New Year, new day, new beginnings, new resolutions to keep, and here I am with my first post of 2018 on Makar Sankranti, sharing with you all one of our family favourite chushi pitha or choshir payesh, an ethnic and almost lost and forgotten recipe, from Bengal. Those who are not aware of this age old tradition, rituals and the celebration meal of pithe-puli parbon can refer back to this link for more information.
Winters are not dull, drab, dreary and lifeless in my country. In fact we waited the whole year for winters to arrive as it will also bring forth the seasonal bounties and for a Bong winter means that elusive nolen gur or date palm jaggery. The merriment of Christmas and New Year slowly transcends into yet another most important festival of the Indian sub-continent, Sankranti as sun transmigrates from one zodiac into another.
Growing up in Chattisgarh, Sankranti was never a community festival with pomp and shows. Rather its a quiet homely festival observed only by few families including us. A week before the festival, every corner of the house will be mopped clean, old and discarded things will be trashed away and mom would silently prepare a long list of pithe-puli platter to prepare during those three days of the festival.
Our small courtyards used to look quite festive with mounds of grated coconuts in one corner, heaps of sun-dried rice grains lying in other, the blocks of jaggeries are ready to be melted on hearth which will soon turn into pure gold in no time.
Sitting under the mango tree, soaking the luxurious warmth of winter after noon sun, with my chemistry textbook in one hand and gooseberries in other, I would keenly observe everything from a distance with a delighted heart and childlike curiosity.
There were times when guests would be invited to devour those delectable platter of pithe-puli and during such times, more hands joined my mom to accomplish that uphill task. Chattisgarh has sizable portion of Bengalis from the other side of the border, who had migrated to this part of the world during the mass migration and uprooting of 4.5million Bengali Hindus during partition time.
During such gatherings, amidst the lavish feast of pithe-puli, the dialogues would take their own discourse only to reveal the forlorn memories of India’s partition times, memories of long lost homes, nostalgic memoirs of revelry, festivities, poush Sankranti at Dhaka. The narratives were always so strong and vivid that it literally transported oneself into that time period and were nothing short of historical documentaries for me.
Food has an incredible power to connect back to our roots, it narrates stories of forgotten traditions, folklore and many such memoirs that brings us closer to our family, to our native.
Many such historical stories and folklores I have heard from my Ma while sitting together under that mango tree, carefully rolling the choshi one by one between our greased palms in winter afternoons. Once done, these choshis (which are nothing but hand rolled semai or kind of pasta , for an easy reference, made with softened rice dough) will be sun dried for two days and later on the eve of Sankranti, it will be simmered in milk till it oozes out the creamy richness. Choshi payesh taste better the next day and so does all kinds of pithe puli.
- Rice flour : 2 cup
- Semolina (optional) : ¼ cup
- Hot water : ½ cup or as required
- Salt : ½ tsp
- Ghee : 3-4 tbsp
- Milk, full cream : 1 l
- Sugar : ½ cup
- Cardamom powder : 1 tsp
- Nutmeg powder (optional): ½ tsp
- Bay leaf : 2
- Mix the salt with rice and semolina well.
- Boil the water and gently add the rice-semolina mix.
- Stir it and soon it will form a lump. If requires add more hot water but keep it in mind that too much water will yield a sticky dough. So better sprinkle the water over the dough.
- Left it for 10 minutes.
- While the dough is still warm,knead the dough till it is soft but firm.
- If the dough turns out sticky then sprinkle more rice flour.
- Grease your palm well with ghee, and start making the choshi.
- Pinch an almond size dough and gently roll it between your palms, very lightly but fast so as not to exert any pressure.
- Try to keep the choshi or pasta under 2 inch in size. Shapes are usually thicker in the middle with tapering ends.
- This will take some time so do it when you have enough time to kill.
- Once done, sun dry them under hot sun for couple of hours.
- You can also store them for later use.
- Heat the ghee in a wide open pan.
- Gently sauteed the choshi by lightly turning them over.
- You will find some will break at this point.
- Do not worry about it,You can later shape them also before simmering it in milk.
- While it is going on, bring the milk to a rapid boiling.
- Add the sugar, shells of green cardamoms, bay leaves.
- Once the milk thickened, add the chushi pitha in the boiling milk.
- Cook on medium heat for another 5 minute until they hardened a bit.
- Chushi pitha will be hard enough to retain their shapes but will remain soft to chew. If you boil for longer time, they might become too chewy which would not be good to taste.
- Adjust the sugar, sprinkle cardamom and nutmeg powder. Take down from the heat and cover it and let it stand for half an hour or so.
- Serve it warm or at room temperature.
Chosi pithe, is usually made with rice flour but many prefers it with semolina too, again it depends upon from which part of Bengal you belong to. Making hand rolled choshi is time consuming, but it can be make ahead and can be stored in airtight container for months.
For that these chushi must be sun dried for days to drain off last drop of moisture from it. If sun dried for appropriate time, then choshi need not be fried in ghee and can be directly added to rapidly boiling thickened milk. But if you are using fresh choshi, then do remember to sun dry it for couple of hours before lightly frying them in ghee and later dunked in boiling milk. Also try to keep the size of chushi / choshi below 2 inch in size as longer than that will tend to break while simmering in boiling milk.
Every year with great zeal and enthusiasm I look forward to Sankranti, or more specifically poush Sankranti as we call it in Bengal to prepare something unique and forgotten pithe-puli recipes from Bengali cuisine and it is my humble attempt to revive those lost recipes and blog about it, so that it stays in our heart forever in this digital age.
Happy New Year 2018