Poush Sankranti is just round the corner. Every year, January 14th/15th is called Makar Sankranti or Poush Sankranti, which denotes the culmination of the Poush month in the Bengal calendar, and the beginning of the Maagh month and festivities thereafter. The Poush month-end or Poush Parbon is also an indication that the season of winters (or Hemonto in Bengali) is coming to an end and spring (or Boshonto) is not far away!
The mention of this festival is enough to make a foodaholic Bengali drool with dreams of gorging on Pithe, Puli and Paayesh. It is that time of the year when the farmers in Bengal have their rice reserves full with freshly harvested rice. To add to the joy, the unique flavour of Nolen Gur (date palm jaggery) entices its patrons during the winter season. Fresh, green winter vegetables hit the market and the weather becomes favourable enough to enjoy the harvest and the fresh produce.
Pithe, Puli and Paayesh are the kinds of Bengali sweets that are eaten during Poush Sankranti. Pithe and Puli can be sweet or savoury, but mostly, sweet versions are popular. A sweet stuffing of coconut, lentils, poppy seeds or khoyakheer is encased in an envelope of rice flour and/or refined flour dough. Pithe or Puli can be deep-fried or steamed. Puli is a kind of dumpling that has a beautiful, elongated shape and has a sweet stuffing inside. I will share the recipe of the famous Doodh Puli some other time. Paayesh, on the other hand, is cooked in milk and is called Kheer in Hindi.
Try this recipe of Ranga Aalur Pithe, which is made with sweet potatoes (called Ranga Alu or Mishti Alu in Bengali). This is one of those Pithe which people actually don’t bother to make anymore, especially in the cities. To be frank, although it is not as popular and tasty as the Doodh Puli, Gokul Pithe or the Patishapta, it does have good flavour. Those who like the texture and taste of sweet potato, will definitely love this recipe.
Before going to the recipe, please note that the sweet potato has to be mashed smoothly. For this recipe, the sweet potato has to be first boiled (or steamed) with skin on. The boiled sweet potato should be firm enough. Overboiling will result in messy Pithe, as these absorb much water on overboiling and disintegrate into a porridge-like muddle. I pressure-cooked the halved sweet potatoes with skin on and opened the lid after 2 min of the first whistle. The cooking time, however, might change in your case, as it depends on many factors, such as the age and variety of the sweet potato as well as the size of the pressure cooker.
Another point to be remembered is to always manually mash the sweet potato while it is still warm. Doing this will ensure that you get a smooth dough of sweet potato for your sweet-potato-based dessert. The recipe makes around 12 flattened Ranga Alur Pithe sweets.
#PoushParbon Recipe: Ranga Aalur Pithe (A Traditional Festive Bengali Dessert using Sweet Potato)
- Ingredients for the cover:
- Boiled and thoroughly mashed sweet potatoes medium sized: 3
- Rice flour: 2 tbsp
- Refined flour: 1 tbsp
- For the stuffing:
- Freshly grated coconut: 6 tbsp
- Sugar: 3 tbsp
- Milk: 1 tbsp
- For the sugar syrup:
- Sugar: ¾ cup
- Water: ¾ cup
- Whole green cardamoms split: 4
- Refined oil or ghee for deep-frying
- Manually knead the sweet potato with the rice flour and refined flour, without using water. The dough should be soft and smooth. Cover for 15 min.
- Make the stuffing by cooking the grated coconut and sugar together, until the sugar caramelises and the mixture becomes quite dry. Add the milk and cook for a few seconds. Remove into a bowl.
- Make around 12 flattened discs out of the dough. Make an indent in the centre of each and add around ½ tsp of the sweet coconut stuffing. (This stuffing is called Narkeler Pur in Bengali.)
- With the help of your palms, roll the flattened discs with the stuffiing, back into balls and flatten slightly.
- Make the sugar syrup by boiling the water, sugar and the green cardamoms with the peels intact. Remove from the flame and keep aside.
- Deep-fry each flattened Pithe in hot oil on a simmered-to-medium flame. Each Pithe should be uniformly golden-brown on both the sides.
- Remove each Pithe from the hot oil and immerse into the hot sugar syrup for 20–30 min. Remove the Pithe into another container and sprinkle just little sugar syrup on the top of each Pithe.
- The Pithe can be eaten after 30 min of resting in the sugar syrup and can be refrigerated for two days.