Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Neem-Phol aka Grandmother's sweet

Sometimes families have recipes no one has heard of. Not recipes already around, that they make in their own special way and give a special name like "Dinajpurer Mangshor Chaap"(I don't know what it is but honestly I saw this on a menu). Nor are they the one time wonders I make almost every other day and forget soon after.

These are recipes that have been handed down with careful instructions from one generation to next and are cooked periodically or on demand. They are much cherished and yet, no one outside the family has ever heard of it. It has not crossed anyone's mind to ever talk about it.

I was introduced to one such dish, well not exactly a dish, but a sweet picker-upper at my in-law's home. I think it was one of those times, when we were leaving for the US after a short vacation. The last two days of a India vacation invariably ends in gathering edible stuffs that we can carry across oceans in sturdy samsonites. While I usually rush around in those last hours buying Mukhorochak chanachur, Mongini's cheese straws and Sunrise mustard powder, the husband-man reaches out for specialities found only in his small town. It is his duty to get "lero biskut" and "madoan kat kati" -- tiny square pieces of spicy biscuit with hint of sweetness .

In addition to those, there are all kinds nimkis and narus that my Mother is frying and rolling until the last minute and stuffing in steel containers called koutos. So among all this jars and packets and boxes that we had to carefully wrap and tuck in, there was my Ma-in-law with one more. A glass Horlicks jar filled with with tiny balls,not exactly spherical but ovoid in shape and deep brown almost black in color. Each were the size of a fat pea and had fine white crystals of sugar on them.It wasn't anything I had ever seen before.

The husband-man's face lit up at the sight of that jar. "Neem Phol!!!" he said with a child like glee.

Neem phol?? Fruits of the neem tree whose leaves are famous for bitter taste and medicinal properties?? The nomenclature itself shut me off. The husband-man has this uncanny love for all things bitter and so I thought his Mother had gathered one more of her son's favorite bitter fruit and made something with it. I was not at all excited to say the least.

"Try it," said the husband-man. It was his favorite apparently.

I was hesitant but my curiosity made me pick up a single one to give it a try. And surprise! It was crunchy, sweet and very very addictive. Reminded me of the "murki" that my Dida used to make and carry for us in similar glass jars. The murki was lighter brown and softer while this was denser and had a crunch to it. It was very hard to stop at one and the jar had to be snatched away from me, else I would have finished it all.

Since then, a jar of "neem-phol" is a staple along with the nimkis, narus and chanachur we pack from India. I have never tried to get a recipe for it though. I kept procrastinating and relying on the jar from India. Last year when my in-laws came visiting, as usual there was a jar of "neem-phol" tucked besides the achhar and bori. Little Sis, opened it and had one.Soon she was having more and was utterly smitten by what she called "Thammir mishti". When it was time for my in-laws to leave, Little Sis wanted to make sure that there was more of that mishti for her. So "thammi" was coerced into making another batch of "neem-phol". And though I have never tried to learn how to make neem-phol earlier, I stood around to follow the steps so that if LittleSis ever asks again and this jar is over I can make some more.

Though at her own home, my mother-in-law makes it with khoya-kheer, here she made it with store-bought khoya aka mawa. They were basically small balls of kheer, deep fried and then tossed in thick sugar syrup.

High in cholesterol and sugar. Utterly delightful in taste. Isn't that how it is always ?

"Where did you learn this recipe from?" I asked the ma-in-law. 
She said, it was her mother's, who made it mostly during poush-parbon. Once all the pithes, pulis and patishaptas were done and still some of the "khoa-kheer" remained, her mother would make these little balls of delight with the remnant kheer. 
"And why did she call it neem-phol?", I asked expecting a long story. 
"It looks like neem phol, fruits of the neem tree, that is why," she said simply

It all starts with a 12 oz block of Nanak Khoa. You can use any khoa that you get locally. You can also make your own Khoa/kheer and that would be the hardest but the best option.

The store bought khoa is usually hard and you have to bring it to room temperature before using it. If it is still hard, soften by outting in the microwave for a minute or two.

Next crumble it with your hands and put in a bowl. Add about 2 tbsp of milk and mix the khoa/mawa to form a dough. If the dough is not coming together add 2 tbsp of maida and mix to make the dough.

Once you have made the dough, take small portions of it and roll between your palm to make small oblong shaped structures. You can make this a day ahead and keep in the refrigerator.

Next day deep fry the ovoid balls in hot oil until they are deep brown.

Remove and keep them aside.

Now make the sugar syrup by boiling
1 Cup of water with
1.5 Cups of White Sugar

Boil the above mixture until you get a syrup with 1 string consistency as you see above.

Another way to test the consistency is to take a shallow bowl of water. Pour drops of sugar syrup in it. If you see blobs of syrup at the bottom of the bowl, you have reached the right consistency. If your syrup dissolves in water you have to boil some more.

Now add the fried ovoids in the sugar syrup and toss so that they absorb the syrup and get uniformly coated in it.

Remove the sticky balls and let them cool on a flat surface. On cooling the sugar will crystallize and the stickiness will be gone. Once cool store in air-tight jars and munch on them when you are feeling low.

You start of with a
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  1. নামটাই চমকে দেবার মতো। পদ্ধতিটি নিঃসন্দেহে আশাব্যঞ্জক। ভাল লাগল।

  2. Unique.. after a long break :)

  3. Sounds delicious! I am going to try this one out. Feel hungry just looking at it.

  4. সবাইকে নববর্ষের প্রীতি ও শুভেচ্ছা জানাই।

  5. Shubho Nababarsho. This is a super surprise. Have never seen, heard leave alone tasted it. Am sure will try one day for this lovely one. Take care

  6. Happy New Year Sandeepa...this one looks amazing..very nice..

  7. Neem phol sweet not bitter!!! must try this. I loved reading about lugging edible food stuff we expats lug across oceans.
    I think mukharochak adds garam masala to the chanachur which I am not a big fan of.


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