It is that time of the year when a Bengali craves for the first sight of Maa Durga. There is an aura of the supreme Goddess that lingers in the air during this time. This familiarity can only be felt! If you are a Bengali yourself, you will definitely relate to this feeling. There is exuberance within, yet a longing to meet the Mother. As soon as Mahalaya approaches, Bengalis gear up with the Durga pujo essentials, new clothes and of course, plans to devour the tastiest of the foods during, before and after the pujo.
There is something nostalgic about freshly grated coconut. It immediately transforms me to my school days when I was a little girl. I used to get amused by how thin and tiny strands of coconut fall down like a pile of snow on a huge copper plate tucked under a Bonti (a traditional Bengali chopper) with an extended Kuruni (coconut scraper). I remember my mother sitting on the floor and scraping several hemispheres of coconut tirelessly around the Kuruni. As a child, I used to wonder whether I would ever be able to scrape the coconut like the way my mother did with her expert hands. Later, as a part of growing up like a true Bengali homely girl, I made various attempts to use the Kuruni, but with little success. Thank God, my Chutney Grinder is there today, though even now, I prefer the hand-scraped coconut for its unique texture.
There are many stories that revolve around this seed. Coconut reminds me of the festive time. It reminds me of the good, old temple of the New Delhi Kali Bari in my locality, where, along with sweets, slivers of Narkel (coconut) were handed over to us as Prashad during any puja. It also reminds me of all those wonderful breakfasts of Luchi, Badhakopir Dalna and the sweet Cholar Daal sprinkled with tiny bits of toasted coconut. It reminds me of the outstanding coconut-enriched Golda-Chingri-Malai-Curry Saturday meals that we had during my school and college days, with the freshest Golda Chingris (jumbo prawns) that my father used to bring from the C.R. Park fish market in New Delhi. And then, it reminds me of my marriage day, when tender coconut adorned a Mongolghot, touched up with holy vermillion or Sindoor. It also brings back the memories of my first and second Shaadhs (the traditional Bengali baby-shower ritual), when I ate an elaborate meal cooked by my mother, where a few of my favourite dishes featured coconut as an ingredient.
There are mischievous childhood memories attached with coconut. My sister and I would stand outside the kitchen door and take the biggest sniffs that we could, to relish the heavenly aroma of grated coconut being cooked with Nolen Gur (aromatic date-palm jaggery) before rolling into coconut balls or Narkeler Naru. While my mother rolled the delicious Narkeler Narus on a thala (big plate), my sister and I would make sure to help each other in “stealing” a few of those still-warm coconut balls from the thala and hide these in our pencil boxes, to enjoy them later.
And today, I am married, settled in Mumbai, and have my own kids. I stand in the kitchen and watch that grated pile of coconut being made by my Bengali helper. I hear the echo of those old days with tons of food memories! As I cook this sweet in my kitchen, my soul searches for that comforting flavour of those Narkeler Narus made by my Maa in my school days… In these Narus, I search for the warmth of my own mother as I yearn for the Eternal Maa Durga while waiting for this year’s Durga Pujo. The Nolen Gurer Narkeler Naru is not merely a Bengali sweet to satisfy my tastebuds, but every morsel of this satisfies the soul within me and the very essence of my being!
Happy Durga Puja to all! Stay blessed.
Nolen Gurer Narkeler Naru (Bengali-Style Coconut Balls with Date Palm Jaggery)
- Grated coconut don’t use the black, hard skin: 800 g
- Nolen Gur: 300 g
- Quaker Oats optional: 100 g
- Freshly ground green cardamom powder: ½ tsp
- Boiled and cooled milk: 3 tbsp
- Sea salt optional: ¼ tsp (or a bit more, if preferred)
- In a Kadhai, dry-roast the coconut continuously for around 10 min on a medium flame.
- Add the molten Nolen Gur. The jaggery can be melted by microwaving it for 1–2 min.
- Cook this for around 10 min. Add the oats and sauté until the mixture leaves the sides of the kadhai and is dry enough to handle.
- Add the cardamom powder, milk and the sea salt and switch off the flame. Mix well. Mix again after 5 min.
- Transfer the Naru mixture to a thala (big plate) and let it cool down slightly.
- While the mixture is still warm, grease your palms a bit with ghee, ensuring that you don’t over-grease. Take small amounts of the mixture and with the help of two palms, roll into ping-pong-sized balls.
- Don’t worry if the Narus look a bit wet and feel soft. These will harden soon.
- If the first few Narus come out to be crumbly and dry, add an extra 1 tbsp milk to the warm mixture and mix well. Now make the Narus again. The Narus bind very well with a hint of milk. Don’t add the extra tablespoon of milk if the mixture is already wet enough.
- Let the Narus dry out at room temperature: around 30 min.
- Pack the Narus in an airtight container. It is best to keep these refrigerated to enjoy them for a much longer time. If you wish to consume these within a few days, then no need to refrigerate.