My grandaunt ( I call her Jhu) fell ill rather suddenly, so I was packed off to look after her. And if I may say so myself (I pretty much astonished myself, actually), I’m a champion by the sickbed, and have a killer bedside manner. And forget the inane jokes you’re coming up with. This is my grandaunt we’re talking about. Even I draw a line somewhere.
So, we spent quite some time on deep musings about life, the universe and me, and there was this especially invigorating conversation where she listed (bulleted, too) the top…seven, I think…reasons why I am a freak. But more on that later. I promise.
But, keeping JAP’s request in mind, I beavered most of the family’s Bijoya sweets’ recipe out of her. Which led to hours of mellow, sepia-tinted reminiscing, of days and people gone by, of jokes shared in the busy kitchen amid sharp sound of the soft kheer filled sweets hitting the hot oil and the heady smell of pure, melted ghee. Of children seen ‘stealing’ sweets made for the Bijoya guests, and smiled indulgently at.
Of where Bhutnather Dokan (Bhutnath’s shop) and why Gojen Mittir.
Of working under the starlight in the dew-softened garden in front of the house to get everything, from the blazing colours of handpicked flowers to the cool, soothing chandan bata ready at the crack of the pink and golden autumn dawn for the family puja.
Of people who you loved but who died before you could say how sorry you were and how much you loved and treasured them, and of those who trod on your heart with hobnail boots.
Of Didimoni, Khurima, Jhu, Chonu, Mashimoni and Shumani sharing one big bed in one large room because the new ‘house’ was a three bedroom flat and there were six more people in the family, and of the bitter, lonely, disconnected three-member skeleton this bustling, vibrant family has now been reduced to.
I shan’t tell you those.
But Bijoya is just passed, the last day of the Durga Puja, and Diwali and Kaali Pujo is just getting over here in Calcutta, and for those who celebrate it, it is Bhaiphonta/Bhaidooj tomorrow. The odd firworks are still waking us up, so hey, compliments of the season! And here are Jhu’s (and Didu’s. and Didimoni’s. and her Didimoni’s) recipes for homemade mishti. For whatever they’re worth.
Ingredients: ½ kg chhana, drained completely (hung to drip-dry in a cotton or muslin wrap, you know the drill?), 100gms of flour, about 75 gms of sugar, baking powder, elach/ ilaichi/cardamom pods, small nokuldanas (er, sugarballs kind of thing), refined oil, preferably with a few dollops of ghee melting in it.
And this is how you go about it: make a nice, soft dough with the flour, a tiny little bit of baking powder, sugar (say, about 2 tablespoons?) and quite a bit of ghee. It’s not going to be a dry, tight roti dough— it should feel oily and smooth. Oh yeah, and the cardamom powder as well, but go easy on it (trust me, I’ve done this). Right, now you make little balls with the dough with the nokuldanas inside them, and fry them in batches of three or four (again, the voice of experience—one by one takes too long and is often over-fried. Too many, the whole lot breaks or sticks to the sides. Or both) Fry till they’re brown, but keep stirring and gently rolling them over in the oil, or, as I said, they stick to the bottom and the sides.
Then, when the whole lot is done, make a thick (and we’re talking icky thick here) sugar syrup (lots of sugar in boiling water) and drop them in. carefully.
*****Important note about frying!!!*****
This is the way to do it: heat the oil and ghee till you can smell the ghee. If the utensil’s non no-stick (he he) and turning red/brown, you’re wither careless or not very experienced in the kitchen. In which case I take no responsibility. Right, so if you’re the kind who can tell when the oil’s reallt hot by looking at it, take it off the flames at this point. Let it cool for about twenty seconds or so, then, slowly, carefully, drop the ledikinis (and ALL other sweets) into it. Keep rolling them over gently with those perforated hatas you get for fishing out fries and stuff from oil, and put the (*insert appropriate utensil name*) back on the flame, and turn it on high. You can’t be too careful with the flame. Too high, your sweets are a scorched, half-done mess. Too low, it’s a ball of flour and milk dripping with cold oil.
The exact same list.
Make the dough the same way, divide it into little balls, lengthen each like you would a rough solid cylinder of plasticine, give them a jilipi shape (sort of imperfect overlapping supposedly-concentric circles), deep fry the same careful way, dip in rosh, serve. Or better, eat.
And now the more difficult ones: (not really, though…)
Kheerer chop: flour and sugar; 1 ½ -2 litres of milk; shuji/ sooji/ dunno what it’s called in English; a couple of pieces of bread, toasted stiff (but not brown) and powdered; a sliver of nutmeg, powdered; ghee and oil – the previous lethal combo.
Right, deep breath. You could mess this up royally, and you probably shall, but let’s think happy thoughts anyway, okay?
Put the milk on to boil, with about 2 tablespoons of sugar (or 1 ½. Depends on how sweet you like your kheer) and about a teaspoon of shuji/ sooji. Turn down the flame after a while, otherwise it’ll scorch. Now, when the whole affair thickens and occupies about half the volume it did before (and there are no scorches or spilt white stuff on the kitchen floor) you can pat yourself on the back, add about 2 tablespoons of shuji, mix it well, add powdered toast, fold well, let it try and tighten (but not scorch! …you can tell how my efforts went, can’t you?) slightly more, then sprinkle the powdered nutmeg, mix it in again, and take it off the flames.
You should be a pat hand at the dough and the sugar syrup by now. Only this time, the stuff shan’t float in the rosh, it’s only meant to cling to the chops and give them that extra sticky sweetness. So, right, you make the balls (look, stop smirking every time you read that, okay? We’re trying serious cooking here! *huff*), put a small amount of the kheer (the one you just made. Yay!) inside, seal it my stretching the dough over it firmly but gently, pat it into a rough oval shape with your palms, and fry till each one’s golden-brown. Then toss them in the clingy syrup and we’re done with this one.
Nimkis in rosh:
Here’s a breather. This is really, really easy. Buy a packet of lightly salted nimkis (the less salty, the better), make a thick, thick rosh, stir the nimkis into it, and keep stirring till they soak all the rosh. Do NOT let it cool. Have it straight off the flames. It’s fast, easy, and delicious.
The same dough (you should have some in the fridge wrapped in a moist cloth by now. Just in case). Roll the dough in a large…er, fellow bongs, what’s a good word for lechee? (and NO, it’s not what you think. I’m sorry to disappoint you, boys and girls, but we’re REALLY cooking here. I’m not Gytha Ogg)
Anyway, you know what I mean, just flatten the dough with your palm (and not a rolling pin), and make sure it’s between ½ an inch and an inch thick. Then cut it into rough squares, diamonds, rectangles – whatever’s your favourite shape of the week. Just not circles, okay? That’s a disaster. Then fry them, one by one, over a high flame, dip them in rosh, and let the syrup dry on and cling to the gojas. Some people sprinkle coconut shavings (narkel kora) on them while the rosh is still sticky. Some sprinkle more sugar.
Right. Now I’m in trouble. I really don’t know what chira/chire is in English. I’m not entirely sure there’s a easily recognisable word for it, actually. So, if you figure out what it is, yay, you just got yourself into more cooking.
So, you soak the chira (that’s how I pronounce it, Bangal trait apparently) in just about enough lukewarm water. The chira, and this is important, should not be soggy. It’ll just soften a bit and maybe swell just that much. Now, preferably, you should make it into a paste on what we call a sheel-nora, which is a stone slab and a stone pestle respectively, used to grind spices and make pastes by rolling the pestle over the slab from top to bottom, and putting crushable and grindable stuff in between. Has been known to be used as a weapon of mass destruction, so perhaps it's better if we just stick to the food processor. Just, don't make it into a smooth paste, alright? Leave it at the slightly grainy stage.
Now, mix this grainy paste with dry kheer (you may do without the sooji/shuji and toast bit this time, though a fistful of shuji is always advisable), flour, a pinch of baking powder, ground large-cardamom seeds. Make rough ovals from this dough and fry ‘em. You should be the reigning champion of this by now.
The pranhoras stay in the rosh. You don’t pick them off after they’ve had a good soak.
If you’ve done the kheerer chop, this is like, child’s play. Absolutely.
So, hmm…you make the kheer the same way, you make the dough the same way, and then, you do the little trick. You *clears throat* make balls with it, roll each of them into a flat circle (they should be largish) and cut them into half.
Actually, wait, this gets a little complicated. Do it my way. Don’t cut it into half. Make a normal sized flattened thing, put some kheer in the middle, and wrap the sides over the filling to give the thing a triangular shape. The foldings should overlap and be securely glued together with water. But don’t drench!!! Just wet a fingertip (in water) and press the sides closely together. Then put a clove in the intersection (or roughly the middle) of the folded sides. Then fry the lotikas, and dip in the rosh.
Then serve, eat, feed it to your dog, pack and send home and give mum a heart attack. Upto you, love.