste is cooked.

Sheel Nora -- though here it is being used for making posto

Back home, I asked my Mother, "How come you never made paata baata?"

She looked quizzically at me and didn't appear too happy about my allegiance towards this strange dish called "paata bata"

And when I explained what it was she dismissed it as something that Bangals make, "Bangal ra oi shob banay".

Well might be true. The Bangals, or the Bengalis who immigrated from Bangladesh during or just before partition, are known for their distinctive cooking strategies. They are also known for their enterprising habit of using every bit of vegetables and fish in a dish and not wasting even the peels. I am not sure why people from this region of Bengal are more prone to making baatas etc while the folks from West Bengal are not.

It could be that the immigrant Bengalis were more careful about not wasting food and making the most of what they had. It could also be because Bangladesh was a river state with frequent flooding, so people tried to make most of the vegetables they got during those periods of rain and flood. In both situations, the idea was to stretch to the limits of what little you had.

So whatever the reason of their origin, the pate' like dishes made from vegetable peels or leafy greens or even whole vegetables are delicious. Later my mom-in-law also made a Kaanchakolar khosa baata made with the skin of green plantains which I have shared on the blog earlier.  Last month when we were visiting my friends from Thanksgiving, my friend Deepshikha made a "Dhonepaata Bata", a similar paste like my Ma-in-law makes but with coriander leaves. It was not the "dhonepata chutney" that we make every winter. This was a cooked dish.

So once I was back in my kitchen I was itching to make a paata bata. But instead of using only Coriander leaves, I wanted to use radish greens and cabbage. And then I didn't find any radish greens at the market so I got some watercress, which we are very fond of. The paste was now made of watercress, cabbage and coriander leaves.  More of coriander and watercress and less of cabbage. I wasn't sure how the  cabbage would  turn out so I sauteed them first and then made the paste. But honestly  the transformation of these greens into this Bengali style pâté was spectacular.