Gokul Pithe (Fried Sweet Dumplings)

IMG_3995Poush Parbon, Pongal, Makar Sankranti are just different names for harvest festival celebrated through out India, it marks the beginning of the harvest season. Interesting trivia, this is the only Indian festival that is on the same calendar date every year! Its also known as the ‘Kite Festival’. Preparations would start days ahead as we would collect all types of broken glass to make Manja (abrasive thread used for kite fights) and paper to make personalised colorful Patang (Kites). Growing up I remember waking up to the smell of sweet pongal being cooked at my neighbors house and Koraishutir Kochuri at mine. Walking out to see the colorful display of art in the form of rangoli in front of very house in the neighborhood, flying kites till it was too hot or we were too exhausted, chasing kites and a gathering of all our friends in the evening hosted by my parents. IMG_3997It has always been party time at my house for this festival and my mom always whipped up a big variety delicious food, Gokul Pithe being one of them. My husband has the best description for this, he says this is Narkel Naru (coconut truffle) with Malpua (Indian crepe) wrapped around it.

The recipe below uses All-Purpose Flour and Milk. I also make a vegan and gluten free version of this and it is equally delicious. Just a little different in the final taste. Just replace the all-purpose flour with coconut flour, rice flour and almond flour mixed in equal proportion and use Almond Milk instead of milk for the batter.

Read notes for more info.

Time for Prep: 20 mins | Time to Cook: 15 mins | Yield: 22-25 pieces | Level: Easy

Ingredients:

  • For the filling:
    • 2 cups grated Coconut
    • 4 oz condensed milk*
    • 1/2 cup Jaggery or sugar
  • For the batter/outer layer:
    • 2 cups all-purpose flour*
    • 1 tsp ghee or oil
    • 1+1 cups whole milk*
  • For the syrup:
    • 1.5 cups sugar (3/4 cup sugar +3/4 cup jaggery)*
    • 1.5 cups water
    • 1/2 tsp cardamon powder
    • pinch of saffron
    • 1 tbsp rose water (optional)

Process:

  1. Making the stuffing:
    • In a heavy bottom pan over medium heat, combine the coconut and jaggery, let the jaggery dissolve completely. Add the condensed milk.
    • Cook open over medium heat. Stir occasionally to ensure that the mixture doesn’t stick to the pan until you get a thick mixture. It should be light brown and slightly sticky but should be coming off from the side of the pan easily.
    • To check for doneness, take a little bit and shape and see, if it holds form and doesn’t stick to your hands, turn off the heat.
    • Once cool, divide into 22-25 equal portion, roll them into small balls and set aside.
  2. Making the outer layer/ batter:
    • In a wide mouthed bowl combine the flour and ghee/oil. Mix it up.
    • Add one cup of milk and mix scraping sides to form the batter. Slowly add the remaining milk a couple tablespoon at a time till you get a batter that is similar to that for pancake/fritters/pakodi.
  3. Making the syrup:
    • In a saucepan, combine sugar/ jaggery and water, add cardamon powder. Stir till the sugar/ jaggery is dissolved and boil till one string consistency, around 10 mins.
    • Add rose water and stir it in. This just adds to the fragrance and sweetness of the syrup.
  4. Cooking:
    • Heat oil in a frying pan for deep frying.
    • Dip a ball of stuffing in the batter, move it around till its well coated. Fry till golden brown (like fritters)
    • Remove with a slotted spoon and dunk into the syrup.

Let them soak in syrup for 8-10 mins. Serve Warm or Cold.

Notes:

  • For a lactose free (Vegan) version, skip the Condensed Milk in filling and use Almond milk for the outer layer/batter.
  •  For a gluten free delight instead of all purpose flour use a blend of coconut, almond and rice flour (1:1:1 ratio).
  • Traditionally this dish is made with 100% Khejurer gur, a special type of jaggery made with the sap of date palm trees. But its almost impossible to get some in US, so I make this with blend of date sugar and coconut sugar instead. It has the same flavor but easier to find (and a lot healthier).
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Rangaloor Puli (Sweet Potato Dumplings stuffed with Coconut Filling)

IMG_4010Rangaloor Puli is traditional Bengali dessert made mid January, around Sankranti or Poush Parbon (Harvest festival). Freshly harvested paddy, produce and date syrup in the form of Khejurer Gur (Jaggery) is used to make a variety of delicious goodness like Rangaloor PuliPayeshGokul Pithe, Pati-shopta, nonta pithe and Koraishutir KochuriIn our household this day was even more significant because it also is the day my mom was born. Growing up I remember all those lovely Sankranti plus Birthday parties my parents hosted every year.IMG_4015These words from my beloved Jethima (aunt) to my mom says it all – “We got to eat all the traditional Sankranti goodies of Bengal. You were the most hard worked birthday girl I’ve ever seen. We were there in large numbers but you kept filling then rolling out and frying mounds upon mounds of Motorshutir Kochuris. These Kochris were always accompanied by RangaAlur Pethe. Subir my dear devar was ever ready to peel those kilos upon kilos of peas and to grind them in the mixie. What a wonderful couple the two of you made. I shall always cherish those memorable days we spent in and out of one another’s home. With all my love Jharnadi”
IMG_4009My Husband absolutely loves this! And if the way to a mans heart is through his stomach, this definitely is a quick escalator ride. As soon as we are done wishing each other Happy New Year, he wants to know when I will be making these and I oblige every year!

Time for Prep: 45 mins     Time to Cook: 25 mins     Yield: 18-20 pieces     Level: Medium

Ingredients:

  • For the filling:
    • 2 cups grated Coconut
    • 1 cup Khoya (milk thickened by heating in an open pan)*
    • 1 cup Jaggery or sugar
  • For the outer layer:
    • 2-3 medium sized sweet potatoes
    • 2-3 tbsp all purpose flour*
    • 1 tbsp rice flour
  • For the syrup:
    • 1.5 cups sugar (3/4 cup sugar +3/4 cup jaggery)*
    • 1.5 cups water
    • 1/2 tsp cardamon powder
    • pinch of saffron
    • 1 tbsp rose water (optional)

Process:

  1. Making the stuffing:
    • In a heavy bottom pan over medium heat, combine the coconut and jaggery, let the jaggery dissolve completely. Add the Khoya.
    • Cook open over medium heat. Stir occasionally to ensure that the mixture doesn’t stick to the pan until you get a thick mixture. Let it cool.
    • Once cool, divide into 18-20 equal portion and set aside.
  2. Making the outer layer of Rangaloo:
    • Pre-heat oven to 400F/ 200C, peel the potatoes and roughly chop them in chunks. Bake for 35-40 mins.*
    • Let it cool, then mash them a little.
    • Add the flour and knead to a dough, soft and not sticky. Be careful not to over mash, because the potatoes will get very starchy and will be impossible to work with.
    • Divide into 18-20 equal portion, in the shape of ball.
    • (OR)
    • Boil the potatoes until soft, peel, mash, divide.
  3. Making the syrup:
    • In a saucepan, combine sugar/ jaggery and water, add cardamon powder. Stir till the sugar/ jaggery is dissolved and boil till one string consistency, around 10 mins.
    • Add rose water and stir it in. This just adds to the fragrance and sweetness of the syrup.
  4. Assembling the Puli:
    • Flatten one of the balls of potato dough, using your fingers.
    • Place the coconut stuffing in the center and carefully fold to a semi-circle.
    • Seal the edges. Repeat with the remaining balls.
  5. Cooking:*
    • Pre-heat oven to broil. Baste the semi-circle assembled puli with oil and place them in a single layer on a cookie sheet. Broil for 5-8 mins, turn the puli and repeat.
    • Take them out and dunk them in the sugar syrup
    • (OR)
    • Heat oil in a frying pan for deep frying and deep fry the puli until golden brown, dunk into the syrup.

Let them soak in syrup for 8-10 mins. Serve Warm or Cold.

Notes:

  • For a lactose free (Vegan) and gluten free delight, skip the khoya and instead of all purpose flour use a blend of coconut, almond and rice flour (1:1:1 ratio)
  • Traditionally this dish is made with 100% Khejurer gur, a special type of jaggery made with the sap of date palm trees. But its almost impossible to get some in US, so I make this with blend of date sugar and coconut sugar instead. It has the same flavor but easier to find (and a lot healthier).
  • I prefer baking the potatoes instead of boiling because it ensures that there is no extra moisture that I need to worry about.
  • For the final cooking, this year I broiled a few in the oven and deep fried a few. Got it taste tested by friends and no one could tell the difference!

Bhapa Doi (Yogurt Pudding)

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Bhapa Doi in english translates to steamed (bhapa) yogurt (doi), it has a consistency similar to cheesecake but without the use of any eggs or gelatin. Hung yogurt is mixed with milk and then steamed in a steamer or a pressure cooker, chilled and served. It does not require any fancy ingredient and is ridiculously easy to make.

Yogurt is considered to be auspicious among Bengalis, I remember my mom feeding me and my sister a spoonful of yogurt when we would be on our way out for an exam or interview. Which makes this yogurt based traditional bengali dessert very popular. I figured what better to start the new years with!IMG_3978Back in the days, this was a slightly complicated process when milk and sugar had to be first simmered over slow heat till it became thick and creamy before mixing it with yogurt that was hung for hours. Now all you need is some condensed milk and some greek yogurt.

This is just the basic recipe, I tend to get more creative. I have made this with various flavors, toppings and garnishes. My absolute favorites are caramel and raspberry flavored topped with a drizzle of chocolate sauce. I have also served it like a creme brûlée, with a crunchy layer of torched sugar on top. Have fun experimenting and figuring out your favorite.

Time for Prep: 1 hour   Time to cook: 30 mins  Yield: 6 Servings   Level: Easy

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup hung yogurt
  • 10 oz condensed milk
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 1/2 tsp cardamon powder
  • pinch of saffron, for garnishing

Process:

  1. Place the hung yogurt in a bowl, using a whip cream it slightly.
  2. Add the condensed milk, mix it in.
  3. Add the milk and cardamon powder, lightly whip till everything is well blended and the mixture is smooth and creamy, around 2-3 mins.
  4. Pour in the mixture in Ramekins (in my case it exactly filled 6 ramekins), cover the mouth with foil and steam in a steamer or pressure cooker for 20-30 mins or until done. The time will vary depending on the size of your mould, in my case it was 30 mins.
  5. T0 check for doneness, insert a knife right in the center, if it comes out clean its done.
  6. Let it cool down then refrigerate for 2-3 hours, serve cold.

Notes:

  • To make hung curd: Pour yogurt in a cheese cloth and hang it till almost all of the water drains out. For regular yogurt it takes around 4-5 hours. If using Greek yogurt the same is done in around 30 mins.
  • If you want to make a diabetic friendly version of this, going old school is the way. I have made it a couple times by simmering milk with sweetener until it was nice and thick, I then added 1 cup yogurt to 2 cups of simmered milk.
  • There are versions out there which talk about baking the mixture at 300F for 20 mins or so. But it kind of goes against the very name of the dish, it is called ‘Bhapa Doi’ after all!

Thandai Ice Cream

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Thandai is a refreshing drink popular in north India, especially Uttar Pradesh. Its made using a number of ingredients believed to have a cooling effect, hence the name; Thandai in hindi means ‘cooling’.

It is a delicious and decadent blend of Almonds, fennel seeds, cardamon, pepper, rose and saffron, mixed with milk and served chilled on hot summer days. But cravings do not understand such weather limitations, besides I live in California!! So I didn’t just make a glass of Thandai to drink, I made a batch of Thandai flavored ice cream as well.

Time for Prep: 20 mins     Time to freeze: 12 hours      Yield: 8-10 Servings     Level: Easy

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups milk, chilled
  • 1 cup heavy cream, chilled
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • For the Thandai flavoring:
    • 1/4 cup almonds
    • 1 tbsp roasted fennel seeds, corse powder
    • pinch of Cardamon powder
    • 2 tbsp poppy seeds (khas khas)
    • 10-12 white peppercorns
    • 2 tbsp rose water or 2 drops of rose essence
    • a few strands of saffron

Process:

  1. In a blender add all the ingredients for flavoring and grind to a paste.
  2. Add milk and sugar, blend them together.
  3. Chill overnight, then strain the milk mixture. Its important to let the paste and the milk be kept aside overnight to ensure that all the flavors are fully absorbed.
  4. If using an ice cream machine, pour strained milk and heavy cream and follow instructions by the manufacturing company.

Process if Not using an ice cream machine:

  1. Whip the heavy cream till you get soft peaks, mix in strained milk mixture.
  2. Transfer to a shallow container and freeze.
  3. Take it out in a couple hours or after the mixture gets slushy. Whip or blend it and freeze again. Follow this step a couple times to get a very smooth ice cream.

Scoop and serve. You can garnish it with a pinch of saffron to give it some extra kick.

Notes:

  • For a nuttier flavor, first roast the Almonds for 5 mins at 350F. Cool and then grind into paste.
  • The Milk and cream has to be chilled before you add lemon juice to avoid it from curdling.
  • If you do not want to whip in between freezing, then replace milk with a 10 oz can of condensed milk and 12 oz can of evaporated milk. Skip the sugar completely.

Roshogolla

 

1524178_10154220906405573_5115683737530121643_oRoshogolla or Bengali Rasagulla is essentially spongy balls of indian cottage cheese (chhana) cooked in sugar syrup. There are various versions to the origin of this dessert, but this is the one I like, because this is the version my mom told me.

The year was 1868 in Bhagbajaar (Kolkata), a confectioner named Nobin Chandra Das was having a discussion with a bunch of freedom fighters who were concerned about the popularity of English desserts in India.

“Nobinda, these puddings and pies are becoming very popular. These days the youth prefer those to puli and pithe” said one of them.

“Can you think of a way we can change that? Your a master confectioner can you come up with something which is swadeshi and delicious?” said another.

Nonbinda thinks a little and says “I think I have an idea, let me try it out tonight and we can all taste it here tomm”

That evening the confectioner mulls around his kitchen, takes a bit of chhana and gives it a boil in sugar syrup flavored with fresh ground cardamom, a bit of rosewater and voila! One of the most popular dessert of India was created.

IMG_3637I do not have a sweet tooth, but this dessert has my heart. Its not fried and made from pure chhana (cottage cheese) and considered to be a safe comfort food when recovering from a fever or stomach upset (Not to mention the low calorie count per serving!). Since I grew up in Hyderabad and getting this from the Pada’r mishtir dokan (local sweet shop) was not really an option, my mom whipped some up in her kitchen. Recovering from a flu almost always involved mom feeding me some roshogollas and story telling.

IMG_3639This is a recipe that a lot of people requested I post, so here goes. Let me start by saying that this dessert is a tricky one to master and you might not get perfect result in your very first try, don’t let that discourage you. Here are a couple things that I learnt:

  1. Raw (non-homegenized/non-pasturized) Cow milk gives better result.
  2. After curdling the milk, gently squeeze out the extra whey and hang it for 45min-1 hour. This helps with having the right amount of moisture you need for the softness of the final product.
  3. While kneading  keep in mind that less is more. As soon as you feel grease in your palm, stop!
  4. Boil it in a big stock pot that has enough depth for the chhana balls to expand, thats how they become spongy
  5. Keep aside half of the sugar syrup and add some in between cooking time to ensure the syrup doesn’t get too dense or too hot.

Time for Prep: 45 mins     Time to Cook: 15 mins     Yield: 20-25 Servings     Level: Medium

Ingredients:

  • For the channa
    • 4 cups (32oz) whole milk
    • 2-3 tbsp lemon juice
  • For the sugar syrup:
    • 2 tbsp rose water
    • 3-4 cardamon, crushed
    • Saffron (optional)
    • 1.5 cup sugar
    • 4 cups water

Process:

  1. Making the channa:
    • Bring milk to a boil, add the lemon juice and lower heat. In a few seconds you will notice the milk solids forming. Turn off the heat. When the water is completely separated (turns a greenish shade) drain into a colander lined with cheese cloth.
    • Run a little bit of water on it to get rid of the lemony taste, drain.
    • Gather the ends of the cheese cloth and bring them together, like a purse, slowly squeeze out the water. Be careful not to burn your hands as it is really hot.
      • This is now my mom does it: Hold the ends with your left hand and using a pair of tongs hold the purse just on top of the solids with your right. Then slowly twist the cloth with your left hand. The water squeezes out without resulting in burning fingers.
    • Hang it for 45 mins-1 hour.
  2. Preparing the Golla (Balls from the channa):
    • Remove the channa from the cheese cloth, it should not be soggy wet nor should it be dry (The picture should give you an idea).
    • With the heel of your palm mash the channa and knead. Collect from the sides, mash, knead. Continue for around 10 mins (or less depending on the pressure of kneading). As soon as you feel a little grease in your palm, stop. over kneading will result in hard Roshogollas.
    • Now pinch out small portions and roll between palms to form smooth round balls no bigger than a quarter. (See picture)
    • once done, cover with moist muslin and set aside while you prepare the syrup.
  3. Preparing the Rosh (sugar syrup):
    • Place a large stock pot (or a pressure cooker) over medium heat.
    • Add the sugar, water, cardamon and saffron (optional).
    • Bring to a boil. Set aside around 1/2 cup of this syrup.
  4. Cooking the Roshagollas: 
    • To the rest of the sugar syrup add the chhana balls one by one.
    • Shake the pan gently, to move the balls a little and cover immediately. Do not stir, that will break the chhana balls.
    • After around 3-4 mins, open the lid and add half of the reserved sugar syrup and shake the pan. This step ensures that the consistency and temperature of the sugar syrup stays constant.
    • After another 3-4 mins repeat the step above and add the remaining reserved syrup, shake the pan.
    • Cook for 2 more mins. Check for the doneness of the roshogollas and switch off the heat. And add the rose water.
    • To check for doneness:
      • Take it out with slotted spoon, press a portion. If it springs back to original shape its done.
      • Or take one of them out and drop it in a glass of water, if it sinks its done. (I prefer this method).

If you ask a non-bangali, they would say that let it cool and then serve. But a Bangali will always say that the best way to enjoy these are when they are fresh and warm! The second best way is to let it chill for a couple hours first.

Note:

  • While preparing the Gollas from channa you can add 1-2 tsp of Sooji (Cream of wheat) or all purpose flour or arrowroot powder. This ensures that the chnana balls will not crumble when boiling in syrup.

Narkel Nadu (Coconut Confectionary/ Coconut Truffle)

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Mahalaya (which just went by on October 12th) brings with it a tide of memories – setting the alarm for 3:45 am and gathering around the radio promptly at 4:00 am to hear ‘Mahisasura Mardini’ sung in the magical voice of Birendra Krishna Bhadhra, the man who made Mahalaya memorable. As he masterfully recites versus and narrates the story of the decent of Goddess Durga on earth and her valiant slaying of the demon Mahisasura, mom would get busy in the kitchen making a breakfast of Luchi (Puri), Aloor Torkari (sautéed potatoes) and Narkel Naru. The narration ends with mankind bowing to this supreme power- “Ya devi sarbabhuteshshu, sakti rupena sanksthita Namasteshwai Namasteshwai Namasteshwai namo namaha.”

And the feasting would begin! I am an Athiest,  but even today I wake up early morning every Mahalaya, turn on iTunes and listen to Mahisasura Mardini while making Luchi, Torkari and Narkel Nadu. It’s about traditions and re-living memories.

This is also a quick recipe for making a decadent dessert for any day in the year. My mom is known in our friend circle for the amazing Narkel Nadu she makes, I have just made a couple tweaks – she uses Cardamon Powder, I like to use All-Spice instead and replaced regular sugar with coconut palm sugar (for its low glycemic index).

Time for Prep: 5 mins     Time to cook: 30-35 mins      Yield: around 24     Level: Easy

Ingredients:

  • 12oz frozen grated coconut (or fresh grated coconut)
  • 8 tbsp sweetened condensed milk
  • 1/4 cup whole milk
  • 4 tbsp coconut palm sugar (or regular sugar)
  • 1 tsp ghee
  • 1 tsp all spice (or cardamon powder)
  • Dry coconut flakes (optional)

IMG_2290

Process:

  1. In a heavy bottom pan mix in the sugar and coconut, before turning on the heat.
  2. Turn the heat to low settings and cook the mixture for 4-5 mins, stirring frequently, till the sugar is melted and the coconut is lightly toasted.
  3. Add the milk and condensed milk, slowly stirring it in.
  4. Add the ground all spice (or cardamon powder). Taste test to see the level of sweetness and add more sugar if needed.
  5. Keep stirring frequently and cook in low-medium heat till the coconut is cooked. This will take approximately 30-35 mins.
    1. Milk dries up and the coconut comes out clean from the sides (see picture above).
    2. Be careful not to dry too much or you cannot make the balls.  I usually just test it out by making a ball and seeing if it stays, if not I cook a little more).
  6. Take off the heat, Add ghee and stir it in.
  7. Cool slightly and start making the balls by rolling it between your palms which are around 1 inch in diameter.
  8. Roll in dried coconut flakes (Optional).

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Sondesh (milk confectionary)

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Bengali’s are known for their sweet tooth and the vast variety of ethnic sweets. I am part of the exception, I do not like sweets! When I was younger, my sister had me convinced that I was adopted because I did not share the sweet tooth of my family.

“See mom likes sweets, dad like sweets, I like sweets all our uncles and aunts and cousins love sweets. But you don’t .” she said.

“But I look exactly like dad!” I argued.

“Plastic surgery” Was her quick reasoning.

Older siblings, and their pranks! However, there are a couple exceptions to my taste preference. There are three desserts that I absolutely love (and can eat endlessly!): Tiramisu, Rasogolla and Sondesh. Especially the one made by one of my favorite person in the entire world, monju kakima, who I fondly call ‘Best Friend’. Luckily she is also a good teacher.

Sondesh is probably one of the most popular Bengali sweets, even outside of the Bangali crowd. And all you need for it is some milk and sugar. Now if you can get your hands on some ‘Patali gur’ (a special type of jaggery made from Date Palm Syrup) the this dessert just becomes extraordinary.

Time for Prep: 5 mins    Time to Cook: 20-30 mins    Yield: 8-10 servings    Level: Easy

Ingredients: 

  • Half gallon – Whole Milk
  • Juice of 1 lime (around 1.5 tbsp)
  • 6 tbsp sugar

Process:

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  1. Curdle milk to make ‘Channa’:
    1. Bring milk to a boil, add the lemon juice and lower heat. In a few seconds you will notice the milk solids forming. When the water is completely separated (turns a greenish shade) remove from heat and drain into a colander lined with cheese cloth.
    2. Run a little bit of water on it to get rid of the lemony taste, drain.
    3. Gather the ends of the cheese cloth and bring them together, like a purse, slowly squeeze out the water. Be careful not to burn your hands as it is really hot.
    4. This is now my mom does it: Hold the ends with your left hand and using a pair of tongs hold the purse just on top of the solids with your right. Then slowly twist the cloth with your left hand. The water squeezes out without resulting in burning fingers.
    5. Place it on a flat plate and weigh it with something heavy, I use my motar or a container filled with water. Let this sit for around an hour. IMG_2126 IMG_2127
  2. Knead the Channa: 
    1. Knead channa with the heel of your palm or the back of a bowl for 7-8 mins.
    2. Add sugar and knead for additional 4-5 mins. Till the sugar is completely blended in.
    3. When it all comes together and you have something that looks like a soft ball of dough, stop knead.
  3. Shape to make Sondesh:
    1. If you have molds, this is when you use it. or
    2. Shape them into balls.
    3. What I do: Shape them into balls, then flatten them a little. At this point the artist in me takes over and I use things around me to make a mark. For the Sondesh in this picture, I used a frother.
    4. You can further decorate by staining them with Saffron, adding raisins, pista etc..,.