Sunday, February 20, 2011

Gokul Pithe -- sweet delight for past Sankranti


Note: This post was drafted in January just after Sankranti. I never got around posting it. I am doing it now because it is a precious recipe with wonderful results.

"What are you making?", asked my 7 year old. It was cold outside and hinted of snow. She was housebound and hovered around the kitchen.

"Pithey", I said, not wanting to go into details at that moment. Pithey was not my strong point and I needed all the concentration I could muster.

"Whaat, a back, how can you make a back ?", she was bewildered.

She was familiar with the only meaning of pithe in the bengali language, which meant the back of the human body. She had no clue about the sweeter meaning of the word, a dessert that is strongly associated with the harvest festival and made on Sankranti or Poush parbon.

My fault totally. I rarely ever made pithe. And then again you did not make a pithe at any random time of the year. It had to be in mid-January on and around the day of Sankranti, when rural Bengal celebrates Poush Parbon, the harvesting festival.

My thama, my Dad's mother was not a very enthusiastic cook and did not encourage devoting time on making or eating pithe on Poush Parbon. She made a great Paayesh and notun gur er paayesh was the only sweet that got cooked on Sankranti.

I was never too fond of pithe or paayesh and remember sankranti as days of excruciating cold in the plains where winter was usually mild. The cold winds from the north would rustle through the glossy leaves of the jackfruit tree in the garden and in absence of central heating, the only warmth would come from the mid-day sun. To soak up its warmth we would sit on the terrace, our freshly washed hair strewn across our back, the golden sun streaming down on us.

The few winters that we spent at my Dida's home in Kolkata, Poush Sankranti shone with its fervor. My Dida, a petite frame, with silver hair and betel-juice stained mouth was a cook who loved her job. She celebrated with food every small and big festival listed in the bengali almanac. Poush Sankranti in her home was a 3 day affair with sweet and savory pithes of all kind imaginable. The first batch of ashkey pithey she would store in an earthenware container as an symbolic offering to gods and later immerse it in the river. Then there would be puli pithe, gokul pithe, ranga alu'r pithe, nonta pithe and pati sapta. My grandfather would beckon to all and sundry to come and take a taste of the wonderful sweets and my poor, harried grandma would rush about grating, grinding, stuffing and frying. And that is how I like to remember her, busy around the kitchen, folding betel leaves to make a paan in between her umpteen chores and always ready with a story for us.


Once on my own, I had enough excuses to not mark Sankranti on my calendar with a red dot. After the eating orgy all through December, I had no wish to grate, grind, stuff and fry in January. This was going to be a month of sparse salads with low fat olive oil dressings.

But this Sankranti, it was different. We were going to have a different sort of party this year, a pithe party. Yes, I have an enthusiastic bunch of friends.

Goaded by all the peer pressure I gave in and started calling across oceans to get the perfect Gokul Pithe. My Ma-in-law makes the best gokul pithe to date and she was the one I needed. She gave me detailed instructions over the phone, sans any measurement of course.This time though I needed measures and did not want to risk an entire batch of pithe so I sought help over the internet and got some support here.

The gokul pithe turned out to be absolutely delicious. D had his own wise opinions and even dared to say that his Mom's were better. But really do we even believe him ? Anything with a khoya + coconut stuffing, deep fried and then soaked in sugary syrup has "delish" wriiten in its genes, irrespective of whose Mother or Mother's neighbor made it.

They were also easy to make even in large number. Even though Sankranti is 11 months away, this can be served as a delicious dessert for any occasion, so roll up your sleeves and try some. Believe me these are sinfully easy.


Gokul Pithe

Make the Stuffing

Grated Coconut(I used frozen pack) ~ 2 cups
Khoya ~ 12oz almost 2 cups. Note: Ideally home made khoya/kheer is best but store bought khoya works fine.
Sugar ~ 1 cup

Heat a Kadhai.

Add coconut and sugar and lower the heat.

Mix the grated coconut with the sugar slightly pressing with your fingers till sugar melts and mixes with the coconut. Note: You can add add some cardamom powder. I didn't.


Now add the Khoya. Keep stirring till mixture becomes light brown and sticky. It should easily come off from the sides by now. At this point take a little of the mix and see if you can fashion a flat disc out of it. If it is too sticky you may have to cook a bit more, else you are good.


Take a little of the mix, roll a small ball between your palms and then flatten between your palms to make a disc about 1" in diameter and thickness of a 1 Rupee coin. Make equal sized discs. I made about 30.

Make the Batter

In a wide mouthed bowl add
2 Cups of AP Flour
1 tsp of Ghee
1/4 tsp of Baking Soda
Mix lightly

Now add 1 cup of Whole Milk + 1 Cup of water. Mix scraping the sides to form a batter. You will need about 1 more cup of water but add this gradually till you get a batter thick enough like a pakodi batter.

To the batter I added a generous pinch of saffron


Make the Syrup

3 cups of water
4&1/2 cups of sugar
to boil till you get a syrup of one string consistency
Add a few drops of Kewra or Rose water to the syrup to get a sweet smell


Heat enough oil for deep frying in a skillet.

Dip the discs in the batter so that they are well coated. Now fry them in the hot oil like a fritter. Remove with a slotted spoon when both sides are golden brown. Dunk in the syrup and remove when they become little soft.

In one version of Gokul Pithe you can make the sugar syrup thicker and then coat the fried pithe with the syrup instead of soaking them in it.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Toddler Menu -- Egg Curry with Veggies


As much as I love traditions and festivals, I abhor rituals that most times comes with it. You might say that it is the rituals which make actually make up a tradition and there is no point celebrating Diwali with unlit candles. But I like to adjust the rituals to my convenience, to bend them around to suit me instead of bending backwards to comply. A lot of it comes from sheer laziness and finding joy in lighting up tea-light candles for Diwali instead of spending hours rolling cotton wicks between your palms.

I liked rolling the cotton wicks and maybe I will do it again some day when I have nothing else to do.But what I am saying is the fact that I have the liberty of not doing it and lighting up the tea-lights instead, liberates me.

Ditto with Saraswati Pujo. I am not a morning person and as a kid I loved my morning sleep on holidays. On foggy mornings of Saraswati Pujo, this was not to be. We had to wake up early, really really early and take shower in the water from the overhead tank, which was still cool to touch. With remains of sleep in my eyes I would then help Ma set up the Pujo. Pujo at home was usually done by my Dada(paternal grandfather) or Baba. Both were stickler to rituals and wanted to start the Pujo at the exact time written in the crumbling pages of the jacaranda colored Panjika. Somehow when I think of Saraswati Pujo along with the nicer parts, I also remember the early morning part and my reluctance in getting up.

So now that the baton has been handed over and I am the Master of Ceremonies I have shifted the Puja time very conveniently from early morning to late evening. That is how we had it last Tuesday, after work, after school, in the confines of the home, we prayed for Knowledge and enlightenment.

Little S also had her "haathe khori", literally translated as "chalk in hand" on the same day. This again is a tradition to make a child write her first letter, thus initiating her into the world of knowledge. But instead of taking her to the temple or any such place, we did the honors ourselves. While I guided her hand to trace out the curves of the first Bangla letter, Big Sis helped her trace the straight lines of the English alphabet.Then Little S went totally berserk and scribbled structures which she declared as lowercase t and p. She, who has to always share Big Sis's markers and easel and such, loved all the attention and the chalkboard and refused to budge from the scene.


Talking of Little S and food, as I have said before she is not really into food. She is also not exactly crazy about veggies. So like all sane Moms who hyperventilate about five serving of vegetables and their kid, I have to find ways to sneak it in. It was easier when she was smaller and did not know much. A Khichuri with plenty of vegetables could be shoved down her throat. But she is 2 and has a mind of her own. Thanks to Didi being around she has tasted lollipos and cheetos. Khichuri is not exciting any more and she loves Chicken Biryani.

So I try to put in a good amount of vegetables in the gravy dish that I make for her. It is usually a chicken curry or an egg curry. Vegetables like beet, carrots, butternut squash, sweet potato, sometimes spinach makes its way there and gets blended to remove any trace of its original appearance. I tweak the recipe around every other day to give a new flavor. I would not go so far as saying she loves them but at least she gets her quota of veggies that way.

This is an egg curry with butternut squash and sweet potatoes. It can be other veggies. It can be anything other than egg. This is just a base recipe. You can alter and make your own changes around it.


Egg Curry with Butternut Squash & Sweet Potatoes for the Kiddo

Boil and peel 2 organic eggs. keep aside.

Heat 2-3 tsp of ghee in a deep saucier or kadhai.(Making your own ghee is easy)

Temper with 1/4 tsp of whole Cumin Seeds. Let the cumin sizzle to flavor the Ghee.

Add quarter of an onion finely chopped. Saute till onion is soft and pink.

Add about 1/4 tsp of fresh Ginger-Garlic paste(I make it over the weekend and store for a week)

Fry for a few seconds. Add half of a nice juicy tomato finely chopped. Saute till it is mush and there is no raw smell.

Add about 1/2 cup of peeled and chopped sweet potato. Add about 1/2 cup of peeled roasted butternut squash(I always roast and then peel butternut squash, you can add them raw too).

Add about 1/4 tsp of fresh roasted Cumin powder + a little Turmeric Powder. Saute the vegetables so that they are nicely coated with the masala. When the veggies start browning a little, add about half cup of water. Add salt and let the veggies cook.Add more water if necessary.

Once the veggies are cooked, puree them, either with an immersion blender or by putting them in a regular blender jar.

Add a little more water to the puree and bring it back to a boil. Add a pinch of Garam Masala.

Now add the boiled eggs. Since LS does not like the texture of cooked egg yolk, I halve the boiled eggs and mix the egg yolk into the gravy.

Make the gravy as thick or thin you desire. Adjust for seasonings and garnish with some corriander leaves.

I usually serve this with rice. You can feed it by itself too along with a bread toast or chapati.

Sunday, February 06, 2011

Labra -- for Saraswati Pujo


Saraswati Pujo is two days away and a reader sent in a mail asking for the recipe of Labra. Khichuri is an important part of this day for the Bengalis and labra is a mixed veggie dish popular as a side to the Khichuri. Since I never really liked Khichuri all that much, the day did not mean much to me food wise. There were other incentives of course like the sweet & sour kul, visiting the Pujos  with friends and not doing any studies since the goddess resided on top of all our school books.

So anyway the main point is khichuri never excited me. Along with khichuri came labra, a mix of all vegetables and tomato chaatni a staple Saraswati Pujo lunch in most Bengali homes, at least the Ghoti homes. The intelligent Bangals of course ate their ilish.

Now I have never made a "Labra". I have made a ghonto, a charchari, a paanch-mishali but not a labra. I didn't even realize that I have never cooked a labra until I got this mail. Bengali mixed vegetable dishes are largely similar with delta differences and it is hard to decide whether you are cooking a ghonto or a labra when you have chopped and put in at least five different vegetables and forgotten whether you added ginger or bhaja masla.

I theoretically had an idea how to cook one though and said so in my mail. I mean five and more vegetables and little or no spice. How difficult can this get ?

But then I had an icky feeling in my stomach. The kind you have while explaining escape velocity to someone. Not that I go around doing such explaining but you know what I mean. Theoretically you know perfectly what escape velocity is but you have never experienced it and you think what if it doesn't work ? What if I run at a speed greater than escape velocity and still am unable to "break free", you think. Agreed NASA has done it but I haven't. So the doubt lingers.

That feeling bothered me for the last two days and finally I chopped up some radish, eggplant, cabbage, potatoes, butternut squash and cooked a "Labra" . The theoretical part was out and I had done the practical experiment which was a good thing because the labra made the husband immensely happy.Such simple joys of nature.

It was easy except for the chopping part but even that wasn't too bad.So essentially labra needs to have some leafy vegetables, usually thick cut cabbage along with firm veggies like potatoes and radish and soft ones like pumpkin and eggplant. As per my knowledge, it also DOES NOT need mustard but some ginger does it good.It tastes really good with Khichuri or some Dal and white rice.

I will try to post the Khichuri recipe which has been in my draft for long. If not make your own and enjoy it with this beautiful vegetable dish with a horrendous name on the 8th.


Labra -- a mixed vegetable dish

Prep: Vegetables are the most important and only ingredient of a Labra. There is very little of other spices involved. So it is important the vegetables you use for this dish are fresh and taste good. Chop the following vegetables in roughly equal sizes and more or less equal proportion

Potato -- 1 large, peeled and chopped along the length
Eggplant ~ 1 Japanese egg plant, chopped in cubes
Radish ~ about 1/2 cop of cubed red radish
Cabbage ~ 1&1/2 cup of chopped cabbage. Cabbage should be chopped not thin but should be little thickly cut
Pumpkin or Butternut Squash(choose one that sweet and not over ripe) ~ 1 cup peeled and cubed. Since I find it difficult to peel a B.Squash, I microwave the squash for about 3 minutes and then peel

Cauliflower -- quarter of a medium sized one
Cauliflower leaves and stalk -- the tender leaves and tip of the stalks.

You can also add vegetables like few cauliflower florets, cauliflower stems and some drumsticks

Note: I have also done labra with broccoli, cauliflower, zucchini etc. All of them work well. Whatever vegetables you use, try to add little pumpkin and potatoes to get the best taste.

Start Cooking

Heat White Oil or Mustard Oil in a heavy bottomed deep saucier or Kadhai

Temper the hot oil with a pinch of Hing, 1 tsp of PaanchPhoron and 3 broken dry red chili. When the spices pop add about 1 tsp of minced ginger. Note: You can also add ginger towards the end to get a more gingery flavor.

First add the potatoes. Sprinkle about 1/2 tsp of turmeric powder and saute the potatoes for half a minute.

Add the radish, followed by cauliflower. Saute covered for about 5 minutes and then follow with the eggplant. Saute for a couple of minutes. Sprinkle some water if the veggies tend to stick.Note: Add carrots/cauliflower/broccoli if using. The trick is to add the tougher veggies first followed by the softer and leafy veggies.

Next goes the pumpkin or butternut squash. Mix everything together. If the pumpkin is sweet you don't need to add sugar else add a little sugar towards the end. Cover and cook for next 4-5 minutes

Now add the cabbage or the cauliflower leaves or both. Mix all together and saute for a minute.
Add salt to taste. Add 2-3 slit green chili and a tsp more of grated ginger. Give a good stir. Add little water about say 1/2 cup and cover and cook. Check in between, if more water is needed add more water and cook till veggies are done. Break up some of the potatoes and the pumpkin unevenly with the back of your spatula and give a final mix.The dish should be a little moist and not totally dry.

Let it sit for 30 minutes or more, for all the flavors to come together. Serve with rice and dal or with Khichuri for Pujo.