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)

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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..,.

Paan Ice Cream

Paanwala
Paanwala crafting a Paan.

Paan is a preparation which combines various ingredients all wrapped up in a betel leaf. It has been an integral part of Indian (South East Asian) cultures for centuries, eaten at the end of a meal and believed to help with digestion. There is a whole host of varieties available for the hard core connoisseurs; Ram Pyaari, Meenakshi, Lal Pari, Kasturi, Surabhi, Mohini, Calcutta are just a few of them.  A Paanwala is the master craftsman who uses his skills to create the most perfectly delectable paans. Its a niche skill, really.

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Meetha Paan

Our Sunday family ritual growing up was a heavy lunch, usually Mangshor Jhol and Bhaath (Mutton Curry and Rice) followed by my dad treating us all to some paan and chocolates. Calcutta Ram Pyaari for them and Chocolates for my sister and me, which slowly turned into a delicious Meetha Pan. One summer my cousins were visiting and we followed the usual ritual. The kids chose to have a lollipops. While I was slowly enjoying my lollipop, my cousin, who is just 2 years younger to me, finished his in one bite and started to eye mine. He watched for a minute or so and then in one swift motion snatched my lollipop and quickly gulped it down. Typical boy!! To get me to stop crying my dad bribed me with a meetha (sweet) paan.. and thats how my love for paan began.

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Gulkand (Rose petal preserve)

Its nearly impossible to find good paan in US, even in Bay Area where you get everything Indian. So a few weeks back I decided to attempt in making some on my own. The main ingredients of a meetha paan are Betel Leaf, Gulkand (Rose petal preserve), Kharek (Dried Dates), roasted fennel seeds, cardamon powder, coconut powder and lime paste. I set out to find the ingredients. All ingredients are very easy to find in any Indian stores, unless your really particular like me, then you just make your own Gulkand at home. I ordered the betel leaves from Amazon, big mistake because by the time they reached me they were moldy and rotting, California heat! So I decided to beat the heat with some ice cream instead, paan flavored ice cream.

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

FullSizeRender 6Ingredients:

  • 2 cups milk, chilled
  • 1 cup heavy cream, chilled
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup Gulkand (Rose petal preserve)
  • 6-8 Dates- soaked, peeled and chopped (Kharek)
  • 1 tbsp roasted fennel seeds, corse powder
  • pinch of Cardamon powder
  • 1 tbsp Coconut powder
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice
  • 2 tbsp betel leaf juice
  • 1/2 tsp menthol (optional)

Process if using an ice cream machine:

  1. Mix all ingredients 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, slowly add the sugar and continue whipping. Mix the milk in and chill in the refrigerator for 2-3 hours.
  2. Mix the paan flavoring- Gulkand, chopped dates, cardamon powder, coconut powder, lemon juice, betel leaf juice fennel seeds. Mix this into chilled cream mixture from step1.
  3. Transfer to a shallow container and freeze.
  4. 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.

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Best served on a betel leaf, just don’t order them online.

Notes:

  • 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 skip the sugar completely.