While the entire world is busy dieting and maintaining a good figure, we Bengalis can’t just get rid of our sweet tooth. Come January and here’s another reason to celebrate the genetically transmitted sweet loving characteristics of Bongs. The reason this time is simple – Sun (Lord Surya) has come to visit the house of his son, Saturn (Lord Shani) – yes, you have guessed it right its Makar Sankranti held each year on 14th January. This day celebrated as Poush Sankranti (sankranti meaning end of a month). There is a whole range of sweets prepared especially for this occasion, named as pitha – these may be steamed, boiled, or even fried; the main ingredients being rice flour (rice grains ground to fine powder), jaggery (the golden harvest of winter in entire Bengal) and coconut.
This day is celebrated throughout India in different ways; it’s the time of harvest. You can search an array of recipes from throughout India in the Harvest the festival of rice event round up part I and part II.
Our guest, Dipanwita Sarkar was good enough to share a recipe of bhapa pitha with us. If you don’t like it that sweet you make it like savory dumplings.
- Rice flour 2 cups
- Grated coconut 2 cups
- 1 cup jaggery
- Hot water for kneading the dough
- Make a dough with the rice flour and boiling water [Boiling water is important otherwise pithe will break]
- Heat a wok, and mix the grated coconut and the jaggery with continuous stirring till it becomes dry. Keep aside and let the filling cool.
- Now make very small balls from the dough and press each ball with your finger to make a small bowl shape to put in the filling [The thinner the outer the tastier the pithe but be cautious that it should not break.]
- Put the filling and close the bowl in whatever shape you like. [You can give a triangular shape with frills at the borders. Be creative give different shapes for different fillings].
- Steam the pitha in a steamer/rice cooker or simply place the pitha on a sieved bowl and place it over boiling water.
- It takes almost half an hour to be fully cooked. [So pour water accordingly. Make sure water doesn’t touch the pitha.]
- Check at intervals. First it feels sticky, but when it feels dry, then it is done.
- Remove and keep open for 5mins to evaporate touches of moisture on it. Then you can store in a casserole or enjoy steaming hot pitha then and there.
- Serve pithe with liquid jaggery.
Hot Tips – You can prepare savory pithe similar to this. Just replace the coconut and jaggery filling with vegetables (Dipanwita has used potato and cauliflower) or even minced meat or chicken. If using vegetables cook the vegetables with ginger paste, chili powder and/or tomato puree and coriander leaf. Dry out excess water while preparing the filling. You can also use mashed peas for the filling. Cook the mashed peas with roasted cumin seeds and red chilies. Serve the savory pithe (steamed dumplings) with coriander dip.