Overture: On A Sweet Note

Hello there! Welcome to my mad, glad, food fetishist world! Oh, no, not another food blog, did you say? Well, er, yes, I have taken my courage in both hands and am about to venture into a space that’s thick with foodies, foodo-intellectuals, food lovers and food fanatics of every hue. Can I add anything significant to this teeming broth of culinary wisdom and wit? Jump into the jaw-dropping mix and hope to stand out? Maybe. Or Maybe not. But here I am, for whatever it’s worth. For I feel that love of food is like blood: it’s meant to circulate. And what better platform to circulate it than here?

And so to the thought that finally made me shed my natural laziness and step into blogosphere. It’s really got to do with the time of the year. January is a month when I get horribly nostalgic. In Bengal, where I live -- and was born and bred -- Poush Sankranti (the last day of the month of Poush which falls around the middle of January) is considered an auspicious occasion. It is traditionally celebrated by making a variety of sweets – a stunning array of pithey and payesh – using simple, everyday stuff like rice, gur (jaggery), coconut, and milk. The seriously religious head off to the place where the river Ganga pours itself into the sea – a dip in that holy spot at the appointed hour will supposedly wash away your sins. The stay-at-homes do the more sensible thing: they seek nirvana in the pleasures of the palate. That is, if they know someone who still practises the elusive art of the perfect pithey.

To come back to why I feel downright elegiac at this time of the year – it’s because my Mom is no longer the enthusiastic celebrant of Poush Sankranti that she once was. The winter of my childhood and teenage years used to be a veritable pithey fiesta. Patishapta (crepes with fillings of kheer or coconut and gur), puli pithey (coconut and gur-filled dumplings cooked in a sauce of reduced milk flavoured with notun gur), bhapa puli (steamed envelopes with the reduced milk sauce poured on top) the light caramel coloured, flavourful, notun gurer payesh (rice pudding cooked with the fragrant gur of the season), the gorgeous rosh bora (fried dumplings of ground lentil dunked in sugar syrup) or the delectable mishti alur puli (coconut and gur filled envelopes made with boiled, mashed sweet potato, fried in ghee, and dropped in sugar syrup) – these were some of the wondrous goodies that my mother used to make at this time of the year. She still makes notun gurer payesh occasionally, but she draws the line at the more labour intensive stuff like the heavenly patishapta, or the mishti alur puli that explodes in your mouth in a burst of sugar syrup and pure joy.

My all time favourite, though, was the patishapta -- the thin, almost translucent, crepes made with powdered rice batter and stuffed with a sweet filling, which seemed to peel off the pan through sheer will power on the part of the pithey maker. I make them a couple of times this month to relive the taste of my childhood. And, needless to say, to give myself a sweet, to-heck-with-the-calories, fix.

Here’s my version of the patishapta. The classic recipe – the way my mother and my grandmother used to make it -- calls for powdered rice for the crepe batter. If you are a perfectionist, and a glutton for punishment, I might add, go for it -- because getting the pithey to do its job with powdered rice batter is a lot more arduous and requires humungous amounts of skill. Otherwise, a batter of flour and suji (semolina) does pretty well too. But don’t, for heaven’s sake, use atta in the batter as some recipes urge you to. That would be nothing short of sacrilege!

Patishapta (Crepes with a sweet filling)


For the filling
  1. Half a grated coconut
  2. 150g good quality gur
  3. 75g khoya
  4. Half a teaspoon of powdered cardamom
For the batter
  1. I cup flour
  2. 3/4 cup suji
  3. Water to mix
  4. Oil to fry

Make the filling first. Heat a wok. Put in the grated coconut and the gur and mix well. Stir continuously on slow fire, making sure that the mixture does not stick to the bottom of the pan. Keep stirring till the mixture is nicely homogenised and attains a sticky consistency. Mash the khoya and add it to the mixture. Stir some more till it is absorbed --- the khoya will give the filling a smooth, mellow taste. Sprinkle the cardamom powder and mix well.
Take it off the fire. While it is hot, take small portions of the filling and roll them between your hands into longish shapes (about 3 inches) that are slightly tapered at the ends.

Now make the batter. Combine the flour and the suji and slowly add water, mixing and beating all the time. The batter should have a dropping consistency.
Heat a fry pan. Lightly smear it with oil. Keep the fire low. Drop a big table spoon full of the mixture into the pan and swirl it around to spread the batter thinly in an even, round shape. Let it cook for a bit on slow fire or until the crepe begins to show bubbles. With a spatula carefully loosen it from the pan. Place a filling on it, roll up the crepe like an omelet, and slide it off the pan.

Make all the patishaptas in this way. This makes about 10 patishaptas.


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