What better way than to start the new year, new phase of my life with something new and sweet ,like this mung pakon pitha for Sankranti. Life is all about taking chances, trying new things, pushing your comfort zone inch by inch, making mistakes and learning from it.
Today I will share with you all, my experience with mung pakon pithe that I have tried out this year for the very first time. Bengali cuisine (cuisine of West Bengal as well as Bangladesh) is vastly rich and diverse. So as the pithe-puli ,the celebration meal platter that is prepared during poush /winter Sankranti. According to the food historians and connoisseurs there are around more than fifty variety of pithe-puli that is being made through out the vast deltaic region.
Lines had been drawn on the Earth that still reeks of bloods of people , borders had been erected, millions had been uprooted from their homes and a nation is born amidst bloodshed. And every year as sun rotates, season changes and poush Sankranti festivities started out, my mom and aunts would proudly wear their badges of culinary honor, and will begin the pitha marathon starting with patishapta, followed by mung daler bhaja pitha, rosh pitha and dudh pitha in quick succession. Culinary discussions took its own course which remain centered around kind of pitha -puli that used to grace their lives once.
Growing up in 50’s, in post partition India times had etched their memories with so many traumatic experiences and stories that even in the midst of festivities, some forlorn memories of lost homes, missing people, stories of revelries and festivities, pithe puli gatherings at their ancestral homes in Dhaka and so on were bound to bounce back from abyss.
My aunt, who is well known in the family for her artistic proclivities was a student at Shantiniketan, where she has learned further about the nokshi kantha art form , and it was a delight to watch her etching designs with the help of sticks/ thorns of palm trees on rolled out lentil and rice dough with great perseverance and poise. That is her way of keeping alive the age old traditions of her family and cultural essence that eventually defines who you are.
Pakon pitha is slightly different from nokshi pitha. The former is made with lentil -rice dough while nokshi pitha is made primarily with rice dough. This year I had tried my hands on these beauties and here are few learning points that I want to share with you all.
- Mung pakon pitha can be made two ways – one by grinding the lentils to fine powder and second by boiling the dal and then mashing it to form a dough. Latter one we usually follow to make mung daler bhaja pitha.
- However I find that grinding the dal to fine powder and making the dough out of it is relatively simpler and retains the characteristic crisp texture. Dough should be soft and pliable.
- If your dough becomes dry while making the pitha, then wet your hands and softly knead the dough gently between your palms. Otherwise cracks may appear while rolling out the dough.
- Original pakon pitha ratios are usually in 2:1 form, that is rice flour should be added half to that of mung dal.
- While rolling out the dough, keep it in mind that it should not be too thin. Ideal thickness should be around 1/4 inch. I have rolled out some dough quiet thin and they come out as biscuit like. Too thin and crisp don’t taste good.
- Also, thickness matters because designs should be etched deep enough . If designs are not etched deep, then while frying the pitha , dough will shrink a little and designs will be lost. Also deep designs helps to absorb the syrup more efficiently.
- These mung pakon pitha need to be fried in low heat. For first few ones, I fried them in medium hot oil and they started to puff up a little in the center. This not only spoil the designs but also it gives a uneven crispness to the pitha.
- After frying them, make sure that the extra oil on pitha is well soaked before soaking the pitha in syrup for 2-3 minutes and then arranged them in platter. Once done, you can also drizzle few spoons of syrup over it. But these are not for immediate consumption. Le them stand for few hours to overnight. They taste way better the next morning than the fresh ones.
- Mung dal / yellow lentils: 6 tbsp
- Rice flour : 3 tbsp
- Salt : ½ tsp
- Sugar : 1 tbsp
- Ghee : 1 tbsp melted
- Cardamom powder : 1 tsp
- Cinnamon stick : a small one
- Sugar : 1 cup + 3 tbsp
- Water : 1 cup
- Start first by making the dough for pitha -
- Wash the lentils, drain the water completely and then start roasting the lentils on low heat. Once the lentils are comparatively drier, add one teaspoon of ghee and continue roasting the lentils till you get even nice golden brown color.
- Cool it off and then grind it in a mixer to a fine powder.
- Bring ½ cup water to a rolling boil in a saucepan, add salt, sugar and ghee, cardamom powder and cinnamon sticks.
- Carefully add the mung lentil powder to it followed by rice flour.
- Mix it carefully on low heat till a dough is form. If required, add more water.
- While the dough is still warm, lightly grease your palm and knead the dough till it is soft and pliable.
- Cover and let the dough rest for 30 minutes.
- Divide the dough in small portions.
- On a lightly rice flour dusted surface, roll out the dough (1/4 inch thick ) in circles .
- Apply melted ghee over the rolled out disc and start etching the designs on it with the help of toothpick.
- You can go creative here. only keep it in mind to etch the designs deep enough.
- Once done, air dry the freshly designed pitha for one hour.
- Prepare the simple syrup by bringing the sugar and water to a rolling boil.
- Heat the oil in kadhai and start frying the pitha on low heat. This will take some time. Turn over once, so that both the sides are evenly browned.
- Once done, wipe off the excess oil from the pitha and soak them in warm syrup for 2-3 minutes before taking them out on a wide plate.
- Repeat with the rest of the pitha.
- Sprinkle some more syrups over the pitha, and let them stand for 3-4 hours or overnight.
- They taste way better the next morning.