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 coconut. Poush 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.
Usually during Poush Sankranti, I hover between my fail safe recipes of paati-sapta and gokul pithe. I have never tried to make pithe with rice flour which is quintessential part of poush parbon for Bengalis. My Ma makes puli pithe which are rice flour dumplings shaped like a small rugby ball and stuffed with nice things like kheer or coconut. These "pulis" are then steamed and dunked in a milk based paayesh. I have never been fond of them or tried to make them. There was a nonta pithe or bhaja pithe that my Ma used to make with sweet pea stuffing. Those I loved butI have never worked with rice flour so didn't try making those either.
That doesn't mean, I miss those though. I know an amazing bunch of folks who are all very talented when it comes to cooking. One of our friends Sanhita, is an expert when it comes to whipping up traditional Bengali delicacies. Every year during Sankranti, she takes it upon herself to make all kinds of pithes and pulis, and then invites all of us over to her home for a pithe party. Didn't I say, I had amazing friends?
Sanhita, makes all kinds of pithes, the traditional puli pithes dunked in paayesh, savory nonta pithes, steamed bhapa pithes, lacy pati shaptas,....the works. It is amazing how she makes these pulis from rice flour with extreme pizzaz and makes it look simple, though it definitely isn't. This Poush Sankranti, I was unable to join the pithe party, and had requested her to share her recipe with me along with photos. She did so very promptly with beautiful photos too.
Over to pretty Sanhita, for her recipe of Jhaal Pithe or Nonta Bhaapa Pithe. All photos and recipe is her copyright.
Make the rice flour dough:
Bring water to boil in a medium saucepan. Add some salt(according to taste, 1 teaspoon).
Add rice flour to it. ( 2 cup rice flour to 1 cup water approx).
Quickly transfer it to a big bowl and then mash it to make it dough. You have to make the dough while it is hot so be careful. You can add more rice flour or hot water if needed to make the perfect soft dough( should be soft).
Make the stuffing:
You can make different kind of stuffing for the pithe. Here, the stuffing is similar to samosa stuffing.
Chop potato, cauliflower, beans, carrots in to small pieces.
Take a pan (Kadahi) and add oil.
When oil is hot, temper with some cumin seed , bay leaf and whole dry red chili whole.
Now add all the vegetables along with some peas.
Fry it well.
Add 1-2 teaspoon ( depends on the quantity of vegetables) of Ginger paste, red chili powder and cumin powder. Saute it it well. Add little water and salt according to taste. Cover the pan to cook well.
You can add red chili powder or green chili depending on how " jhal"/ hot you want your stuffing. After all the vegetables are cooked, it should look dry, no water should be left. Now mash all the vegetables with a spoon.
You also can add some fried peanuts to add some taste.
Now the pithe:
Take some rice flour dough and make a small ball like you would do for a luchi/poori. With your palm flatten it out and then make a dent at the center . Put some vegetable stuffing in it and close it to look like dumpling. Fasten the edges with little water if needed.
Now , you have to steam the dumplings whatever way you want. Do not steam it for long time though( well actually it depends on the rice flour quality) .
Sprinkle red chilli powder on the steamed dumplings and lightly saute them in oil. Do not over fry it otherwise the outside of pithe will be very hard.
Now serve it hot.
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