Friday, October 26, 2012

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. 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.


What You Need

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

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 2 tbsp of Jaggery and knead for 4-5 more minutes until the sugar and jaggery is totally mixed with the chhana. I microwaved the jaggery for few seconds to soften and then added it to the chhana.
At the end of this 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.
Put a non-stick pan on low heat and add the kneaded, sweetened chhana. Flatten it out and cook at low heat while stirring with a spautla. 5-6 mins at low heat should be fine.

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.

There are many sondesh recipes out in the blog world all almost similar. Here are a few.

Manjula's Video Of  Sondesh-- good one if you have never seen or tasted one

Ecurry's Sondesh

Ahaar's Mango Sondesh

Sayantani's Sondesh

Preeoccupied's Sondesh

Deepasris Nutella Sandesh

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Meetha Chawal -- Sweeten your Durga Pujo

Before we go into anything let me just clarify that Meetha Chawal or Sweet Rice is not a Bengali Dish.

It very well could have been given how much a Bengali loves her rice and sweet.But the point of the matter is it is not. I guess this whole dish passed a Bong by and I am sure if he or she, the Bong that is, had any inkling of this dessert it would have been christened "Mishti Modhur Bhaat" and be a staple dessert to be served during Pujo and Bijoya. After all it has rice and sugar. What else doe one need ?

Me, for myself, first had this at a party last year where it was cooked by a Punjabi colleague's wife. It was exquisite. Long grains of rice sweetened with sugar and loaded in kaju and kishmis with a fragrance of ghee and saffron hanging around it. His wife was a good cook and I was sure it was a pretty difficult dish to cook involving hours of sweet labor.

Turns out Not.

Turns out it can also be done in the Microwave. Now to make larger portions, the stove top might be a better option but for small quantities I found the Microwave is perfect.

Durga Pujo starts this Saturday. Navratri is already in full swing. I haven't been able to take a breather to glance around and realize that. Adjusting to the new neighborhood, BigSis's new school and boxes to be opened and stowed away at every corner is taking up all our time. But somewhere in my being I do have a feeling that halfway across the globe, life is not as mundane and tiring as mine, as preparations to welcome Devi Durga have reached a crescendo. It is not that I miss it terribly and I am kind of relieved that I do not need to push aside crowds at Baagbazaar or College Square to have a glimpse of the protima but some days, sometimes, when the chores get heavy and the day drags on I want to be back there oblivious of BS's homework or my long drive or LS's nasty cough brought on by the October cold or one more box that needs to be opened and stored away.

But since that is not going to happen let us share Mishti instead, easy ones, quick ones, the ones that are doable in your new Tangail or whatever saree you have bought this year

It is through this that I send you all happy wishes on Navratri and Durga Pujo. May you find joy in the path you seek and may the path sweeten lives around you.

And now to the recipe of Meetha Chawal in the microwave which I made following this recipe from Tarla Dalal's site. 

Soak 1/2 cup of long grained Basmati Rice in water for 20-30 mins

In a microwave safe bowl with flat bottom add 1 tbsp Ghee. Microwave at full power for 1 min

To above add 4 green cardamom, 2 clove, a 2" stick of cinnamon. Microwave again for 1 min.

Drain rice and add to the bowl. Mix so that the rice grains are coated with ghee. Microwave for 1 min.

Now add 1 cup water + 1/2 cup Milk to the bowl and mix with the rice. Add few strands of saffron. Microwave for 10 mins at 5 minute intervals i.e. take out after 5 min, mix and microwave again

By 10 mins the rice will almost be done. This will depend on quality of rice as well as power of microwave. If not done continue for 5 more minutes till rice is almost done.

Now time to add little more than 1/4th cup of sugar. Take out the rice and check if there is little water in there. If completely dry dissolve sugar in little water and then add, else just add the sugar. Mix with rice.Microwave for 2-3 more minutes

Meanwhile saute cashews and raisins in ghee on the stove. Once the rice is done mix the kaju and kishmis with the rice. Serve hot.

Here are some more sweets and savories for you to make during Durga Pujo

Aam Doi

Aam Kheer

Microwave Besan Laddoo

Gajar Halwa

Gokul Pithe

Microwave Kalakand

Narkel Naru

Roshogollar Paayesh


To find more of recipes like this please check the updated recipe index page at Bong Mom's CookBook Recipe Index.

I usually a do a Giveaway on my blog around this time.Please stay tuned and I will announce one soon.Meanwhile enjoy Pujo.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

The Faux Gajar Halwa -- carrots in the microwave

If you are the type who will spend hours standing in front of the stove coaxing a gajar to become a creamy, sweet, decadent halwa because you value time and quality and you are not the one to compromise...shoo, for this post is not for you.

This post is for the types who want to be the ever sacrificing Bollywood Mother feeding sons and daughters gajar ka halwa by the pounds but not ready to sacrifice their precious nap time for it. They also do not want to serve store bought or "Maine Banaya Gits se" kind of Gajar ka Halwa. They think that takes away the glamor from the sentence "Beta, aaj maine tere liye Gajjar Ka Halwa Banaya hai". For them the 20 min Gajar ka Halwa in the Microwave comes in a super time saver pack. With this I am done with that, the stove top one, unless of course it is someone other than me sweating it out for hours on the stove top.

This microwave version of the Gajar Halwa was something I first had a friend's party. She, the friend, is a dessert queen of the Bread Pudding and Tiramisu fame. However this one time she completely ignored my e-mail and sent me the recipe only a day after I had made the darn Halwa. So the recipe I am sharing is not hers but is the one I loosely followed from Veggie Platter here, but then again all of them are almost same with little differences here and there. Red Chilies also has a version here which does not use condensed milk but uses Milk Powder. Ultimately all of them lead to the same thing...Maa ke Haath ka Gajjar Halwa or maybe Baap ke Haath ka. Who cares?

Saturday  Monday is Mahalaya, the occasion that heralds Goddess Durga and is the formal beginning of  the Durga Pujo festival. I will not be up at 4 listening to Birendra Krishna Bhadra's chandipath on AIR But I might just make this Gajar Halwa again. You do too.

What you Need

Grated Carrots -- 4 Cups
Condensed Milk -- 1/2 Cup
Evaporated Milk -- 1 cup
Raisins -- a fistful
Cashew -- 10-12
Ghee -- 2 tbsp
Cardamom powder -- 1/2 tsp
Saffron -- few strands

How I Did It

Grate Carrots. If you have that nifty attachment on your food processor use that. Soak raisins

Now in a flat bottomed deep microwave safe bowl add 2tbsp Ghee and microwave for about 1 minute

Add 4cups of grated carrot to it and mix. Next microwave it for 2 minutes. Take it out.

Now add
1/2 cup Condensed Milk
1 cup Evaporated Milk
1/2 tsp of crushed cardamom powder
Mix uniformly with grated carrots.

Put the bowl back in the microwave for around 5 mins. Careful that there are no spills. See I told you to get a deep bowl to start with.

Take it out. Stir,add few strands of saffron and put back again for 5 more mins. Follow this pattern in slots of 3-5 mins till the moisture has evaporated and the carrots and milk come together in unison to form a halwa. You will know it when you see it. If you have never noticed a Gajar Ka Halwa look at the pic. In all it will take around 17-20 mins to be done. But then again it depends on the power of your microwave.

Meanwhile heat a tsp of ghee and roast the cashews and raisins. Garnish the halwa with the roasted nuts and the plumped up kishmish aka raisins.If you have varak, please go ahead and freak out. I love those silvery things for garnish but had none.

Ta Da. You are done and now you are all set to put your lazy self back to the couch.

Friday, October 05, 2012

Thank You My Kitchen

This has been my kitchen for the longest time.8 years and 7 months to be precise.To be round and fair we can also say 9 years, given the few months that we had taken to close and move.

As a kid we moved houses and hence kitchens every 3-4 years. My father's job was as they said "transferable one" and we moved with the call of his duty. Since kitchen was not on the top 15 of my priorities those days it was amongst the things I missed least when we moved. I am sure my Ma had her own woeful stories about moving from large kitchens with huge windows to galley ones but of course then I never paid attention.

Now when I am the master of my own food, I can no longer say the same. I  remember distinctly the huge kitchen of the 1BR apartment I shared in Mumbai, the one in Bangalore which had a separate faucet for Cauvery water, the ample kitchens in the apartments in the US where I was thrilled to find the gas stove light up without a match stick. But of all these I love my current kitchen the best; the one that has survived me for all of 9 years, well almost. When I look back and count the years on my fingers this is the longest time I have cooked at a stretch and this is the longest time that this kitchen has been there to support me.

For 9 years or 8 years and 7 months to be exact, almost every morning I have been standing at the same spot, facing west towards the back splash that D had put up, making my tea. Some mornings it is so early that that the sky outside my window is still a slate gray and I have the kitchen lights on. On others, sunlight is streaming through the large windows facing south, bathing my little kitchen in light. I am always there at the same exact spot, the frayed red rug soft and almost tattered under my feet, the saucepan bubbling on the front burner of my gas stove.

In this kitchen I can close my eyes and reach out for spices and masalas in the wooden cabinets that abound. I know each of them personally. The liners on each of these shelves were cut and arranged by a dear friend 9 years ago and they still work well. The shelves were filled with jars, pots, stacks of  empty Yogurt containers exactly so with help of another and I have dared  not to change the order though I have had to throw out the yogurt containers on their insistence.Psssst...secret I still have some of them.

That cabinet, the one just above the sink hold my knick knacks that I use as props for the blog, the odd plate, the scalloped bowl, the lonely table mat. The bottom cabinet, the one right of the stove has colored plastic cups, lots of them, from IKEA. Those are the ones LS uses to make a juice stand or a coffee shop.

By the window, the breakfast nook as they say, is the table, a round wood top bought 12 years ago from K-mart. One of the first piece of furniture I owned in this country. We have had umpteen meals on that table for four. We have brought in extra chairs, rubbed shoulders and sat around it even when we had more than that for company. We have cut many cakes, lighted candles, arranged gifts and served buffet lunches and dinners right there. On most days I have arranged food on it and clicked pictures for the blog. And when we have been done with food, Big Sis has finished her homework on that same table while Little Sis has scribbled and made crayon marks on its surface.

My kitchen is more than a kitchen. For almost 9 years, it is the place which has seen my daughters grow, my friends come together to rejoice happy occasions and to share the not so happy ones, my mother and my ma-in-law cook their best dishes for their granddaughters. It has seen my Baba brewing the afternoon tea and my Father-in-law chopping vegetables. It has seen the husband man packing lunches for the girls and making scrumptious breakfast on the weekend. It has seen me and him fight, make up and argue.It has seen us admonish the girls, them speaking back and then saying sorry. It has seen spartan salads, rich mutton curries laced in elaichi and zafran, simple dals bubbling in stainless steel pots, turmeric stains from fragrant Ilish jhol, brown rice, white rice, sugary gokul pithe, puffed up and the ones that refused to puff white luchi, endless days of different varieties of pasta and lots and lots of pureed, mashed baby food.And it has seen me always.

Six years ago on a Fall evening it was here, standing in this kitchen, that I had resolved to start a blog. A food blog.

In a culture and environment ,where writing a blog, that too a food one is at the best considered a hobby, and any writing that does not come close to Marquez, Ghosh, Bibhutibhushan, Shibram or even Archer is considered frivolous; there have been times when writing up anecdotes and recipes with the hope that "someday when my daughter turns 22 will cook this " has seemed too far fetching. When I have waited for the girls to go to bed and yet again missed an episode of "Big Bang Theory" just so that I can take one more pic of Gajar Halwa, the whole process has seemed futile.

But then every time when I am back in my kitchen, trying to make even a simple Khichuri and screwing it up, I have felt the excitement, the beat of the food, the urge to blog. Even when the dish is mundane and there is nothing exemplary about the aroma, I have enjoyed the process. I have loved to put in words, the food I cook and eat. I am not really a very outgoing person but I have loved to interact with everyone, (barring the ones who want to sell me viagara), who reads this blog. I have loved writing the book as much as I love this blog.And I have realized I have stuck to this whole goddamn thing for the simple reason that I love doing it.This love.I owe it to my kitchen.

And next week I will miss my current muse. Next programming for "Bong Mom's CookBook" will be from a different kitchen in a different home . Hope the new kitchen adapts me, nurtures me, makes me her own and brings the same joy to my family and friends as this one did.

Thank You My Kitchen. You will always have a special place in my life.

Pin It!